The theme of the 2013 World Day to Combat Desertification is drought and water scarcity. Freshwater is valuable. Of all the water on Earth, only 2.5 per cent is freshwater. And of all this freshwater, the total usable supply for ecosystems and humans is less than 1 per cent. When demand for water exceeds available supply, it results in water scarcity. Drylands are particularly vulnerable to water scarcity. The projected intensiﬁcation of freshwater scarcity will cause greater stresses in drylands. While each person needs at least 2,000 cubic meters of water for human well-being and sustainable development every year, on average, people in the drylands have access to only 1,300 cubic meters.
The goal of the 2013 World Day to Combat Desertification is to create awareness about the risks of drought and water scarcity in the drylands and beyond, calling attention to the importance of sustaining healthy soils as part of post Rio+20 agenda, as well as the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.
This year’s slogan, “Don’t let our future dry up” calls for everyone to take action to promote preparedness and resilience to water scarcity, desertification and drought. The slogan embodies the message that we are all responsible for water and land conservation and sustainable use, and that there are solutions to these serious natural resource challenges. Land degradation does not have to threaten our future.
Severe land degradation is now affecting 168 countries across the world, according to new research released by the UN Desertification Convention (UNCCD).
The figure, based on submissions from countries to the UN, is a marked increase on the last analysis in the mid-1990s, which estimated 110 states were at risk.
In an economic analysis published last week the Convention also warns land degradation is now costing US$490 billion per year and wiping out an area three times the size of Switzerland on an annual basis.
“Land degradation and drought are impeding the development of all nations in the world,” UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja told RTCC.
“This is a challenge that is causing governments to take this issue seriously, but how do you get them to take it seriously? By showing them the rate of return on restoring degraded land is one of the smartest investments of our time.
He added: “Desertification, land degradation and drought is an issue of market failure. The lack of economic market valuation has led to land being perceived as a cheap resource.”
The causes of land degradation are varied, but are widely attributed to drought, climate change, intensive farming practices and poor water management.
Desertification is low on many countries’ radar – illustrated by Canada’s recent withdrawal from the UNCCD – but its links to climate change and food security are starting to resonate with governments and business, particularly given fears over the world’s ability to feed a soaring population.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts demand for food will increase 60% by 2050. Experts say the world will need an additional 120 million hectares of agricultural land to support the required food production – that is a new farm the size of South Africa.
Since 2000, the prices of staples such as of meat, dairy, cereals and sugar have doubled, reflecting a lack of elasticity in the food market’s supply chain.
Efforts to boost agricultural production often lead to deforestation, a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.
This has a knock on effect in terms of reducing the planet’s store of natural carbon sinks and destroying the ‘ecosystem services’ trees provide such as water storage, exacerbating the problem.
The UNCCD hopes to adopt a ‘Zero Net Land Degradation by 2030′ resolution at its 2013 Conference of the Parties in Namibia later this year, and there are signs sustainable land management could form one of the Sustainable Development Goals set to be announced in 2015.
Last week former Finland President Tarja Halonen, now Chairman of the UN Global Sustainability Panel, indicated that the links between rural poverty, famine and land management should “guide the work” on those new set of targets.
“Sustainable land management, prevention of land degradation and rehabilitation of land is the most cost effective and cost beneficial ways to eradicate rural poverty,” she added.
In Africa alone a UNCCD expert panel estimates 4-12% of agricultural GDP is lost due to deteriorating environmental conditions, contributing to the high levels of chronic hunger and conflict on the continent.
This situation is acute in Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, where the combination of weak governments and a lack of annual rains linked to climate change are driving desertification levels.
In China over 400 million people are affected by soil erosion, causing annual economic losses of US$10 billion, while the UNCCD says Indian reports of degradation have increased “by a factor of six”.
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LONDON, 1 August 2012 (IRIN) – Is the world ready to face water shocks? For water shocks are certainly coming; water shocks, in fact, are already here.
A meeting of ecologists, policymakers and water professionals gathered recently at London’s Chatham House to contemplate the prospect. Asia, they heard, was the continent where problems were already most acute.
