Egypt and Albion are similar

Editor, The News:

What do Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan have to do with the Pelton land and Albion flats?

Quite a lot.

In August 2010, Russia suspended wheat exports to Egypt because raging brush fires in Russia had devastated their harvest. Egypt, once one of the world’s largest wheat producers, is now the world’s second biggest importer of wheat.

Egypt has one of the fastest growing populations in the world and this population growth has drastically shrunk arable lands. Increasing pressure on the Nile River for its water from other African countries has significantly reduced Egypt’s capacity to grow food. The vast majority of Egyptians already live in poverty, and with food inflation running at 17 per cent, something had to give, and not just in Egypt.

Earlier this month, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) said its food price index jumped 32 per cent in the second half of 2010, soaring past the previous record set in 2008. What’s so stunning about this is the speed of recovery of prices to pre-recession levels. This is even more surprising when one considers that  many industrialized countries are  still struggling to recover from the recession.

So what’s all this got to do with Pelton and Albion?

A while back I read a letter in The News that argued that  technology would allow agriculture to continue to increase production to meet increasing  demand. The argument was meant to demonstrate that we really don’t need marginal farmland like the Pelton land or in the Albion flats.

As it turns out,  modern intensive agriculture is increasingly vulnerable. Agricultural is dependent on high levels of inputs such oil, water and fertilizer. These inputs cannot be relied upon in the long term. Oil reserves are running down, natural underground water reservoirs are depleted,  and water supplies from glacier-fed rivers are declining.

What we have is a perfect economic storm for ever increasing food prices.

• Higher demand: As the economic miracles in China and India develop, their new-found prosperity is allowing them to  add more meat to their diets. Unfortunately, meat is one of the most inefficient ways to feed the world’s population, and increasing meat production is adding to the price pressure on grains and corn.

• Higher input costs: Oil prices that had recovered from the recession levels are heading up again. Fertilizer prices are skyrocketing and water supplies are declining.

• Poor harvests: The price for grains and other farm products began rising last fall after poor harvests in Canada, Russia and Ukraine tightened global supplies. More recently, hot, dry weather in South America has cut production in Argentina, a major soybean exporter. This month’s flooding in Australia wiped out much of that country’s wheat crop.

• Decreasing land base: Population growth and development is taking more and more arable land out of the production chain.

Getting back to local concerns.

A farmer friend told me that he was buying land in the interior for his son to farm. I asked him, why not in Maple Ridge? The answer was of course simple: the price of land is too high in Maple Ridge. Why is it too high? Because people are buying and speculating on ALR farmland to convert to other uses – industrial parks, shopping malls, housing developments.

The economic justification for producing food on marginal land may not make sense now, but we have to take off our blinders and realize that in a globally interdependent world this will change.

Sooner or later we are going to have to decrease our reliance on imported food and start thinking about growing a lot more of our food locally.

Of course we will always be able to buy food, but at what cost?

How will your budget survive a double-digit increase in food prices every year?

Given  that the spark that has ignited the fires now burning in the Middle East can be directly attributed  to rising food prices, then what’s happening should be a wake-up call to us all.

Will there be food riots in Canada? Not so likely, but don’t dismiss the possibility in China, India and even the U.S.

I believe that we need a strong policy from our local governments that says under no circumstance will any land be taken out of the ALR.

We need to save every last acre for our future food security. If we have this policy in place, land speculation will disappear and farmers will have a chance to make money at what they do best.

Bruce Hobbs

Maple Ridge

Source: World Food Organization – http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/FoodPricesIndex/en/

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