Worldwatch Paper #136: The Agricultural Link: How Environmental Deterioration Could Disrupt Economic Progress

August 1997
Lester R. Brown
ISBN: 1-878071-38-6
73 pages

The trends of environmental deterioration are beginning to threaten the security of food supplies. These trends, combined with a shrinking backlog of agricultural technology, are slowing growth in the world grain harvest. Meanwhile, the demand for grain is expanding at a near record rate as 80 million people are added each year and as incomes climb at record rates in Asia, led by China.

As demand starts to outrun supply, grain prices are rising. Higher grain prices will not have much effect on the world's affluent, but for the 1.3 billion people who live on a dollar a day or less, rising grain prices quickly become life-threatening. People unable to buy enough food to feed their families are likely to take to the streets. The resulting political instability could effect the earnings of multinational corporations, the performance of stock markets, and the stability of the international monetary system. At that point, the problem of the poor would become everyone's problem.

Securing future food supplies now goes far beyond ministries of agriculture, involving family planners as well as farmers. Decisions made in ministries of energy that affect climate stability may have a greater effect on food security than those made in ministries of agriculture. The steps needed to secure future food supplies, including stabilizing population and climate, are precisely the same as those needed to move the world economy onto an environmentally sustainable path. The purpose of this paper is to convince national political leaders that such as effort is needed.