Pavel Kabat of Vienna’s Institute for Applied Systems Analysis told IRIN: “We have been worried about water in other parts of the world – it’s still a very important issue in Africa – but we were forgetting that the because of the economic growth and the population growth, the surge in food demand will come in Asia. Already now the fresh water for agriculture is being consumed at very high rates. Asia is the hotspot… and I would say that the first big issues will have to be faced by 2020 or 2030.”
Seventy percent of the global use of water is for agricultural purposes, and that is where the crisis is likely to show itself. “In India, 75 percent of all irrigation water comes from groundwater,” says Kabat, “and we are kind of assuming that it will stay like this.” But he points to Europe and the USA, which have seen groundwater levels in some areas dropping by as much as five metres a year, and laws have had to be introduced to restrict the lifting of groundwater for agriculture; the same thing, he says could happen in Asia.
There is also the issue of water quality. With reduced flows of fresh water from Asia’s great rivers reaching the coast, and with sea levels rising, the Brahmaputra, Ganges and Mekong deltas are suffering increasing salt water intrusion, with salinity in some places reaching levels at which normal crops will not grow. Some coastal areas of Bangladesh are already unfarmable.
Developed countries are certainly not immune from the impending problems. In some areas of the USA ancient aquifers have been tapped to allow agriculture in naturally desert areas. This “fossil water” is now depleting fast and not able to be replenished. One speaker told the meeting he could see areas where there would soon be no more groundwater, which means no more agriculture, and, since people only settled there because they could grow irrigated crops, no more viability as a populated area – a prospect so alarming that, he said, “it causes policymakers not to want to tackle that problem.”
Across the border in Mexico, it is the capital city which is threatened by an unsustainable situation. Already Mexico City has a serious water deficit and is facing a drop in rainfall of something like 30 percent. The situation has been made worse by the fact that Mexico subsidizes public services in the capital; water is cheaper there than in the countryside, and the population is growing very fast. And once consumers are used to subsidies it becomes very hard to introduce a realistic price.
Polioptro Martinez Austria, director of the Mexican Institute of Hydrology, says water managers cannot solve this problem on their own. “Today there are huge subsidies for water in the area,” he told IRIN, “and as a result, the aquifers are overexploited, and the public awareness of water use is not enough to save water. I believe we need a new policy of urban development if we are going to solve the water problem.”
In India and Bangladesh, the arid areas of the USA and Mexico City, the impression is of a dreadful inevitability, like a slow-motion car crash. And politicians are not good at dealing with this kind of slow onset event. “We know it has to come,” says Kabat, “but there is a general lack of ability of governments globally to look beyond the next election period, I am sorry to say. We have a lot of studies, as scientists, of the scenarios for the next 10, 20, 30 years, but it is simply too far ahead for politicians to act.”
The Chatham House meeting did offer some policy tools that could address water issues. There was discussion of tariffs and the creation of water markets, where water rights can be bought, sold and leased.
A market of that kind is now working quite successfully in Australia’s Murray Darling Basin. There the government “unbundled” land rights from water rights, so that just having water on your land, in the form of a river or groundwater, no longer gives you automatic rights to use it. And allocated water rights can be sold, permanently or on a temporary basis. During the recent severe drought, the result was that farmers stopped growing thirsty but lower-value crops like rice. They sold their water allocations to growers of higher value, less demanding crops like grapes, and the income they received helped them through the drought period until they could resume their normal farming.
A discussion of tariffs revealed that many countries still do not charge for water at all, and some give a kind of buy-in-bulk discount, so that the more water you use, the cheaper the unit cost.
|We have a lot of studies, as scientists, of the scenarios for the next 10, 20, 30 years, but it is simply too far ahead for politicians to act|
China, which has traditionally sold water very cheaply, is starting to charge more, and has begun moving to so-called “increasing block tariffs” where water gets increasingly expensive the more you use. With different cities currently using different systems, a recent comparative study was able to show that tariffs did have an effect. Beijing, which now has higher prices and a sharply rising tariff, showed a real drop in consumption, while usage is still rising in some other cities.
