“Food is the new oil,” declares Lester Brown, head of the Earth Policy Institute, in an interview just published in Handshake. With tightening world food supplies, Brown discusses how food security has become one of the most pressing issues of our time – and what’s being done to assure that supply will meet the food needs of a growing world population for decades to come.
Brown posits that the potentially dangerous tightening of the world food situation has led to an “every country for itself” mentality and that the ability to grow food is fast becoming a new form of geopolitical leverage. Farmers are already capitalizing on all the available technologies at hand, yet it’s still not enough to meet demand, and “scientists have nothing new to give them,” Brown points out.
The result? Land grabs, whereby importing countries buy land in other countries on which to produce food for their own citizens. So while food has become the new oil, “land is the new gold,” Brown suggests.
But “it’s more than governments trying to buy or lease land, it’s an investment issue,” he says. “There are agribusiness firms and investment banks, along with pension funds and university endowments, putting parts of their investments now in land. It’s hard to see where it’s going to end.”
Water – and the lack of it – complicates the issue further. With a large percentage of potable water underground, land grabs are also veiled water grabs. Brown points out that “[h]alf of us today live in countries that are over-pumping aquifers for irrigation. This is a water-based food bubble” looming on the horizon.
Brown proposes solutions, namely “[launching] a worldwide campaign to improve water productivity, much as we did for grain productivity 60 years ago.” He also recommends pricing water according to its current market value versus that of 50 years ago, which is currently the case.
More broadly, he stresses the idea that food security is no longer just an agricultural issue, but a social issue covering multiple realms of responsibility. “From now on, food security is going to depend on the ministries of health and family planning, agriculture, transportation, and forestry, all working together,” says Brown.
In line with this recommendation, this latest issue of Handshake calls for a comprehensive approach to feeding the world – one that involves the private sector, working in partnership with governments, as part of that solution.