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5704

    1PUSHING BEYOND THE EARTH’S LIMITS

    Lester R. Brown, President

    Earth Policy Institute

     When historians look back on our times, the last half of the twentieth

    century will undoubtedly be labeled ―the era of growth.‖ Take population. In 1950,

    there were 2.5 billion people in the world. By 2000, there were 6 billion. There has

    been more growth in world population since 1950 than during the preceding 4

    1million years.

     Recent growth in the world economy is even more remarkable. During the

    last half of the twentieth century, the world economy expanded sevenfold. Most

    striking of all, the growth in the world economy during the single year of 2000

    exceeded that of the entire nineteenth century. Economic growth, now the goal of

    governments everywhere, has become the status quo. Stability is considered a

    2departure from the norm.

     As the economy grows, its demands are outgrowing the earth, exceeding

    many of the planet’s natural capacities. While the world economy multiplied

    sevenfold in just 50 years, the earth’s natural life-support systems remained essentially the same. Water use tripled, but the capacity of the hydrological system

    to produce fresh water through evaporation changed little. The demand for seafood

    increased fivefold, but the sustainable yield of oceanic fisheries was unchanged.

    Fossil fuel burning raised carbon dioxide (CO) emissions fourfold, but the capacity 2of nature to absorb COchanged little, leading to a buildup of CO in the 2 2

    atmosphere and a rise in the earth’s temperature. As human demands surpass the

    3earth’s natural capacities, expanding food production becomes more difficult.

Losing Agricultural Momentum

    Environmentalists have been saying for years that if the environmental

    trends of recent decades continued the world would one day be in trouble. What

    was not clear was what form the trouble would take and when it would occur. It

    now seems likely to take the form of tightening food supplies, and within the next

    few years. Indeed, China’s forays into the world market in early 2004 to buy 8

    million tons of wheat could mark the beginning of the global shift from an era of

    4grain surpluses to one of grain scarcity.

    World grain production is a basic indicator of dietary adequacy at the

    individual level and of overall food security at the global level. After nearly tripling

    from 1950 to 1996, the grain harvest stayed flat for seven years in a row, through

    2003, showing no increase at all. And in each of the last four of those years,

    production fell short of consumption. The shortfalls of nearly 100 million tons in

    52002 and again in 2003 were the largest on record.

    With consumption exceeding production for four years, world grain stocks

    dropped to the lowest level in 30 years. (See Figure 11.) The last time stocks were this low, in 197274, wheat and rice prices doubled. Importing countries competed

     1 Excerpted from Lester R. Brown, Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Scarcity Challenge in an

    Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures (W.W. Norton & Co., NY: 2005), forthcoming.

     2 vigorously for inadequate supplies. A politics of scarcity emergedwith some

    6countries, such as the United States, restricting exports.

    Figure 1-1. World Grain Stocks as Days of Consumption, 1960-

    2004

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    80Days

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    019601965197019751980198519901995200020052010

    In 2004 a combination of stronger grain prices at planting time and the best

    weather in a decade yielded a substantially larger harvest for the first time in eight

    years. Yet even with a harvest that was up 124 million tons from that in 2003, the

    world still consumed all the grain it produced, leaving none to rebuild stocks. If

    7stocks cannot be rebuilt in a year of exceptional weather, when can they?

    From 1950 to 1984 world grain production expanded faster than population,

    raising the grain produced per person from 250 kilograms to the historical peak of

    339 kilograms, an increase of 34 percent. This positive development initially

    reflected recovery from the disruption of World War II, and then later solid

    technological advances. The rising tide of food production lifted all ships, largely

    eradicating hunger in some countries and substantially reducing it in many

    8others.

    Since 1984, however, grain harvest growth has fallen behind that of

    population, dropping the amount of grain produced per person to 308 kilograms in

    2004, down 9 percent from its historic high point. Fortunately, part of the global

    decline was offset by the increasing efficiency with which feedgrains are converted

    into animal protein, thanks to the growing use of soybean meal as a protein

    supplement. Accordingly, the deterioration in nutrition has not been as great as the

    9bare numbers would suggest.

