30 Apr 2008, 4:24pm
Agriculture Rural Economics
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The Food Crisis

Dunn, J.R. 2008. The Food Crisis. The American Thinker, April 2008.

J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker

Full text [here] and below:

As everyone knows by this point, we are in the midst of a food crisis. Domestic prices of basic foods have risen by 46% over the past year, putting even more pressure on already stressed consumers. Overseas, food riots have occurred in Haiti, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Indonesia, Yemen, and as close to our borders as Mexico. These riots were severe enough to bring down the Haitian government of Jacques Edouard Alexis. Others may follow.

Any number of explanations have been offered. Global warming has taken its accustomed bow, only to be immediately pushed to one side by other candidates including market pressure created by higher living standards in India and China and increased fuel and fertilizer costs thanks to OPEC’s price-raising spree. Overpopulation has been dragged from the closet and dusted off one more time. The dour ghost of economist Thomas Malthus, with his lethal equation that food supply increases arithmetically while population increases geometrically, has made yet another appearance.

How will we feed the world, the cry arises. The feast is over; the era of cheap food has come to an end. The West (as ever), must mend its ways, give up its McDonald’s and KFC for the common good, learn to content itself with a bowl of cabbage soup and a handful of bamboo shoots a day. Soylent Green is just around the corner.

Within a year, the prophet of the 1200-calorie international diet will begin his campaign, in much the same way as Al Gore (perhaps it will even be Al Gore, if global warming goes south quickly enough), pursuing that Nobel aglow just over the horizon. Ecoterrorists will develop new targets to add to loggers and fur-wearers. (Has anybody ever noticed that PETA and Earth First! tend to keep their distance from leather fanciers, like those who so frightened Code Pink in Berkeley last week?) Fast-food restaurants will burst into flame in the dead of night. Famous chefs will require bodyguards. Ranchers will walk in fear of ambush, their herds poisoned or scattered.

All of which completely misses the point. Because there is one reason above all for the current crunch in basic foodstuffs, and that is: politics.
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23 Apr 2008, 10:40pm
Agriculture Rural Economics
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Food For Thought

by Alvaro Vargas Llosa, from The New Republic [here]

Our only hope for solving the looming food crisis is to end protectionist trade policies.

WASHINGTON-In the 1830s, Richard Cobden and John Bright started a campaign against the protectionist laws that were keeping food prices high in Britain. After sustaining abuse for many years, they persuaded the government in 1846 to repeal the infamous Corn Laws, a move that helped usher in a long period of prosperity. I have been thinking intensely about these 19th-century heroes lately. The world needs a new Anti-Corn Law League, the movement they founded, if it wants to put a stop to the madness of escalating food prices and save millions of people, from Haiti to Bangladesh and from Cameroon to the Philippines, from starvation.

Prices have increased steadily in the last three years, but matters really came to a crunch this year. Since January, the price of rice has gone up by 141 percent, while the price of wheat has almost doubled in one year. In a world in which the poor spend three-quarters of their budget on food, that means potentially a life-or-death situation for the 1 billion human beings who live on the equivalent of $1 dollar a day.

When the price of something shoots up, one can infer that the supply is not keeping up with the demand. In the wake of today’s food shock, many people have focused on the causes of the rise in the demand for food. All of them-from the growing wealth of China and India to the explosion of grain-derived biofuels in rich nations-sound very plausible. Less attention has been paid to why, in the era of globalization, in which products can move quickly from manufacture to market, and with the advances in biotechnology, the supply of food is not meeting the demand.

Many governments, multilateral bodies, nongovernmental organizations and pundits are failing to answer that basic question. Instead, they postulate solutions that would either compound the problem or constitute at best a short-term palliative. The real solution will be the removal of the causes of the shortfall. Those causes have little to do with economics or demographics, and everything to do with the politics of governments and those who use governments to serve their interests-to the detriment of the general public.