At the international level there was some discussion of the fact that water was “everywhere and nowhere”, affecting many other agendas, but with no UN agency dealing with water alone, perhaps reflecting the fact that, while the world has one climate and one atmosphere, it has many separate systems of river basins and aquifers, some of which are severely depleted, while others are well supplied.
But water systems do cut across political boundaries and as water shortages increase, the use of the water will have to be negotiated by both sides. Tariq Karim, Bangladesh’s ambassador in Delhi, is a veteran in negotiating water-sharing agreements with India, but he told IRIN that there had to be a change of approach. “When you talk about sharing,” he said, “you are talking about dividing something up, and whenever you come to dividing up, it’s like dividing the spoils. There is going to be contention. And you can’t physically divide a river, and you can’t manage it in segments. It makes better sense if you talk in terms of managing the river together.
“In Bangladesh our land space is not increasing but our population is, and for 80 percent of our population their source of livelihood is agricultural, so for us this is absolutely crucial.”
By Jeff Wilson – Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) — Drought damage to corn and soybean fields in the U.S., the world’s top grower and exporter, is eroding supplies of the nation’s two largest crops to below year-earlier consumption levels for the first time since 1974.
The government probably will say tomorrow that the U.S. corn harvest and inventories on Sept. 1 will be a combined 11.604 billion bushels, less than the 12.33 billion consumed and exported last year, according to a Bloomberg survey of 31 analysts. Soybean supplies will be 2.932 billion bushels, below the 3.157 billion used in 2011. Supplies failed to top usage from the previous year only twice since 1960 for corn and five times for soybeans, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.
Record heat in June and July sparked the worst drought since 1956, sending corn and soybeans prices to record highs. Morgan Stanley predicted corn may rally 35 percent in a year, while Barclays Plc sees soybeans gaining 16 percent. Higher costs for dairies, grain processors and livestock producers helped send global food prices in September to the highest since March, United Nations data show.
“Supplies of both corn and soybeans will be tight, and we expect prices to rebound after the report,” said Bill Tierney, the chief economist for Chicago-based AgResource Co. and a former USDA grain analyst. “There is no evidence that current prices are rationing soybean supplies, and there will be less supply relief for corn” from South American harvests that start in February, he said.
Corn futures have jumped 15 percent this year to $7.415 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, and soybeans surged 28 percent to $15.425 a bushel. The 24 commodities tracked by the Standard & Poor’s GSCI Spot Index rose 3.2 percent in the period, led by wheat’s gain of 33 percent. The MSCI All-Country World Index of equities climbed 11 percent, and Treasuries returned 1.9 percent, a Bank of America Corp. index shows.
In its report tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. in Washington, the USDA probably will cut its domestic corn-production forecast to a nine-year low of 10.616 billion bushels, down 1 percent from 10.727 billion estimated in September and the fourth straight monthly reduction, according to the average of estimates in the Bloomberg survey. As recently as June, the government predicted a record harvest of 14.79 billion bushels.
Combined with the government’s Sept. 1 estimate of reserves at 988 million bushels, total U.S. supply will 6.3 percent below estimated consumption last year. Inventories before next year’s harvest may fall to 656 million bushels, the lowest since 1996, a Bloomberg survey showed.
About 25 percent of the corn crop was in good or excellent condition as of Sept. 30, compared with a five-year average of 52 percent, USDA data show. The dry weather also sped up the harvest, which was 69 percent complete as of Oct. 7, compared with a five-year average of 28 percent.
Plunging output in the U.S. is expected to erode global corn reserves before the Northern Hemisphere harvest to the lowest since 2007, a separate Bloomberg survey showed. The average U.S. cash price was $7.3027 on Oct. 8, 26 percent higher than a year earlier, boosting costs for meat companies including Sanderson Farms Inc. and ethanol makers including Valero Energy Corp.
Prices have dropped from the record of $8.49 on Aug. 10, as exports slowed and farmers increased sales from newly-harvested fields. Corn futures for December delivery touched $7.05 on Sept. 28, the lowest since July 12. Soybean futures that reached an all-time high of $17.89 on Sept. 4 slipped as low as $15.04 on Oct. 3.
