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In Uganda in 1999, a new and more virulent strain of wheat fungus was detected: Puccinia graminis, or Ug99. It can take a healthy field and transform it into a mass of black, tangled, shriveled grain in just a few weeks; crop losses range between 50-70%.
Unfortunately, Ug99 is on the move; as the Wall Street Journal article points out, it's moving quickly out of Africa and towards major wheat-producing countries like India and Pakistan.
The spores of the fungus are carried by the wind, spreading the disease to susceptible strains of wheat. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that those susceptible varieties of wheat make up 80% of the wheat planted in Africa and Asia. This is not the first rust threat to come out of Africa, and scientists have been able to predict the spread of the disease from data of earlier infestations. So far, their predictions have been right on the money. It has been found in East Africa and Yemen, and recently it was positively identified in Iran. The real kicker is that the strain of Ug99 found in Yemen had already mutated into a more virulent form than that which caused reduced wheat yields in Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.sorce
When a country must import the food necessary for its people, it will only be a matter of time before civil unrest will occur.
Food security is traditionally discussed in terms of either food self-sufficiency or food self-reliance. The former requires production of food in the quantities consumed domestically, while the latter requires domestic availability. Self-sufficiency rules out imports as a major source of supply while self-reliance has no such restriction. Some commentators do not regard self-sufficiency as an economically sound alternative, given the much greater worldwide capacity to produce food than to consume it, the few restrictions on the exports of food items in countries with excess capacity, and the availability of international transport. Instead, what countries need, it is argued, is sufficient capacity to generate the foreign exchange necessary to import whatever quantities they consume over and above what it is efficient to produce, based on comparative advantage.
Trade Liberalization and Food Security, FAO _/ex]
Our results show that while many low-income countries are net food importers, the importance and potential impact of the net food importing status has been highly exaggerated. Many low-income countries that have larger food deficits are either oil exporters or countries in conflict. Food deficits of most low-income countries are not that significant as a percentage of their imports.
Who Are the Net Food-Importing Countries?, World Bank _/ex]
Net food importing countries aren't always Third World indigents. Among their number you will find Norway, Singapore and, I believe, Switzerland, all of which have far more stable societies than the United States'.
You may find this paper on food security policy in Norway worth perusing. It's a .pdf download, by the way.
Scarcity of agricultural land does cause social unrest, but not in a way that can affect the USA. It happens in countries with expanding populations and in which most people are peasant farmers, where arable land is at a premium and the amount available to each peasant to cultivate is reduced every generation by subdivision through inheritance as the population grows. That was the cause of the Rwanda massacre of 1994. It was also behind the more recent unrest in Kenya.
I think America has a way to go yet before it reaches that condition. No need to push the panic button just yet.
Originally posted by Astyanax
Scarcity of agricultural land does cause social unrest, but not in a way that can affect the USA.