    The one region where the decline in grain produced per person is unusually

    steep and where it is taking a heavy human toll is Africa. In addition to the nutrient

    depletion of soils and the steady shrinkage in grainland per person from population

    growth in recent decades, Africa must now contend with the loss of adults to AIDS,

    which is depleting the rural work force and undermining agriculture. From 1960

    through 1981, grain production per person in sub-Saharan Africa ranged between

    140 and 160 kilograms per person. (See Figure 12.) Then from 1980 through 2001

    it fluctuated largely between 120 and 140 kilograms. And in two of the last three

    years, it has been below 120 kilogramsdropping to a level that leaves millions of

    10Africans on the edge of starvation.

     3

    Figure 1-2. Grain Production per Person in Sub-

    Saharan Africa, 1960-2004

    180

    160

    140

    120

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    80Kilograms60

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    019601965197019751980198519901995200020052010

    Several long-standing environmental trends are contributing to the global

    loss of agricultural momentum. Among these are the cumulative effects of soil

    erosion on land productivity, the loss of cropland to desertification, and the

    accelerating conversion of cropland to nonfarm uses. All are taking a toll, although

    their relative roles vary among countries.

    Now two newer environmental trendsfalling water tables and rising

    temperaturesare slowing the growth in world food production, as described later in this chapter. (See also Chapters 6 and 7.) In addition, farmers are faced with a

    shrinking backlog of unused technology. The high-yielding varieties of wheat, rice,

    and corn that were developed a generation or so ago are now widely used in

    industrial and developing countries alike. They doubled and tripled yields, but

    there have not been any dramatic advances in the genetic yield potential of grains

    11since then.

    The use of fertilizer, which removed nutrient constraints and helped the new

    high-yielding varieties realize their full genetic potential during the last half-century,

    has now plateaued or even declined slightly in key food-producing countries.

    Among these are the United States, countries in Western Europe, Japan, and now

    possibly China as well. Meanwhile, the rapid growth in irrigation that characterized

    much of the last half-century has also slowed. Indeed, in some countries the

    12irrigated area is shrinking.

    The bottom line is that it is now more difficult for farmers to keep up with

    the growing demand for grain. The rise in world grainland productivity, which

    averaged over 2 percent a year from 1950 to 1990, fell to scarcely 1 percent a year

    13from 1990 to 2000. This will likely drop further in the years immediately ahead.

    If the rise in land productivity continues to slow and if population continues

    to grow by 70 million or more per year, governments may begin to define national

    security in terms of food shortages, rising food prices, and the emerging politics of

    scarcity. Food insecurity may soon eclipse terrorism as the overriding concern of

    14national governments.

Growth: The Environmental Fallout

    The world economy, as now structured, is making excessive demands on the

    earth. Evidence of this can be seen in collapsing fisheries, shrinking forests,

    expanding deserts, rising CO levels, eroding soils, rising temperatures, falling 2

    water tables, melting glaciers, deteriorating grasslands, rising seas, rivers that are

    running dry, and disappearing species.

     4

    Nearly all these environmentally destructive trends adversely affect the world

    food prospect. For example, even a modest rise of 1 degree Fahrenheit in

    temperature in mountainous regions can substantially increase rainfall and

    decrease snowfall. The result is more flooding during the rainy season and less

    snowmelt to feed rivers during the dry season, when farmers need irrigation 15 water.

    Or consider the collapse of fisheries and the associated leveling off of the

    oceanic fish catch. During the last half-century the fivefold growth in the world fish

    catch that satisfied much of the growing demand for animal protein pushed oceanic

    fisheries to their limits and beyond. Now, in this new century, we cannot expect

    any growth at all in the catch. All future growth in animal protein supplies can only

    come from the land, putting even more pressure on the earth’s land and water

    16resources.

    Farmers have long had to cope with the cumulative effects of soil erosion on

    land productivity, the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses, and the encroachment of

    deserts on cropland. Now they are also being battered by higher temperatures and

    crop-scorching heat waves. Likewise, farmers who once had assured supplies of

    irrigation water are now forced to abandon irrigation as aquifers are depleted and

    wells go dry. Collectively this array of environmental trends is making it even more

    difficult for farmers to feed adequately the 70 million people added to our ranks

    17each year.

    Until recently, the economic effects of environmental trends, such as

    overfishing, overpumping, and overplowing, were largely local. Among the many

    examples are the collapse of the cod fishery off Newfoundland from overfishing that

    cost Canada 40,000 jobs, the halving of Saudi Arabia’s wheat harvest as a result of aquifer depletion, and the shrinking grain harvest of Kazakhstan as wind erosion

    18claimed half of its cropland.

