Friday, June 26, 2009

Plows into Swords and Swords into Plows

The links - and the competition - between food production and war is an old one and mentioned already in the Bible.

Reuters report April 20 that Algeria is suffering a potato shortage because officials have imposed strict controls on the use of fertiliser to stop al Qaeda militants using it as a bomb-making ingredient, farmers said. Security experts say ammonia, used by farmers to improve crop yields, has also been found in bombs detonated by Algerian militants affiliated to al Qaeda.State security forces in this North African country have cracked down hard on the insurgents but farmers say there has been an unforeseen consequence: a kilo of potatoes in the capital now costs more than three times what it used to.

In India the collapse of the Mughal empire lead to a lot of fighting. When Ahmed Shah Durrani invaded India 1759 the demand for buffaloes and oxen for transport of armies increased so much that their price rose five times, clearly reducing the agriculture production seriously.

In Sweden, France and Germany in the 16th to 18th century farmers were forced to deliver nitrates to the governments for the making of gunbpowder. That nitrate was extracted from the manure and meant that large quantities of nutrients were taken from farming and virtually exploaded into the air. Obviously with detrimental effects on farm production.

Peru and Bolivia even fought a long war with Chile over nitrate resources 1879 to 1883 (Chile won)

Nitrogen production got the biggest boost from World War II developments. Nitrogen is, of course, one of the main ingredients in explosives. During the 1930s, the U.S. government spent millions of dollars researching how to produce nitrogen from the air we breathe. That process requires a lot of electricity, so some of the first plants were built near hydroelectric dams in the TVA. The nitrogen produced took the chemical form of ammonia.

When World War II started, the government constructed 10 new plants to produce ammonia for munitions. All were located in the interior of the country. Several of the plants were built alongside natural gas pipelines so they could use the gas as raw material for their production. By the end of the war, these new plants and the old ones were producing 730,000 tons of ammonia each year, and had the capacity of producing 1.6 million tons.When the nitrogen was no longer needed for bombs, what were they going to do with all this capacity? The answer was, use the nitrogen-rich ammonia for fertilizing the nation's crops.

Other examples of the relationship is the immense deforestation of certain parts of the world for (war) ship building a deforestation that caused erosion and local climate change.

All through history wars have affected farming, and even today consumers in Algeria have to pay a triple price for their spuds because of war. When will this end?

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