There are still signs that farmers will store more of their remaining supply in a bet prices will increase. Premiums paid on Oct. 9 above Chicago futures for corn delivered to export terminals near New Orleans and in Decatur, Illinois, were the highest since at least 2008, a sign that grain merchants are increasing inventories from this year’s harvest, said Tim Emslie, the research manager for Country Hedging Inc. in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.
“The cash markets are already reflecting tightening supplies and will lead the rally to slow usage,” said Emslie, who predicted corn would reach $8.50 in the next six months.
Corn, the primary source of livestock feed in the U.S., may reach $10 before this time next year because cattle and hog producers may not have culled herds even as feed costs rose, Hussein Allidina, head of commodities research at Morgan Stanley, said Oct. 3 in an interview at Bloomberg News offices in London.
With the drop in prices during the past two weeks, cattle and hog producers could have bought corn and sold livestock futures to lock in small profits, the Chicago-based Linn Group said in a report Oct. 5.
Domestic feed, food and fuel production will account for almost 89 percent of total usage, the highest in 40 years, USDA data show. Corn exports by the U.S. may fall to the lowest since 1975 as overseas buyers shift to other grains and suppliers, the government estimates. World inventories as a percentage of use before next year’s harvest will drop to the lowest since 1974, government data show.
“Exports are less important for corn prices than the demand for feed and ethanol,” AgResource’s Tierney said. Soybean farmers may see a smaller reduction in their harvest than the USDA predicted last month, after August rain improved yields. Production may be 2.763 billion bushels, or 4.9 percent more than the 2.634 billion estimated a month earlier, the Bloomberg survey of analysts showed. That’s still below the 2011 harvest of 3.093 billion.
Rising export demand will erode reserves before next year’s harvest to 135 million bushels, down from the 169 million the USDA estimated for Sept. 1, the survey showed.
U.S. exporters sold 1.297 million metric tons of soybeans in the week ended Sept. 27, the most since Nov. 25, 2010, the USDA said Oct. 4. Sales commitments for delivery before Aug. 31 rose to 23.47 million tons, 40 percent higher than a year earlier and equal to 82 percent of what the government forecast last month for the marketing year, USDA data show.
Sales of soy-based animal feed for delivery in the year that began Oct. 1 rose 54 percent to 2.53 million tons from 1.64 million a year earlier, the USDA said last week. Last month, the government said reduced production would cut U.S. exports 28 percent this year and soymeal sales by 17 percent.
“USDA export projections are too low, and possibly significantly too low,” said Randy Mittelstaedt, the director of research at R.J. O’Brien & Associates in Chicago. “Demand is not slowing, and any increase in production will be offset by an increase in export projections.” He predicted soybeans will rise to a record.
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Climate change’s impact on future food prices is being underestimated, Oxfam warned in a report on Wednesday.
The development charity predicts that massive price spikes will be a devastating blow to the world’s poorest people who today spend up to 75% of their income on food, and will also adversely affect global consumers.
Its report, Extreme Weather, Extreme Price, suggests extreme weather events such as droughts and floods – made more likely by global warming – could drive up future food prices.
Previous research has tended to consider gradual impacts of rising global temperatures, such as changing rainfall patterns. Oxfam’s research, comissioned by the charity and undertaken by the Institute of Development Studies, examines the impact of extreme weather scenarios on food prices in 2030. It warns that by that date the world could be even more vulnerable to the kind of drought happening today in the US – the worst in 60 years – with dependence on US exports of wheat and maize predicted to rise and climate change increasing the likelihood of extreme droughts in North America.
The research claimed that:
As well as affecting the world’s poorest, such rises will also hit those on the lowest incomes in the UK, who already spend up to half their household budget on food, the report notes.
Oxfam’s climate change policy adviser, Tim Gore, said: “Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns hold back crop production and cause steady price rises. But extreme weather events – like the current US drought – can wipe out entire harvests and trigger dramatic food price spikes. We will all feel the impact as prices spike but the poorest people will be hit hardest.”
He said the world needed to wake up to the drastic consequences facing our food system of climate inaction: “As [greenhouse gas] emissions continue to soar, extreme weather in the US and elsewhere provides a glimpse of our future food system in a warming world. Our planet is heading for average global warming of 2.5–5C this century. It is time to face up to what this means for hunger and malnutrition for millions of people on our planet.”