    Now, if world food supplies tighten, we may see the first global economic

    effect of environmentally destructive trends. Rising food prices could be the first

    economic indicator to signal serious trouble in the deteriorating relationship

    between the global economy and the earth’s ecosystem. The short-lived 20-percent

    rise in world grain prices in early 2004 may turn out to be a warning tremor before

    19the quake.

Two New Challenges

     As world demand for food has tripled, so too has the use of water for

    irrigation. As a result, the world is incurring a vast water deficit. But because this

    deficit takes the form of aquifer overpumping and falling water tables, it is nearly

    20invisible. Falling water levels are often not discovered until wells go dry.

     The world water deficit is historically recent. Only within the last half-

    century, with the advent of powerful diesel and electrically driven pumps, has the

    world had the pumping capacity to deplete aquifers. The worldwide spread of these

    pumps since the late 1960s and the drilling of millions of wells, mostly for

    irrigation, have in many cases pushed water withdrawal beyond the aquifer’s

    recharge from rainfall. As a result, water tables are now falling in countries that are

    home to more than half of the world’s people, including China, India, and the

    21United Statesthe three largest grain producers.

    Groundwater levels are falling throughout the northern half of China. Under

    the North China Plain, they are dropping one to three meters (310 feet) a year. In

    India, they are falling in most states, including the Punjab, the country’s

    breadbasket. And in the United States, water levels are falling throughout the

    southern Great Plains and the Southwest. Overpumping creates a false sense of

    food security: it enables us to satisfy growing food needs today, but it almost

    22guarantees a decline in food production tomorrow when the aquifer is depleted.

     5

    With 1,000 tons of water required to produce 1 ton of grain, food security is

    closely tied to water security. Seventy percent of world water use is for irrigation,

    20 percent is used by industry, and 10 percent is for residential purposes. As

    urban water use rises even as aquifers are being depleted, farmers are faced with a 23 shrinking share of a shrinking water supply.

     At the same time that water tables are falling, temperatures are rising. As

    concern about climate change has intensified, scientists have begun to focus on the

    precise relationship between temperature and crop yields. Crop ecologists at the

    International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and at the U.S. Department

    of Agriculture (USDA) have jointly concluded that with each 1-degree Celsius rise in

    temperature during the growing season, the yields of wheat, rice, and corn drop by

    2410 percent.

    Over the last three decades, the earth’s average temperature has climbed by

    nearly 0.7 degrees Celsius, with the four warmest years on record coming during

    the last six years. In 2002, record-high temperatures and drought shrank grain

    harvests in both India and the United States. In 2003, it was Europe that bore the

    brunt of the intense heat. The record-breaking August heat wave that claimed

    35,000 lives in eight nations withered grain harvests in virtually every country from

    25France in the west through the Ukraine in the east.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that during this

    century, with a business-as-usual scenario, the earth’s average temperature will

    rise by 1.45.8 degrees Celsius (210 degrees Fahrenheit). These projections are for

    the earth’s average temperature, but the rise is expected to be much greater over

    land than over the oceans, in the higher latitudes than in the equatorial regions,

    and in the interior of continents than in the coastal regions. This suggests that

    increases far in excess of the projected average are likely for regions such as the

    North American breadbasketthe region defined by the Great Plains of the United

    States and Canada and the U.S. Corn Belt. Today’s farmers face the prospect of

    26temperatures higher than any generation of farmers since agriculture began.

The Japan Syndrome

     When studying the USDA world grain database more than a decade ago, I

    noted that if countries are already densely populated when they begin to

    industrialize rapidly, three things happen in quick succession to make them

    heavily dependent on grain imports: grain consumption climbs as incomes rise,

    grainland area shrinks, and grain production falls. The rapid industrialization that

    drives up demand simultaneously shrinks the cropland area. The inevitable result

    is that grain imports soar. Within a few decades, countries can go from being

    essentially self-sufficient to importing 70 percent or more of their grain. I call this

    the ―Japan syndrome‖ because I first recognized this sequence of events in Japan,

    27a country that today imports 70 percent of its grain.

     In a fast-industrializing country, grain consumption rises rapidly. Initially,

    rapidly rising incomes permit more direct consumption of grain, but before long the

    growth shifts to the greater indirect consumption of grain in the form of grain-

    intensive livestock products, such as pork, poultry, and eggs.