Few areas of the economy are more strewn with protectionist laws than agriculture-in rich and poor countries alike. A panoply of quotas, subsidies, tariffs and prohibitions designed to win votes and, essentially, bribes has discouraged the much-needed increase in food production. In normal free-market circumstances, the slightest signal that prices were going up would have been enough to ensure that masses of capital were invested in farming for food. In the current mess, it is not surprising that investors are not pouring money into food production: Farmers in Europe are paid to keep their land fallow because of a scheme called the Common Agricultural Policy; farmers in Argentina are being asked to give up 75 percent of their earnings through various taxes; farmers in the United States are more interested in feeding SUVs than in feeding people because the U.S. Congress has mandated a fivefold increase in the use of biofuels; and farmers in Africa are not experimenting with genetically modified crops because they are banned in many of the countries to which they might be able to export them.

British economist and African expert Paul Collier wrote recently that “the most realistic way is to replicate the Brazilian model of large, technologically sophisticated agrocompanies that supply the world market. … To contain the rise in food prices we need more globalization, not less.”

I would add that small farmers in developing countries would also team up and create economies of scale if they were not hampered by domestic laws designed to protect consumers and by international commercial laws designed to protect producers-or if peasants in, say, China were allowed to fully own their land.

According to The Economist magazine, of the 58 countries whose reaction to the crisis has been researched by the World Bank, 48 have imposed price controls, consumer subsidies and export restrictions. A problem that was originated by protectionism has elicited a protectionist response from most countries. A century and a half after Cobden and Bright defeated protectionism in Britain, their ideas are more powerfully relevant than ever.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa, author of Liberty for Latin America, is the director of the Center on Global Prosperity at the Independent Institute.

8 Apr 2008, 11:19pm
Agriculture Rural Economics
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Still Feeding the World

Driessen, Paul. 2008. Still Feeding the World: a Tribute to Norman Borlaug.

Full text [here]

Selected Excerpts:

Norman Borlaug just turned 94 - and is still going strong. He’s the father of the Green Revolution. Penn and Teller call him the greatest person in history. When the Nobel committee awarded him the 1970 Peace Prize, it said his work had saved a billion lives. Norman Borlaug turned 94 on March 25 and, despite cancer that had him sick and hospitalized a couple months ago, just attended a conference in Mexico on new rust-resistant wheat varieties and modern agricultural methods. …

He is still “an Energizer Bunny,” his daughter Jeanie says. Decades ago, while neo-Malthusians were predicting mass famine, Borlaug used Rockefeller Foundation grants to unlock hidden (recessive) genes and crossbreed different wheat strains, to create new “dwarf” varieties that were resistant to destructive “rust” fungi. The shorter plants were also sturdier, put less energy into growing leaves and stalks, and thus had higher yields. …

In 1985, he began working with former President Jimmy Carter to bring a Green Revolution to Sub-Saharan Africa, emphasizing intensive modern farming methods with new hybrid and biotech seeds on existing fields, to reduce the need to slash and burn wildlife habitat, as soil nutrients are exhausted. Unfortunately, their progress may be undermined by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his misleadingly named Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Annan says biotech crops are unsafe, untested, and likely to enslave poor farmers to mega-corporations and expensive seeds. He wants to battle Africa’s chronic poverty and malnutrition with “traditional seeds” and methods. …

Dr. Borlaug fears that would be a devastating failure. As he said during a 2005 biotechnology conference, sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality at the United Nations, he sees no way the world can feed its hungry population without genetically engineered (GE) crops, especially if it relies more on biofuels. He has little patience for “well-fed utopians who live on Cloud Nine but come into the Third World to cause all kinds of negative impacts,” by scaring people and blocking the use of biotechnology. These callous activists even persuaded Zambia to let people starve, rather than let them eat biotech corn donated by the USA. They also oppose insecticides to combat malaria - and fossil fuels, hydroelectric dams and nuclear power to generate abundant, reliable, affordable electricity for poor nations. …

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality and Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power. Black death.

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