The report comes as UN talks aimed at tackling climate change are due to close in Bangkok on Wednesday with little sign of progress, while tomorrow the Food and Agriculture Organisation is due to publish further information on how the worst US drought in 60 years is impacting on global food prices.
Wheat production: the outlook is worsening. Previously, we made the case that global wheat production was vulnerable to spreading drought. This week, the USDA left the U.S. wheat balance sheet unchanged and only made small adjustments to global wheat estimates. Although recent rains may allow U.S. farmers to increase wheat plantings by 2 million acres, the evidence increasingly suggests global wheat output could fall below expectations. This is due to intensifying drought in Russia, the third largest exporter, and the potential arrival of El Nino weather conditions, which historically brings drought to Australia, the world’s second largest wheat exporter. El Nino rains may also thwart market hopes for bumper South American wheat production to bolster world stocks. Already low inventories at major exporters, including Canada and Russia where wheat stocks are at multi-year lows, will help keep upward pressure on prices. As a result, we believe wheat could rally to new highs in the weeks ahead as El Nino conditions take hold and would be strong buyers on a pullback.
Britain faces food price hikes as fears grow that drought-hit Russia may impose export ban on grain – Russia expected to produce 75m tons this year – 30% less grain than 2011 – ‘Market is very fearful,’ said cereals analyst Jack Watts – Drop in yields could push up price of food across the world
The USDA now estimates global wheat production will be 0.6% lower than forecast a month ago, primarily due to drought in Russia. World wheat production is expected to total 658.73 million metric tons in the year ended May 31, down from a forecast of 662.8 million tons in August, and 695.04 million tons last year. Russian wheat output is forecast to fall to 39 million tons, down from 43 million tons estimated last month. Russian wheat production is now expected to be smaller than the 41.5 million metric tons produced during 2010, during Russia’s worst drought in 50 years, and the smallest crop since the 2003-04 season, according to SovEcon. More ominously, Russia’s wheat stockpiles are 15% to 17% smaller than in 2010, when severe drought and heat led to a doubling in the grain’s price, according to Oleg Sukhanov, head of analytics at Ikar, a Moscow-based institute. Russia may run out of exportable grain surplus by November.
Although Russia has said it won’t restrict wheat exports, observers believe this policy may change after local elections in October. Ukraine will likely follow suit if Russia moves to restrict grain exports. Ukraine exporters recently said they would voluntarily curb exports of all grains in early 2013, and agreed to limit wheat sales to 4 million MT, with about 40% already sold.
Market hopes for bumper southern wheat output to replenish world stocks are diming. Last week, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology stated that oceanic indicators for El Nino conditions have surpassed all thresholds. Historically, El Nino conditions bring drought to Australia. Western Australia wheat production could fall to 6-8 million tons, from 11.7 million tons last year, as parts of the region received record low rains in July.
Estimates for Australian wheat output are now falling. This week, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences cut its forecast for the country’s wheat output to 22.5 million tons, due to drought, which is well below the USDA’s projection of 26 million tons. This follows last week’s reduction by Rabobank to 22.8 million tons, representing a 20% decline from last season’s record, and below a market consensus of 23.2 million tons. China, which has been suffering from spreading wheat fungus, may import up to 4 million tons of feed wheat this season (mostly from Australia), on a wheat harvest that may only total 105 million tons–13 million tons below the USDA forecast, according to Rabobank. The World Bank also warned that global food prices may extend gains if El Nino conditions develop or if importers begin hoarding supplies.
In Argentina, the southern hemisphere’s other major wheat exporter, wheat sowings fell more than 20% to historically-low levels, as farmers planted other crops that have less export restrictions. Last week, the Buenos Aires grain exchange also said that recent rains, which were initially viewed as helping increase wheat prospects, proved to be too much for some crops. “Rains recorded in the last few days have exacerbated the excess of water in extensive areas” of the Buenos Aires province, which produces nearly half of the country’s wheat production, said the exchange. Some areas west of Buenos Aires reportedly suffered total or partial loss of crops from soil saturation.