    Once rapid industrialization is under way, it is usually only a matter of years

    before the grainland area begins to shrink. Among the trends leading to this are the

    abandonment of marginal cropland, the loss of rural labor needed for multiple

    cropping, and a shift of grainland to the production of fruits, vegetables, and other

    high-value crops.

     6

    First, as a country industrializes and modernizes, cropland is used for industrial and residential developments. As automobile ownership spreads, the

    construction of roads, highways, and parking lots also takes valuable land away

    from agriculture. In situations where farmers find themselves with fragments of

    land that are too small to be economically cultivated, they often simply abandon

    their plots, seeking employment elsewhere.

    Second, as rapid industrialization pulls labor out of the countryside, it often leads to less double cropping, a practice that depends on quickly harvesting one

    grain crop once it is ripe and immediately preparing the seedbed for the next crop.

    With the loss of workers as young people migrate to cities, the capacity to do this

    diminishes.

    Third, as incomes rise, diets diversify, generating demand for more fruits and vegetables. This in turn leads farmers to shift land from grain to these more

    profitable, high-value crops.

    Japan was essentially self-sufficient in grain when its grain harvested area peaked in 1955. Since then the grainland area has shrunk by more than half. The

    multiple-cropping index has dropped from nearly 1.4 crops per hectare per year in

    1960 to scarcely 1 today. Some six years after Japan’s grain area began to shrink,

    the shrinkage overrode the rise in land productivity and overall production began to

    decline. With grain consumption climbing and production falling, grain imports

    soared. (See Figure 1–3.) By 1983 imports accounted for 70 percent of Japan’s

    28 grain consumption, a level they remain at today.

     A similar analysis for South Korea and Taiwan shows a pattern that is

    almost identical with that of Japan. In both cases, the decline in grain area was

    followed roughly a decade later by a decline in production. Perhaps this should not

    be surprising, since the forces at work in the two countries are exactly the same as

    in Japan. And, like Japan, both South Korea and Taiwan now import some 70

    29percent of their total grain supply.

    Based on the sequence of events in these three countries that affected grain production, consumption, and importsthe Japan syndromeit was easy to

    anticipate the precipitous decline in China’s grain production that began in 1998

    (as described in the next section). The obvious question now is which other

    countries will enter a period of declining grain production because of the same

    combination of forces? Among those that come to mind are India, Indonesia,

    30Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, and Mexico.

     7

     Of particular concern is India, home to nearly 1.1 billion people. In recent

    years, its economic growth has accelerated, averaging 67 percent a year. This

    growth, only slightly slower than that of China, is also beginning to consume

    cropland. So, too, are the needs of the 18 million people added each year to India’s

    population. In addition to the grainland shrinkage associated with the Japan

    syndrome, the extensive overpumping of aquifers in Indiawhich will one day 31 deprive farmers of irrigation waterwill also reduce grain production.

     Exactly when rapid industrialization in a country that is densely populated

    will translate into a decline in grain production is difficult to anticipate. Once

    production turns downward, countries often try to reverse the trend. But the

    difficulty of achieving this can be seen in Japan, where a rice support price that is

    32four times the world market price has failed to expand production.

The China Factor

     Chinathe largest country in the worldis now beginning to experience the

    Japan syndrome. Perhaps the most alarming recent world agricultural event is the

    precipitous fall in China’s grain production since 1998. After an impressive climb

    from 90 million tons in 1950 to a peak of 392 million tons in 1998, China’s grain

    harvest fell in four of the next five years, dropping to 322 million tons in 2003. For

    perspective, this decline of 70 million tons exceeds the entire grain harvest of

    33Canada.

     Behind this harvest shrinkage of 18 percent from 1998 to 2003 is a decline

    in grain harvested area of 16 percent. The conversion of cropland to nonfarm uses,

    the shift of grainland to higher-value fruits and vegetables, and, in some of the

    more prosperous regions, a loss of the rural labor needed for multiple cropping are

    34all shrinking China’s grainland—just as they did Japan’s.

    In addition, China is also losing grainland to the expansion of deserts and

    the loss of irrigation water, due to both aquifer depletion and diversion of water to

    cities. (See Chapter 8 for further discussion of these pressures.) Unfortunately for

    China, none of the forces that are shrinking the grainland area are easily countered.

    Between 1998 and 2003, five consecutive harvest shortfalls dropped China’s once massive stocks of grain to their lowest level in 30 years. With stocks now

    largely depleted, China’s leaders—all of them survivors of the great famine of 1959

    61, when 30 million people starved to deathare worried. For them, food security

    35is not a trivial issue.

