Food scarcity and arid land


In my last blog post I wrote about the importance of agriculture to our economy. Then I started hearing stories that farm sales were down, especially dairy. Apparently of over 4,000 farms on the market, only around 200 sold last month.

Good news for some of the farmers who want out, because there are foreign investors who want to buy them. One company wants to spend $1.5 Billion dollars buying NZ farms. You would have to wonder if we can’t make a good living out of farming how can other countries do it? If we do sell them, where will the earnings from those farms go? Not into our pockets I would suggest.

China has a problem. They have a large dry land mass and not enough water to grow the crops they need and a huge and growing population. What are they doing about it? They and other countries such as Middle East are buying good arable land wherever they can get it for a good price. For example China is buying farming land in Mozambique, Angola, Malawi, Nigeria and even Zimbabwe. It’s not all bad, they are teaching local farmers better techniques in animal husbandry, improving crop yields etc.

What are the motives of China and Arabic countries in buying this land? They need the food. In Ethiopia, one of the worlds poorest countries, not only are they selling land to foreign countries, they are giving them tax holidays for a number of years, but what is of greater concern is the expectation that most, if not all of the crops will be going back to countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

I ask myself therefore, again, why can’t we produce high yield crops on our fertile soils and sell it to the countries that need it. Once those countries have bought our land, we won’t be getting it back and I wouldn’t expect us to gain much in GDP from the crops they grow.

As I said in my last blog, the ‘good old days’ were when we were largely an agrarian economy, we had plenty and we also had plenty to export. Now we have fantastic biotechnology and the ability to increase yields, quality and in many cases without using GM technologies.

I would hate to look into our future and see a country that can’t feed itself, that grows crops on farms owned by other countries, go straight offshore to feed them with minimal economic benefit to us. I would welcome someone to explain the logic of this.

We have expertise, maybe we should be assisting some of those countries who are unable to maximise the return on their land, help them thrive and clip the ticket. That would be a win win. While we do that, we also continue to research and improve product, the grasses and other food sources for animal feed etc. We do have some successes such as Fonterra, Livestock Improvements and many other thriving areas of research and results in biotechnology. We should stick with what we are good at and rather than give our farms to the Chinese, Arabs and others who want them, let the Government buy them. They could be run by unemployed people, who would get training on the job and perhaps even interest free loans to purchase some of those plots and use the skills they have obtained to build themselves a healthy asset and income, while increaseing our balance of payments. Is that silly? What’s wrong with my thinking?

In February this year there were around 168,000 people unemployed. Lets put them to work on those farms, teach them a trade, help them make something of themselves and help them earn the money to buy there way in with low interest loans and subsidies. What could we produce with 168,000 people working instead of paying them to do nothing. The single person benefit is around $160. That works out to a wasted loss of around $26,880,000 per annum. I say lets buy those farms and keep them in New Zealand hands.

This Video from TVNZ gives an example of what is happening.

Is there a global water shortage?


While on a trip last week I bought a copy of Futurist Magazine, which I accidetally left at the airport but that’s another story. Anyway, it had a number of articles about major drought issues which seem to be a result of climate change. It blew me away. Next I saw a new release book ‘Blue Covenant’ by Maude Barlow about water shortages around the world and it struck me that there is something serious going on and while we are worrying about oil and petrol prices, there may be something far more troublesome happening.

“Desalination plants will ring the world’s oceans, many of them run by nuclear power; corporate nanotechnology will clean up sewage water and sell it to private utilities who will sell it back to us at a huge profit; the rich will drink only bottled water found in the few remote parts of the world left or sucked from the clouds by machines, while the poor die in increasing numbers. This is not science fiction. This is where the world is headed unless we change course.”

— Maude Barlow

I live in Auckland, New Zealand and while I was away, there was a pretty major storm that blew over part of my fence and left my swimming pool overflowing. At the same time that this was happening, the lakes in the South Island which are used for generation of Hydro Electric Power are running close to critically low levels. The latest news is that they have risen to 58% of normal levels.

Many towns around New Zealand are facing potential drought conditions which has major significance for agriculture and these changes seem to be long term. I suspect that most people like me have been blissfully unaware of it. Sure I knew there were problems in Australia including rice crops being down by 90% and parts of Africa, but I had no idea how serious it is.

In China, there are water crises in many locations such as the Shandong Province where people are only allowed access to water for 7 hours a day, and people around Beijing will have limited access to water during the period of the Olympic Games to ensure that visitors do not go thirsty.

The Worldwide Fund For Nature WFF is not only concerned about lack of water for much of Europe and Great Britain, but also that dams and solutions designed to collect and manage water for some areas may harm water retention and the ecology for other areas. According to the UN “climate change means that creeping deserts may eventually drive 135 million people off their land.

The USA doesn’t get let off either. Sure America has endured many droughts over the centuries, but they were just rare events. Now in California there are battles over whether water should be used for the needs of the city or for crops and many farms are struggling for their survival.

While we have grown used to conflict in the Middle East over oil, could the future conflicts be focussed on something far more critical for human survival?

So what should we be doing about it? I don’t know, I guess the first thing is to take notice. You could invest in water companies to hedge your bets, you should be more aware of what is going on around you. It wouldn’t hurt to invest in solar desalination products and buy one for yourself. Whilst they may be designed for purifying salt water, you could use them on any water source. Several recent inventions look like a great device for areas where water is scarce or contaminated by chemicals, bug larvae etc.

With 97% of the planet’s water being salty, I hope this planet doesn’t become a case of ‘water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.’ This is not science fiction folks, it is fact. My thoughts:

  • It will effect you in your lifetime.
  • Find out if the water from your roof is suitable for drinking, or at least your garden.
  • Invest in water collection for your garden and other uses.
  • Make sure your local council is investing in sustainable, good quality water for the future.
  • An investment in a water production/bottling company would make good business sense.
  • Places that are likely to suffer water shortages might not be the best places to live in the future, property values will reduce and eventually collapse.
  • Property values in areas such as West Auckland will increase in the long term, although some areas also risk sliding down the bank as the ground gets waterlogged.
  • Water ownership should stay in the public domain.
  • PPP (Public Private Partnership) companies will end up owning and controlling a lot of water production and supply around the world.

As a footnote, ancient pure water that has been under the ground for centuries must be a finite resource, just as are fossil fuels. Have you ever wondered what will happen to the planet when we have brought it all to the surface? Does the mass of the water help hold the superstructure of our planet together? We are sucking thousands of cubic kilometers of liquid out of the planet every year. Are there concequences we have yet to face along with global warming?

As I have pointed out before, our generation is one of major change. Science Fiction is becoming reality at a pace far greater than we expected and the authors are proving to have been prophetic. We haven’t seen any aliens that I’m aware of, but the dust bowls of Mad Max and the desserts of Dune could become reality on Earth, or at least of sorts. At the rate we are going our descendants could be wearing the stillsuits that Frank Herbert wrote about. I don’t think I’m being over the top here. I still feel grateful to live in this era of rapid change and exciting technology and to live in a country of relative peace, a friendly climate and low poverty, but I am starting to wonder what sort of a world my grand children will live in and asking whether they will pay in the future for the excesses of today.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)