Peak Water means Peak Food

November 28, 2007 · Filed Under Threats to Food Supply · Comment 

Everyone realises that they cannot live very long without water to drink, but less people realise the enormous amounts of water that is needed to grow food.

The quantity required varies depending on the crop type, soil type, temperature etc, but as an example, it takes about 600 tonnes of water to produce 1 tonne of corn.   In some fortunate places (such as western Europe) we have enough natural rainfall at the right time to give good crops on most soil types without additional water supplied through irrigation. In many important food producing regions this is not the case though,  and much of the food production increases we have seen in the past 60 years has been due to the irrigation of dry land that would otherwise be uncropped or very low yielding.

Unfortunatly, in many areas we will not be able to continue to maintain current production yields.  As water supplies lessen there will be huge reductions in yield. The great aquifers that have been such a blessing in the past are being depleted quickly. Huge pumps driven by fossil fuels are bringing fossil (ancient) water from ever deeper levels, but eventually supplies will dwindle and then stop.

Similarly, rivers are drying up as cities and farming compete for available supplies. In China, so much water is extracted from the once mighty Yellow River that now hardly any water reaches the sea.   This causes cities and farmers closer to the sea to extract more underground water which is in turn running out.

Climate change is making things very much worse. Not only is rainfall less reliable and there are more droughts and floods, but snowmelt is earlier. Many large coastal plains rely on melting snow flowing down from inland mountain ranges.  In the past with some help from storage behind dams, this water flowed at the right time to irrigate the plains. Now some of the snow is replaced by rain, and what snow there is melts earlier. The dams can only hold so much and so valuable water flows away into the oceans before it can be used.

As with most of our natural resources, we have been wasteful with the huge reserves the earth held and will have to manage more on the natural rainfall reaching us each year. This will not be easy because although amounts falling are massive, its not in the right place for the vast areas that now use ancient aquifers.

As water availability per person declines so will food availability per person, adding to the other food production problems.

Smallholding Self-sufficiency in anticipation of Peakfood

November 23, 2007 · Filed Under solutions · Comment 

Yesterday Andy from bought the printed version of Famine in the West. He is interested in low-impact living, and since May has been living on a 2 hectare smallholding in central Portugal. He told Peakfood:

“We are very aware of prices increasing and the instability of world food
etc… that’s one reason why we are here, with our own reliable water
supply, and plans to upgrade our food production capabilities this
winter/spring as well as starting to offer inexpensive courses in
self-suficiency and permaculture type things… to try to help some people
in the coming multi-crisises…

“I have been personally struggling with my family’s struggle in the
economic system… they all seem to be working every hour and still living
on their credit cards… as you say, most people have no idea what is
happening, and more and more are heading our way to set up smallholdings,
learn skills etc… part of me is hopeful that peak oil will slow down
some of the environmental destruction that is being committed in the name
of profits, but also aware that it could go the other way, with so many
people so addicted to the soma of our culture, huge amounts of damage can
and probably will be done in an attempt to survive, as in deforestation in
poorer parts of the world by people seeking firewood…
we have so much education to do… we have so much of society in a
cul-de-sac with no easy way out…

keep up the good work

Elephant Grass for Fuel

November 22, 2007 · Filed Under security of energy supply · Comment 

As we try to move away from the use of fossil fuels, elephant grass (miscanthus) is a perennial grass that should be a useful plant for the efficient collection of solar energy.  It can produce very high yields of dry matter without heavy use of fertiliser or pesticides, so the energy balance is good. At the present time it is being used for electricity generation, sometimes co-fired with coal. It would seem ideal for local combined power and heat plants where the waste heat is utilised rather than being wasted.

Looking ahead, it will likely be a good crop to use for the production of cellulusic ethenol.

You can learn more about elephant grass at, a site which educates children and families about environmental issues.

Fish Catch will be hit by Climate Change

November 21, 2007 · Filed Under collapse of fisheries · Comment 

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows many ways that food production will be hit as the world warms up.

One of the least known is the conclusion that carbon dioxide emissions have already increased the acidity of ocean surface water by 30 %, and could treble it by the end of the century. This is said to be the most profound change in the chemistry of the oceans for 20 million years and is expected to disrupt the entire web of life of the oceans, reducing productivity.

Fish has been a very important part of many people’s diet and a significant contributer to the total food available to humans. Wild fish is already under threat due to over fishing so that with this additional problem of acid oceans, the per capita availability of wild fish is bound to fall as populations rise. In turn this will contribute to Peak Food.

New IPCC report supports Peak Food Theory

November 20, 2007 · Filed Under climate change · Comment 

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a frightening document. The 2500 scientists involved are usually very conservative in their conclusions especially as they need the backing of some governments that have been sceptical in the past.

This latest report leaves  no doubt that climate change is happening even faster than previously expected, that it is mainly caused by human activity and that the effects will be disasterous unless urgent action is taken.

The report predicts that nearly one third of the world’s species could be driven to extinction as the world warms up.

For us at Peak Food, our belief that we are headed for food shortages is confirmed by the prediction that harvests will be cut dramatically across the world. We have been saying that climate change is just one of the factors that is allready causing food prices to rise and has brought us to a very dangerous situation where we have such low reserve food stocks that any new crisis such as severe drought in North America or disruption to the oil supplies on which farming now depends, would cause chaos and hunger throughout the world.

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