     Not surprisingly, China desperately wants to reverse the recent fall in grain

    production. In March 2004, Beijing announced an emergency supplemental

    appropriation, expanding the 2004 agricultural budget by one fifth ($3.6 billion) in

    an effort to encourage farmers to grow more grain. The support price for the early

    rice crop in 2004 was raised by 21 percent. While these two emergency measures

    did reverse the grain harvest decline temporarily, whether they can reverse the

    36trend over the longer term is doubtful.

     When China turns to the outside world for commodities, it can overwhelm

    world markets. For example, 10 years ago China was self-sufficient in soybeans. In

    2004, it imported 22 million tonsquickly eclipsing Japan, the previous leading

    37importer with 5 million tons.

    When wheat prices within China started climbing in the fall of 2003, the

    government dispatched wheat-buying delegations to Australia, Canada, and the

    United States. They purchased 8 million tons, and overnight China became the

    38world’s largest wheat importer.

    China is a fascinating case study because of its sheer size and extraordinary

    pace of industrial development. It has been the world’s fastest-growing economy

    since 1980. The economic effects of this massive expansion can be seen in the rest

    of the world, but China is also putting enormous pressure on its own natural

     8

    resource base. In the deteriorating relationship between the global economy and 39 the earth’s ecosystem, China is unfortunately on the cutting edge.

    With water, the northern half of China is literally drying out. Water tables

    are falling, rivers are going dry, and lakes are disappearing. In a 748-page

    assessment of China’s water situation, the World Bank sounds the alarm. It

    foresees ―catastrophic consequences for future generations‖ if water use and supply

    cannot quickly be brought back into balance. More immediately, if China cannot

    quickly restore a balance between the consumption of water and the sustainable

    yield of its aquifers and rivers, its grain imports will likely soar in the years

    40ahead.

    For people not living in China, it is difficult to visualize how fast deserts are

    expanding. It can be likened to a war, yet it is not invading armies that are claiming

    the territory, but expanding deserts. Old deserts are advancing and new ones are

    forming, like guerrilla forces striking unexpectedly, forcing Beijing to fight on

    several fronts. Throughout northern and western China, some 24,000 villages have

    either been abandoned or partly depopulated as drifting sand has made farming

    41untenable.

    On the food front, the issue within China is not hunger and starvation, as

    the nation now has a substantial cushion between consumption levels and minimal

    nutrition needs. Rather, the concern is rising food prices and the effect that this

    could have on political stability. China’s leaders are striving for a delicate balance

    between food prices that will encourage production in the countryside but maintain

     42stability in the cities.

    As noted earlier, smaller countries like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan can

    import 70 percent or more of their grain, but if China turns to the outside world to

    meet even 20 percent of its grain needs, which would be close to 80 million tons, it

    will provide a huge challenge for grain exporters. The resulting rise in world grain

    prices could destabilize governments in low-income, grain-importing countries. The

    entire world thus has a stake in China’s efforts to stabilize its agricultural resource

    43base.

The Challenge Ahead

     It is difficult to overestimate the challenges the world faces over the next

    half-century. Not only are there a projected 3 billion more people to feed, but there

    are also an estimated 5 billion people who want to diversify their diets by moving

    up the food chain, eating more grain-intensive livestock products. On the supply

    side, the world’s farmers must contend with traditional challenges, such as soil

    erosion and the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses, but now also with newer trends

    such as falling water tables, the diversion of irrigation water to cities, and rising

    44temperatures.

    At the World Food Summit in 1996 in Rome, 185 governments plus the

    European Community agreed that the number of hungry people needed to be

    reduced by half by 2015. Between 199092 and 199597, the number did decline

    by some 37 million from 817 million to 780 million, or over 7 million a yearbut

    this was much less than the 20 million per year needed to reach the 2015 target.

    And then things got even worse. From 199597 to 19992001, the number of

    hungry people in the world began to increase, rising by 18 million to 798 million.

    This increase in hunger is not too surprising, given the lack of growth in the world

    45grain harvest from 1996 to 2003.

    Against this backdrop of a slowly deteriorating food situation, there is the

    prospect that the Japan syndrome will soon take effect in other countries,

    shrinking their grain harvests. Is India’s grain production likely to peak and start

    declining in the next few years, much as China’s did after 1998? Or will India be

    able to hold off the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses and the depletion of aquifers

     9

    long enough to eradicate most of its hunger? There are signs that the shrinkage in

    its grain area, which is a precursor to the shrinkage of overall production, may

    have begun.

