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Endless Appetites: How the Commodities Casino Creates Hunger and Unrest

ISBN: 978-1-118-04323-3
208 pages
October 2011
Endless Appetites: How the Commodities Casino Creates Hunger and Unrest (1118043235) cover image
How to understand the twenty-first century food crisis

Since 2007, farm-product prices have rocketed and plunged, causing hunger, malnutrition, and social and political upheaval around the world. Endless Appetites explores how "food security," the availability of food and the reasonable ability to buy it, has become one of the most challenging topics of our time. With every jump in grocery-store prices, the issue becomes more and more pressing, proven by this year's record increase in food prices, which has already topped the spike of 2008.

  • Award-winning commodities reporter Alan Bjerga explains the food crisis and why it is happening in an accessible, articulate manner
  • Why is this happening when more food is being grown than ever?
  • Why are crop markets first established in the 1800's to help stabilize agricultural commodity prices acting like an investors' casino, with prices absorbed by rich nations taking food from the mouths of the poor?
  • From college campuses to emergency UN meetings, "food security" is one of the hottest topics of the day, with no shortage of interest in how to stabilize food prices worldwide to close the hunger gap

To understand the growing international food crisis, readers need an expert they can rely on. One of the most widely acclaimed journalists on food security, Alan Bjerga is up to the task, taking readers from the trading floor of Chicago to the highlands of East Africa to the rice paddies of Thailand on a global trek to find the causes of the food-price crisis and the solutions.

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Author’s Note viii

Prologue xi

CHAPTER 1: Floors, Fields, and Famines 1

CHAPTER 2: Chicago Makes a Market 13

CHAPTER 3: Elephants in the Kiddie Pool 25

CHAPTER 4: A Recipe for Famine 39

CHAPTER 5: The View from Rome 51

CHAPTER 6: Hot Air 65

CHAPTER 7: Promise 79

CHAPTER 8: The Price of a Cup of Coffee 97

CHAPTER 9: A Better Banana 113

CHAPTER 10: Thai Quality 131

CHAPTER 11: Steps Up 147

CHAPTER 12: Harvest of Hope 159

Notes 169

Acknowledgments 189

About the Author 191

Index 193

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Alan Bjerga has covered food and agricultural issues for more than a decade for Knight-Ridder Newspapers and Bloomberg News. He won the Glenn Cunningham Agricultural Journalist of the Year Award from the North American Agricultural Journalists in 2005. In 2009, he was recognized for covering U.S. food aid and famine in Ethiopia by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, the North American Agricultural Journalists, the New York Press Club, and the Overseas Press Club. In 2010, Bjerga was President of the National Press Club and the North American Agricultural Journalists.

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"“Endless Appetites is ideal for someone interested economics and global markets, packed as it is with numbers. But the information in this book is important for anyone who is concerned about the future of our food supply—which should probably be all of us.”
Serious Eats!

"Worth checking out … Based on the author's personal visits to farmers around the world, Bjerga explains how the crisis happened (short answer: greed), it’s tragic effects, and what now has to be done to reverse them."
The Atlantic

"Some of Bjerga’s best writing is about the inner workings of the Chicago Board of Trade and other markets, and when he brings American agricultural history into the story of what other countries have not had and do not have to encourage stable agricultural development. … Bjerga’s skill is in the way he forces the reader to make connections between aspects of agriculture that do not normally appear together. And the book is chock full of unusual observations."
AgWeek

“My Thanksgiving holiday book discovery will become Christmas season reading. ... Lest you think this is just another rant at financial and trading institutions, be aware that Bjerga is a veteran commodities writer and Washington correspondent."
Lee Egerstrom in Hindsight: The Minnesota 2020 Blog

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October 12, 2011
Endless Appetites: How the Commodities Casino Creates Hunger and Unrest

