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1998-04-15 20:41:56


The Specter of Famine



The threat of a breakdown in the division of labor is not confined to manufacturing . Agriculture is also vulnerable.

Transportation is crucial. The railroads are at risk. Commercial seed companies sell mostly hybrid seeds that produce plants whose seeds do not produce crops with the characteristics of the parents. If the banks go down, farmers will not be able to order seeds from these highly specialized seed companies.

Then there is diesel fuel, fertilizer, and high-tech chemical sprays. All are at risk.

The y2k problem is now driving the sales of food storage programs, which are operated mostly by Mormons. Deliveries can take six months or more today.

This report from Westergaard's site throws light on the threat of food shortages.

* * * * * * * *

With the agricultural industry's dependency on computer technology to produce and distribute food, the possibility of a major food shortage does deserve some consideration.

Modern day farming is a corporate business. Agricultural products are stock market commodities which are bought and sold. In order for these products to reach the consumer, they must be traded. Delivering them to the consumer is a long intricate process of transactions: from the producer to the wholesaler, from the wholesaler to the distributor, from the distributor to the local retailer who in turn sells it to the consumer.

All of these transfers are dependent on computer transactions. If one link in this modern day "food chain" should break, the whole process will likely fail. For example, if the wholesaler is not able to purchase the shipments of grapefruits from the farmer, the crates of perishable Ruby Reds will rot in the warehouse. If the farmer is unable to sell his crop, he will not make money. Without that money, the farmer will go bankrupt and not be able to grow next season, thereby setting of a chain reaction that will end in one less farmer growing grapefruit. One after another, each business will fold if it is not able to sell its goods.

While grapefruits are hardly necessary for survival, imagine what would happen if a year's corn or wheat crop encountered the same problem. A shortage of these crops, which are indeed necessary for production of dietary staples such as bread, could spell disaster for many communities in America and around the world. Given the nature of today's market, in which very often food is delivered in relatively small amounts in order to avoid surplus, what little remains on the shelves will disappear in a matter of days.

For example, most U.S. cities have approximately 72-hours' worth of food within their borders. The U.S. as a whole only has a three-month supply. Even with a rationing system in place, necessities such as bread could become virtually non-existent or at least prohibitively expensive. . . .

Also, under this relatively new system of production, the farmers depend on hybrid seeds to grow their crops. These seeds, which cannot be warehoused due to their perishable nature and must be imported due to the fact that they do not reproduce from one year's crop to the next, are delivered in the early part of the year. In 2000, the part of the year that will be most affected by Y2K disruptions will be this crucial time. Logically, these disruptions have the potentially disastrous possibility of preventing the planting of an entire year's crops, thereby extending the Y2K recovery time for another year, with major indirect fallout to follow from this disruption for many years to come.

Seen in this light, the possibility of agricultural disruption from Y2K poses a serious threat, perhaps a threat more serious than any other aspect of the problem. The key to preventing this disaster will be insuring that the primary avenues of distribution remain open. Also, seeing as not every contingency can be accounted for, planning for some sort of disaster relief in those areas seen to be most susceptible to Y2K disruptions would be a good idea. It is up to the more technologically advanced West, which brought this economic system to the world, to rise up to this challenge.


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