The Silent Crisis: Topsoil

The world continues to deplete its base of arable land. Though it’s been going on for some time, the dramatic blows are only now showing their effect. In East and North Africa, in the plains of India all the way to Turkey, the story is the same. Some of it is just human carelessness about the land. Some of it is climate driven: the declining snowmelts of the Himalayas and more frequent crop-killing heat waves in places such as India…

China, you may recall, is now the largest net importer of soybeans in the world. A mere 15 years ago, it made more than it needed and exported soybeans. Now India may import rice. Some think that India could import as much as 2 million metric tons, the most in the world. Traditionally, India has been the world’s third largest exporter. (It’s already banned overseas rice sales in an effort to keep rice at home.)

The Philippines, thanks to typhoon damage, will also be a net buyer of rice this year. South America will produce less, and there is potential trouble with the crop in the Mississippi Delta. Yes, Thailand and Vietnam appear to have healthy rice supplies. But it won’t be enough.

All of this puts Brazil in the catbird seat, as more people are starting to figure out. “Superpower Is Ready to Feed the World,” reads a Financial Times headline. You may quibble with the FT’s exuberant labeling of Brazil as a superpower. But Brazil is now the top exporter of chicken and beef, orange juice, green coffee, sugar, ethanol, tobacco and the soya complex of beans, meal and oil. It is No. 4 in maize and pork. It is, agriculturally speaking, deserving of the superpower label.