    Because aquifer depletion is recent, it is taking agricultural analysts into

    uncharted territory. It is clear, for example, that water tables are falling

    simultaneously in many countries and at an accelerating rate. Less clear is exactly

    when aquifers will be depleted and precisely how much this will reduce food

    production.

     levels on 2If the climate models projecting the effect of rising atmospheric CO

    the earth’s temperature are anywhere near the mark, we are facing a future of

    higher temperatures. We do not know exactly how fast temperatures will rise, but

    in a world of rising temperatures, there is reason to be concerned about world food

    46security.

    On another front, in Africa the spread of HIV/AIDS is threatening the food

    security of the entire continent as the loss of able-bodied field workers shrinks

    harvests. In sub-Saharan Africa, disease begets hunger and hunger begets disease.

    In some villages, high HIV infection rates have claimed an entire generation of

    young adults, leaving only the elderly and children. Without a major intervention

    from the outside world, the continuing spread of the virus and hunger that is

    cutting life expectancy in half in some countries could take Africa back to the Dark

    47Ages.

    In a world where the food economy has been shaped by an abundance of

    cheap oil, tightening world oil supplies will further complicate efforts to eradicate

    hunger. Modern mechanized agriculture requires large amounts of fuel for tractors,

    irrigation pumps, and grain drying. Rising oil prices may soon translate into rising

    food prices.

    As we look at the prospect of swelling grain imports for Asia, where half the

    world’s people live, and for Africa, the second most populous continent, we have to

    ask where the grain will come from. The countries that dominated world grain

    exports for the last half-centurythe United States, Canada, Australia, and

    48Argentinamay not be able to export much beyond current levels.

    U.S. grain production, though it has reached 350 million tons several times

    over the last two decades, has never risen much beyond this. U.S. grain exports,

    which two decades ago were running around 100 million tons a year, have

    averaged only 80 million tons in recent years as rising domestic grain use has more

    than absorbed any production gains. The potential for expansion in both Canada

    and Australia is constrained by relatively low rainfall in their grain-growing regions.

    Argentina’s grain production has actually declined over the last several years as

    49land has shifted to soybeans.

    By contrast, countries such as Russia and the Ukrainewhere population

    has stabilized or is declining and where there is some unrealized agricultural

    production potentialshould be able to expand their grain exports at least modestly. However, the low yields that are characteristic of northerly countries that

    depend heavily on spring wheat, as Russia does, will likely prevent Russia from

    becoming a major grain exporter. The Ukraine has a somewhat more promising

    potential if it can provide farmers with the economic incentives they need to expand

    50production. So, too, do Poland and Romania.

    Yet the likely increases in exports from these countries are small compared

    with the prospective import needs of China and, potentially, India. It is worth

    noting that the drop in China’s grain harvest of 70 million tons over five years is

    51equal to the grain exports of Canada, Australia, and Argentina combined.

    Argentina can expand its already large volume of soybean exports, but its

    growth potential for grain exports is limited by the availability of arable land. The

    only country that has the potential to substantially expand the world grainland

     10

    area is Brazil with its vast cerrado, a savannah-like region that lies on the southern

    edge of the Amazon Basin. (See Chapter 9.) Because its soils require the heavy use

    of fertilizer and because transporting grain from Brazil’s remote interior to distant

    world markets is costly, it would likely take substantially higher world grain prices

    for Brazil to emerge as a major exporter. Beyond this, would a vast expansion of

    cropland in Brazil’s interior be sustainable? Or is its vulnerability to soil erosion

    likely to prevent it from making a long-term contribution? And what will be the 52 price paid in the irretrievable loss of ecosystems and plant and animal species?

    Ensuring future food security is a formidable challenge. Can we check the HIV epidemic before it so depletes Africa’s adult population that starvation stalks

    the land? Can we arrest the steady shrinkage in grainland area per person,

    eliminate the overgrazing that is converting grasslands to desert, and reduce soil

    erosion losses below the natural rate of new soil formation? Can we simultaneously

    halt the advancing deserts that are engulfing cropland, check the rising

    temperature that threatens to shrink harvests, arrest the fall in water tables, and

    protect cropland from careless conversion to nonfarm uses?

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