News / Europe

European Farmers Work to Boost Global Grain Supplies

Selah Hennessy
There's no need for panic over global food prices, the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Jose Graziano da Silva, said last week.  They were soothing words at a time when food prices are volatile and drought in many of the world's top grain-producing regions has raised fears over food security.

Britain has just been hit with its wettest summer in 100 years and that's been bad news for a lot of farmers, especially inland and in the north.  But in the eastern pocket of Suffolk, wheat yields have been good.

Farmer Robert Raven has already harvested his wheat and says the quality seems to be high.  He says although agriculture here does suffer shocks, on the whole farmers in western Europe tend to get by.   

"Europe has a less variable harvest over the years purely because our weather is more predictable.  So although we do suffer from volatility ourselves it's certainly not the extremes you get elsewhere," Raven said. "When we talk about a bad year it's nothing compared to what you get in other parts of the world where they get complete crop failures because of the weather."

The European Union is one of the world's top grain producers and a key supplier to neighboring regions in the Middle East and North Africa.  So it's good news that, although its harvest is expected to be slightly lower than normal this year, it's a relatively small shortfall.

Elsewhere it's a different story.

In the United States, the world's leading corn producer, the worst drought in over half a century has depleted crops.  The government estimates this year's production to be the lowest in the past six years.

In Russia, another top grain supplier, a heat wave has slashed the wheat harvest by around one-quarter.   

The poor harvests are causing grain prices to spike and raising concerns about a global food crisis.

Peter Hazell, an expert on world food problems at Imperial College London, says relatively good yields in the European harvest this year is good news but won't resolve worries over food insecurity.

"Europe produces about 300 million tons of cereal each year.  The U.S. produces about 400 million tons," he said.  "To put that in perspective the world produces 2.4 billion tons a year.  So Europe is a significant producer but it also has a lot of people and it actually exports quite a small amount."

Hazell says this year's poor harvests are likely to impact the world's poorest the most.  And it wouldn't be the first time.

Four years ago, prices rose dramatically, making basic staples unaffordable for many.

The crisis contributed to economic and social instability in a number of countries and, in some places, to rioting.

Hazell says in recent years the ratio of supply and demand has become too finely balanced.  

"All the food that we produce these days is used," he said. "Whereas in the past we always had surpluses - we don't have those surpluses anymore so when we get a drought there is a shock in the system, we do not have the stocks to release to buffer it."

He says with price spikes already a problem, and an extra two billion people expected by 2050, there are no easy answers.

But he says in the long term, extra food won't be coming from countries that are already the world's top producers, like in Europe or North America, but from places where land has yet to be fully exploited.

"A lot of the future potential lies in the developing countries, particularly in Africa and Latin America," Hazell said. "These are countries where a lot of poor people are engaged in farming so here is an opportunity to grow more food to feed the world and have some of the poorest people engaged in that process solving their own income and employment problems in the process.  So that is the real win/win opportunity."

But in the short term, farmers in Europe and around the world are working to get the greatest yield out of the land they have.

Robert Raven sold much of this year's wheat months ago.  But with prices now high he will be making a good profit on the extra grain and expects his profits to top recent years'.

European farmers, he says, are doing their best to make sure people around the world can eat.  
 
"We will be exporting as much as we can to try to help fill the shortfall left by the U.S. and Russia," Raven said.  "Obviously when the world can only produce as much grain as it does we cannot completely fill the gap but Europe is certainly emptying the barns as much as possible."

And with crops yet to be harvested this year in many parts of the world, farmers in those countries are hoping for good weather and strong yields to add to the global stock.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs