“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The opening sentence of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities rings eerily true when you consider the issue of food insecurity. At a time when science and technology have made it possible to produce rice, wheat, corn and much else in huge quantities, too many people in too many places live daily with food insecurity, whether because of sudden natural disasters like Typhoon Haiyan in the Phillippines, civil conflict like that in Syria that has turned thousands into refugees or long-term drought in the Horn of Africa.
The internet and global shipping routes have connected far flung places of the world. But a bountiful harvest in one place can still have no bearing on a place where the harvest was poor. As Americans give thanks for an overloaded Thanksgiving table, here are some places where this year’s harvest was plentiful and some places where it was not and what could be done to change this.
1. Minnesota, Ohio, New York all had orchards filled with apples.
2. The Midwest also produced more corn than ever.
But this fulsome harvest (14 billion bushels, 30 percent greater than last year) did not necessarily turn into profits but rather a drop in prices. What’s more, a good share of the United State’s larger than ever corn crop was used not for feed but to produce biofuels.
3. Britain saw an abundant wild harvest of fruit.
After one of the wettest winters and the coldest springs on record, the British countryside was “groaning” in August with one of its most abundant wild harvests in years. Cherries and plums, rowans, crab apples, apples and berries galore — winberries, wild raspberries, dewberries and elderberries.
This bumper crop had a downside, with people said to be stripping areas of wild fruit and mushrooms for London restaurants, which can pay up to £50 a kilogram for some mushrooms and other foods. But if humans can contain themselves, the harvest will not go to waste: birds and others are sure to help themselves to a fine autumn feast, too.
4. California vineyards have been groaning with grapes.
Winemakers in the Santa Cruz mountains were cheered by a good harvest of grapes that portends a record crop. Vineyards are yielding vines with a higher number of clusters that are also bigger than they usually are. Vintners and oenophiles are in happy anticipation of wines from these grapes.
The reason for the bountiful crop is the weather. After getting nearly a full annual rainfall in November and December, the vines had a long and temperate growing season.
5. Mexico stands out with a bumper bean crop.
Good weather conditions and a regular rainy season since September have meant a big crop of dried beans in Mexico is likely. 1.14 million tons of beans are expected in 2013-14, up from 1.06 million in 2012-13 and 626,000 the year before that. Yields of dried beans fell by just over 25 percent in both Canada and the United States this year and also fell in China, which has become a major exporter.
But Mother Nature (perhaps feeling more than a bit troubled about global warming’s effects) was not nearly so kind in other regions of the world.
1. India had a poor harvest of rice and tapioca.
India is the second largest producer of rice in the world after China but its rice crop this year was disappointing and all the more after expectations of a sizable crop. Malnutrition remains a huge problem for India’s poor; one in three malnourished children in the world live in India.
Due to poor rain during the planting season and then an influx of rain in October, India is also reporting a poor yield for its tapioca harvest.
2. Greece’s green olive crop is down by as much as 80 percent.
Bad weather in Greece has made a shortage of green olives likely. Halkidiki olives are predicted to cost 50 percent more as farmers say that crop yields are down by up to 80 per cent.
The price of olives is also likely to rice as a result of reduced olive production from Spain and Southern Europe due to drought.
3. Zimbabwe’s “hunger season” will be worse this year.
Poor rains have also meant that 2.2 million people — a quarter of Zimbabwe‘s rural population – will not be able to provide food for themselves during the “hunger season” of October 2013 to March 2014.
The harvest season in Zimbabwe is in April. This year, Mavis Mukarati, a farmer in the southern province of Masvingo, harvested only five 50 kilogram bags of corn, down from 180 bags last year.
4. Syria, entrenched in civil conflict, had a poor harvest too.
Even as the country’s war seems poised to extend beyond three years, Syria’s wheat harvest this year was its worst in decades. Two million tons must be imported to make up the shortfall.
International sanctions have constrained the government’s ability to import food and the number of Syrians requiring food aid is likely to increase to 4 million by the end of the year. 2.5 million more Syrians outside the country also need help; the World Food Program estimates that operational costs to feed all these people will add up to about $42 million a week.
5. Tanzania expelled farm workers and can’t harvest enough food.
Farming communities in Tanzania are anticipating food insecurity — and the likelihood of vastly higher market prices for food — due to a dearth of farm workers after hundreds of illegal immigrants were arrested and repatriated in “Operation Kimbunga.”
Many farmers simply planted fewer crops due to an insufficient supply of workers. “We support government for identifying and repatriating illegal immigrants but nearly 96 per cent of the local farmers will harvest much less this season and might not even be able to sustain their families up to the next harvest,” Pastor George Kachilla of the Anglican Church said.
The United Nations has announced that 2014 will be the International Year of Family Farming, to highlight the potential family farmers have to eradicate hunger, preserve natural resources and advocate for sustainable development. An estimated 500 million family farms, which rely primarily on family members for labor and management, still produce the food that feeds billions of people.
In many developing countries, family farms comprise up to 80 percent of all farm holdings. That’s all the more reason to focus on how they can fight hunger and feed their own communities, with a bountiful harvest of locally grown food.
Photos via Thinkstock