What happens when we run out of food? – April 2019
This was the headline for a 20 March 2019 story by Richard Gray from the BBC. The story is one which most Americans would probably never read because they’ve not had to worry about running out of food. The article points out that while famines were on the decline in the past, they are starting to make a comeback.What has caused this comeback? It’s not been a decline in the productive capacity of the world, although at any one-time certain areas can experience food disruptive weather patterns. No, instead it is caused by war and bad politics. According to the article, the number of people at risk of famine has increased by 80 percent since 2015 with South Sudan, Yemen, Syria, north-west Nigeria and Afghanistan among the worst hit.
All of these areas have experienced significant widespread conflicts which are still on going. The lesson from the article, however, isn’t necessarily of conflicts in third world countries but pointed out that the war in Bosnia brought about widespread hunger in Sarajevo in April of 1992. A place that had recently hosted the Winter Olympics found itself cut off from food supplies. Rešad Trbonja was a teenager in Sarajevo when the Bosnian Serb Army blockaded the city which lead to almost immediate food shortages. Trbonja, who was 19 at the time, now teaches school children about the war in Bosnia. Air lifted products helped stave off starvation and residents quickly turned to growing products on almost any open piece of ground in the city. None-the-less cold and starvation took an additional toll on the citizens dodging artillery strikes and snipers.
The economic troubles in Greece also led to food shortages which caused an increase in the number of people who enrolled in agriculture classes. Of course, recent events in Venezuela also show how bad policies can lead to widespread hunger.
There are several morals to the story we shouldn’t ignore. Number one – a disruption of food delivery to any of our urban centers will start to cause food shortages. An extended disruption will create further hardships if those disruptions can’t be solved. Number two – hungry people immediately turn back to agriculture to try and mitigate their situation. Number three – wars can result in famines, but you don’t even need a war, you can do it through bad policies.
Perhaps that is why it is so important that farmers and ranchers let policy makers know what is necessary to keep the food production industry going to ensure we don’t end up like those countries which have set about to dismantle their agriculture industries through bad policies.
The old saying, “when you have food you have lots of problems, but when you don’t have food, you only have one problem” still rings true.
By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President