Here in the U.S., it’s the driest year in the last half-century and the hottest year ever recorded, a double whammy that’s leading to widespread crop failure and raising the specter, when combined with crops shortages in other countries, of massive unrest in the world’s poorer lands.
Dry weather is also cutting down on harvests in Africa, as the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction reports:
More than two-thirds of Africa’s population lives in rural areas and depend on rain-fed agriculture and pasture, making them highly vulnerable to bouts of extreme dry weather, says ARC, noting that there have been 132 recorded droughts in sub-Saharan Africa since 1990.
This year, drought is causing a crisis in the Sahel, affecting an estimated 18 million people in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Sudan. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says overall Sahelian cereal production is 26 per cent lower than last year, with countries like Chad losing as much as half its cereal crops.
Only a year ago, drought in the Horn of Africa led to a severe food crisis for 10 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. Britain’s Department for International Development, a major aid provider, says one year after famine was declared 2.5 million people in Somalia — the hardest hit country in the region — are still at risk of chronic food shortages.
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And then there’s the Indian subcontinent, where Agence France-Presse reports that the annual monsoon rains arrived late this summer, and they’ve been yielding much less moisture:
The much-romanticised annual downpour that normally sweeps in at the start of June in the far south of the country is a lifeline for. . .about two thirds of the 1.2-billion population who depend on agriculture for their incomes.
But the rains have been so poor that some farmers have decided not to sow crops, spelling more bad news for a slowing economy buffeted by its worst power crisis this week following massive blackouts.
Haryana, along with neighbouring Punjab state, is known as the “bread basket” of India, the source of over 60 per cent of food grains such as wheat, maize, rice and pulses that are grown annually.
It has been one of the worst affected this year with 65 per cent less rain than the long-term average, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in New Delhi.
Nation-wide, the monsoon has been more than 20 per cent below its average, sparking fears of drought among farmers who remember vividly the failure of 2009, when India suffered its worst drought in nearly four decades.
Read the rest.
The grim news from close to home
The situation has reached extreme levels here in the U.S., breadbasket to the world. Hardest hit has been corn, where demand is driven not only by livestock and human consumption but by the federal ethanol mandate.
Here’s a status report on the drought from Bloomberg’s Brian K. Sullivan:
The two worst levels of drought now grip nearly one-fourth of the lower 48 states, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported.
About 24.1 percent of the region was suffering extreme or exceptional drought in the week ended Aug. 7, up from 22.3 percent in the previous period and 18.3 percent last year, according to the monitor, based in Lincoln, Nebraska.
While there has been some improvement in drought conditions in the Midwest, that wasn’t the case in the Great Plains, Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln said in an accompanying analysis.
The drought has helped push corn prices to a record. World food prices have surged 6.2 percent as dryness has also gripped Russia and below-average monsoon rains fell in India.
The primary corn and soybean agriculture areas in the U.S. had their sixth-driest April-July growing season in records dating back to 1895, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said yesterday.
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For an idea of the extent of the crisis, here’s the latest edition of the U.S. Drought Monitor:
Heat wave breaks all previous records
By itself, drought would be bad enough, but then there’s record-breaking heat engulfing the American grain belt.
From Sam Nelson and Deborah Zabarenko of Reuters:
In the throes of a historic drought in the United States, a government agency said on Wednesday that it broke a heat record in July that had stood since the devastating Dust Bowl summer of 1936.
Reeling from widespread crop damage in July, Midwest farmers found some comfort on Wednesday in forecasts for rain over the next 10 days, a prospect that could take the edge off rising grain prices and concerns of food inflation worldwide.
The scorching month of July turned out to be the hottest month in the continental United States on record, beating the hottest month recorded in July 1936, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.
The January-to-July period was also the warmest since modern record-keeping began in 1895, and the warmest 12-month period, eclipsing the last record set just a month ago. It was the fourth time in as many months that U.S. temperatures broke the hottest-12-months record, according to NOAA.
Read the rest.
More from the New York Times’ Joanna M. Foster:
“July was a pretty interesting month because there were two different things at play,” Jake Crouch, a climatologist at the agency’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., said in an interview. “We saw very warm daytime temperatures over a large part of the country related to the ongoing drought, just as in 1936. When soils are dry, especially during the summer, it drives the daytime temperatures up. But this is a very local effect.”
“On the other side, at the national level, we have also seen very warm nighttime temperatures, and that is part of a long-term trend we’ve seen across the contiguous U.S. over the past several decades,” he said. “The hotter days increase the amount of moisture the lower atmosphere can hold, and this means it doesn’t cool off as much at night anymore.”
“This clearly shows a longer-term warming trend in the U.S., not just one really hot month,” Mr. Crouch said.
Read the rest.
Global food prices edge upward, U.N. reports
UPDATE: First, a euronews video report on spiking food prices:
Next, the graphics, from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO]:
And the details:
The FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) averaged 213 points in July 2012, as much as 12 points (6 percent) up from June, but still well below the peak of 238 points reached in February 2011. The July surge of the Index followed three months of decline. The sharp rebound was mostly driven by a jump in grain and sugar prices, and more modest Continue reading