ENDLESS APPETITES

How the Commodities Casino Creates Hunger and Unrest

By

Alan Bjerga

Bloomberg News Agriculture Correspondent

Alan Bjerga’s ENDLESS APPETITES (Bloomberg Press/Wiley; October 2011; Hardcover or eBook) explores global hunger and how to solve the current food crisis. Famine and malnutrition in the Horn of Africa is causing suffering in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya while spiraling food inflation has caused riots and revolution from Egypt in the Middle East to Tunisia in North Africa. More-developed food exporters, such as Thailand, face their own issues, as rice farmers try to prosper in a world of greater risk. And the rise of commodities speculation, higher energy needs that have increased the use of biofuels such as ethanol, and tighter supplies of corn, wheat, and soybeans have proven to be a double-edged sword, providing profits for some while denying grain to the poor. Yet, the chance to defeat hunger and improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people is better than ever. New markets for agricultural goods and more production from the world's poorest people can stabilize farm commodity prices and create better food security, taming the commodities casino and serving everyone better.

ENDLESS APPETITES is about globalization—its (intended and unintended) consequences, its challenges and its opportunities. The world is in a new era of rising and shifting food costs that thwart solutions even as the food crisis increases suffering around the globe. Hunger that has declined for decades now stubbornly refuses to fall further as high prices and turbulent weather have stopped three decades of progress in its tracks.

Starvation and malnutrition are unnecessary today. Each person on the planet can be fed with existing agricultural production. People threatened by famine today could even feed themselves—and help out the rest of us tomorrow, when we will need one another more than ever to thrive on a crowded planet. But to make famine a memory, we must first stop forgetting about it. And we have to understand and explore the ties that bind the fortunate to the famished.

Among the many pressing issues ENDLESS APPETITES tackles include:

  • Why more than 60 food riots erupted worldwide from 2007 and 2009 and the political and economic consequences of social unrest due to global hunger.
  • To have more food you have to grow more food. The concept is simple, the best way to do it isn’t. ENDLESS APPETITES explores the more promising means of eradicating world hunger through better food security.
  • Why food security isn’t only about poorer nations growing and selling more food. It’s also about the role more-developed farm economies play in solving the food crisis.
  • How governments contribute to higher, more volatile agricultural commodity prices by erecting trade barriers that raise food costs and create unrest.
  • How the commodity futures exchanges once so instrumental in keep prices relatively stable have become hotbeds for speculators whose actions reverberate across the global economy.
  • Why the land grabs of African farmland by foreign countries and investors could become the new imperialism of the 21st century.
  • What Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Bill Clinton are doing to help poorer nations become agriculturally self-sufficient and eliminate starvation and malnutrition.
  • How finance—both the microfinance pioneered by Nobel Prize-winning economist Muhammad Yunus and investment from mainstream banks—can reinvigorate small, otherwise impoverished communities in poorer nations and reduce global hunger.

A billion people may go hungry this year, but that’s not the farmers’ fault. They can feed the world—and even help clothe it and fuel it—if the market’s working right. People with one acre in Ethiopia or 10,000 acres in North Dakota can co-exist and contribute and learn from one another and grow our way of the food shocks we’re seeing.

The good news is that cooperation to prevent future food-price spikes is rising as well. Long-standing battle lines drawn between what’s called production agriculture—industrial-scale farming relying heavily on the latest technology—and sustainable agriculture of often-smaller farms where environmental stewardship becomes an organizing theme are starting to blur.

As production agriculture grows more sustainable, with more attention to soil and water improvement, sustainable agriculture is becoming more productive, with moves toward international organic-food standards that could create new markets for smaller farmers worldwide.

ENDLESS APPETITES is a carefully researched and powerful narrative about how the world is at a watershed moment in the battle against hunger. Informative and persuasively argued, ENDLESS APPETITES  will leave readers with an intimate understanding of the challenges of global hunger poses for all of us as the 21st century unfolds—and the powerful solutions that are now at hand.

About the Author

Alan Bjerga is an agriculture reporter for Bloomberg News.  He won the Glenn Cunningham Award from the North American Agricultural Journalists in 2005. In 2009, he was recognized for his project covering U.S. food aid and famine in Ethiopia by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, the North American Agricultural Journalists, the New York Press Club, and the Overseas Press Club.  In 2010, Bjerga was the president of the National Press Club and the North American Agricultural Journalists.

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