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South America, the fourth largest continent in the world, arguably boasts the most impressive untapped natural resources in the world. South America has a solid agricultural background, and there could still potentially be room to grow.  It is one of the world leaders in agricultural production, and is in position to continue this trend for generations to come. Other South American countries have begun to follow the example Brazil has set in being the agricultural leader while the continent as a whole has profited from the benefits of exporting valuable food and other resources.

South America is a hotbed for agriculture for two main reasons; the rich untapped natural resources, and the various climates the continent possesses. The continent retains four climates, which range from tropical (wet and dry) to temperate (mild weather changes from season to season) while certain areas remain cold or arid.

The varying tropical climates cover over half of the continent with tropical wet and dry conditions occurring in the Orinoco River basin, the Brazilian Highlands and in a western section of Ecuador.

Many crops tend to thrive in the tropical areas of South America. Cashews and other kinds of nuts are cultivated in these regions, making them one of South America’s largest exports.

In fact, some of the world’s most popular fruits, such as avocado, pineapple, papaya and guava, are all produced in large increments in these tropical areas of South America. Not only do these edible, easy to manage crops improve South American agriculture, the continent has also become a strong resource of cash crops for the world.

Coffee was imported from the Old World in the 1800s and is grown in the highlands of Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. Nowadays, it is exported in large amounts from the key manufacturing parts of Colombia’s Cordillera Central, the basis of some of the world’s highest-quality coffees. The most notable native beverage, yerba maté, is brewed from the leaves of a plant indigenous to the upper Paraná basin. It is still gathered in its wild state in Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.

Another cash crop, tobacco,  is cultivated in many countries but is produced commercially in large amounts in primarily Brazil and Colombia. The two most important native South American spices—allspice and red pepper—are exported from Brazil.

South American temperate climates are home to large numbers of livestock and other industrial crops. In these climates, corn runs as king of the crop. Corn is mass-produced in these areas, and is one of the biggest money-makers of the continent.

South America has steadily brought itself into an agricultural leader in the world. It produces many reliable crops and invests in the cash crop profits. By banking on the expansive natural resources, South America has found a model of success it can follow for generations to come.

 Zachary Wright

Sources: National Geographic, Mbendi, World Hunger, Inter-American Development Bank, Encyclopedia Britannica

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A paper recently published in the Journal for the Society of Risk Analysis, brings attention to the important role corn plays in global food security. Corn’s many uses make it a central commodity and a great influence on prices and global food security. Corn can be found in: starch, oil, food sweeteners, alcohol, as well as livestock feed and biofuel that assists global food security.

Corn’s central role also means that a disruption in corn supply can create a global crisis. This is compounded by reliance on two major export markets: the United States and Argentina. Of the top five import countries, four of them rely on the United States to provide the vast majority of their corn.

Climate change, however, is a growing concern among corn growers world-wide. According to a study done at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom focusing on corn production in France, temperature levels are a significant variable in corn production. When temperatures exceed a certain level, corn yield suffers, according to the study. Already the average number of days over this threshold per year has risen. This is disturbing news as average temperatures are expected to continue to rise during the 21st century. As the study’s leader, Dr. Ed Hawkins of the Natural Environment Research Council’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science, states “It’s a serious risk to food security.”

Scientists estimate corn production will need to increase by 12 percent per acre between 2016 and 2035 in order to maintain current production levels. In order to increase crop yields, additional technology advancements will be necessary.

The importance of global food security has led corn growers from leading export nations to form a collaborative group to address this shared issue as well as biotechnology, stewardship, and trade. This cooperative group formation, dubbed The International Maize Alliance (MAIZALL), is the first of its kind and is significant for the collaboration among trade competitors. The United States, Argentina, and Brazil, the three top corn export markets, are members.

MAIZALL will discuss biotechnology in regards to food security as well. Getting import markets to accept drought-resistant traits is an important component for global food security, stated National Corn Growers Association President, Pam Johnson. MAIZALL members will travel to China and South Korea in October to discuss biotechnology in those markets.

Incorporating technological innovation to boost yields and counteract climate change is important for protecting and increasing future corn yields. A significant drop in these yields will lead to increased food prices and shortages that will endanger global food security. With a world population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, corn producers world-wide are on the alert.

– Callie D. Coleman

Sources: Farm Futures, Corn and Soybean Digest, Food Security

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A billion people in the world suffer from hunger or malnutrition. While most of the world’s hungry live in places with high rates of extreme poverty, such as Africa and the Middle East, many also live here in the United States. Some consider a billion hungry people the definition of a global food crisis. Others say that things could get much worse. Either way, hundreds of social, agricultural, and humanitarian organizations are working to alleviate hunger and improve food security in the world’s most vulnerable regions.

Over the last five years, droughts, extreme temperatures, and unusual weather in some of the world’s most productive agricultural regions, including the US, have caused prices for wheat, corn, soybeans, and other food staples to increase dramatically. This has led to higher prices for many food products, especially animal products. As usual, the world’s poor have been most affected by the increase in prices. For those who either spend a substantial amount of their income on food or rely on subsistence farming to feed themselves, a certain increase in the price of food directly results in ongoing hunger and food insecurity.

Different crops affect various populations in distinct ways. Rice and wheat are the two major cereal staples in the diets of the world’s poor. Therefore, as long as those prices remain stable, a global food crisis can be averted. While increases in the price of corn will affect gas prices and meat prices, this will not necessarily contribute to a global food crisis. Most corn grown in the US is either manufactured into ethanol or fed to livestock, and the world’s poorest people cannot afford to buy much meat or gasoline in the first place.

However, a low yield of one crop can put pressure on the production and export of other crops. When the corn crop suffered in 2012, this caused an increased demand for wheat as livestock feed. This demand drove up the price of wheat, and reduced the supply of wheat available for export to places such as the Middle East, where much of the population relies on imported wheat for sustenance.

Economists and food experts warn against overreacting to high prices, as panic can create tighter restrictions and more problems. In order to begin to solve the global food crisis, we must focus not on what has gone wrong, but on what can be done to increase agricultural yields, implement sustainable farming methods, improve consumer access to affordable, healthy food, and help more of the world’s poor achieve food security.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has recommended that structural causes of food insecurity be addressed through the complementary techniques of short-term emergency aid and long-term sustainable development and poverty reduction efforts.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: IRIN
Photo: World Bank