Hot summer sparks global food crisis

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This summer's heatwave has drastically cut harvests across Europe, plunging the world into an unprecedented food crisis, startling new official figures show.

This summer's heatwave has drastically cut harvests across Europe, plunging the world into an unprecedented food crisis, startling new official figures show.

Separate calculations by two leading institutions monitoring the global harvest show that the scorching weather has severely reduced European grain production, ensuring that the world will not produce enough to feed itself for the fourth year in succession, and plunging stocks to the lowest level on record. And experts predict that the damage to crops will be found to be even greater when the full cost of the heat is known.

They say that, as a result, food prices will rise worldwide, and hunger will increase in the world's poorest countries. And they warn that this is just a foretaste of what will happen as global warming takes hold.

Sunshine and warmth are, of course, good for plants and there were hopes that this year's good summer would produce a bumper harvest. But excessive heat and low rainfall damage crops, and the heatwave - which brought temperatures of more than 100F to Britain for the first time, and gave France 11 consecutive days above 95F, killing more than 1,000 people - has done enormous damage.

The US Department of Agriculture has cut its forecast for this year's grain harvest by 32 million tons, mainly because of the European crop reductions. On Thursday, the International Grains Council - an intergovernmental body - reduced its own prediction even further, by 36 million tons, as a result of "heat and drought, particularly in Europe."

The damage has been most severe in Eastern Europe, which is now bringing in its worst wheat crop in three decades: in Ukraine, the harvest has been cut from 21 million tons last year to five million, while Romania has its worst crop on record. Germany is the worst-hit EU country: some farmers in the south-east have lost half their grain harvest. Official British figures will not be published until October.

The final tally of the summer's damage is likely to be worse still. Lester Brown, the president of Washington's authoritative Earth Policy Institute, predicts that it will cut another 20 million tons off the world harvest, making this a catastrophic year.

It has come at a time when world food supplies were already at their most precarious ever. The world has eaten more grain than it has produced every year so far this century, driving stocks well below the safety margin to their lowest levels in the 40 years that records have been kept. The amount of grain produced for each person on earth is now less than at any time in more than three decades.

Until about a month ago, this year had been expected to produce a reasonable harvest, allowing some recovery. But the heatwave has now ensured that it will make things even worse, and experts say that the crisis will deepen as global warming increases.

Grain prices have already increased, and Mr Brown warns that in coming years they may move to a permanently higher level. This would encourage greater production, he says, but at the expense of the world's hungry, who could then afford even less food, and of the environment, as farming intensified.

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