Sunday, January 2, 2011

Global Food Situation and backyard (balcony) veggie Patch

Another year has passed and we all said the customary Happy New Year to each other and some people got drunk or depressed once they realized nothing has changed. Indian news papers kept printing about food inflation especially onion prices going north all the time bringing tears down south. Indian politicians kept assuring that food prices would come down. Australia is having floods every where due to incessant rains and millions of hectares of vegetables are lost. Media is screaming that food prices will go up by at least 50% and there is a deafening silence by politicians of all colors. While poor in India are starving (despite government giving Rs 2/Kg grain) as they are getting less than  1800 calories per day, working poor in Australia are eating  themselves to death by eating cheap non nutritious food and becoming obese as the cost of fresh vegetables is prohibitive.

No one it seems has a solution. Why? Country after country is being turned into a consuming economy and growth means consumption. Few countries seem to produce food in sufficient quantities for them and export it to others. Last year Russia banned the export of food grains due to fire devastation of crop lands. India has banned the export of onions. Australia which is a food self sufficient country may end up having to import vegetables due to floods. There is no consistency of supply of food and this has led to volatility in the markets where food grain is a commodity once again to be treated as a tool for consumption rather than as a essential ingredient such as water.

Commodotization for food no doubt has benefited few countries who have low population today and are willing and able to export food grains. However it seems to me that these countries may not be able to reap the benefit in future for much longer as climate variability expected and unexpected has caused damage to food production in these countries. Furthermore once the farmer average increases who will be producing food?. Average age of a farmer in Australia today is 55. Commodatizotion of food has not benefited countries like India where food is treated as a necessity and food prices are artificially kept low. This distortion of markets prevent farmers from getting the right price in the markets thereby turning them off farming out of despair or debts. No one can benefit from this kind of mockery of markets.

The rich countries were able to grow vast amounts of food by clearing vast tracks of land not worrying about its impact on the land they lived in leave alone the globe. Poor countries were unable to grow more food sufficient for its populations as not only did they not have the land to expand to due to population explosion but also they do not have access to latest agriculture technologies. Sure few NGOs are retraining pockets of farmers in so called alternative technologies ( alternative to what? to organic technologies already used both in the west and other countries prior to agricultural revolution in the 1960s. Didn't we change to new technology as the old technology creatively now called as organic failed to produce sufficient food in a cost effective manner?) but that is not going to solve the food issues. No amount of political spin is going to lead to either more food production. World is expected to have 9.5 billion people by 2050 and India is going to have at least 1.5 billion people by 2050 and Australia is expected to have 36 million. Currently world has 6 billion people, India has 1.18 billion and Australia just over 21 million. Who and where will this food production going to come from? Unfortunately industrial food production is the only answer despite some people in the world especially in the cities having these fluffy romantic notions of organic food production taking over the world food production systems and everyone living happily ever after.

One answer however local small and meaningful is to produce food in what ever capacity and what ever form in the backyard or the balcony. This will not solve global food crisis but will help the family budget and family food need to some extent. I calculated that I have saved over $1000 last year by producing some of my own vegetables. In addition, I gave away over 30-40 kgs of vegetables to friends and neighbors. I still have some pumpkin left over this year kept in a cool dry place and cut okra frozen in the freezer. This spring crops are establishing bit slowly due to rains flood and cooler temperatures in December (unusual in Australia). I have harvested several punnett worth of sweet cheery tomatoes when the price in the market is $2.48 per punnett. I have already harvested several kilos of beans and my neighbor is sick of it right now. One kilo beans is anywhere around 3.48-5.98 right now. I am anticipating that the prices of Cheery tomatoes will go up due to floods in Queensland and prices of beans will go up due to floods in Victoria and NSW.

I recently showed one of my work mates that she could put in 4-5 cheery tomato plants, 10 beans plants and 2 plants of Lebanese cucumbers and 2 plants of butternut pumpkin (squash) if she has about 1 square meter of soil filled area and land for cucumbers and pumpkins to creep on. If a person is living in an apartment then one can grow tomatoes,dwarf beans and herbs in pots ( 10-14 inch) and grow strawberries and some herbs in hanging pots. Cucumbers can be grown in large pots and allowed to crawl on a tee pee made out of stakes. 

Please have a look at the other posts in this blog as to how to prepare land and grow plants. Don't just complain about food prices but do your bit for family budget. I believe finding solutions to problems shows human intelligence rather than complaining. Imagine if every home could have a veggie patch and if every one gave few kilos of vegetable to the poor or pensioners as is the case in Australia then it will solve a bigger problem. 

Large problems can be solved with small solutions!

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