April 28, 2008

Non-Ideological Transcendent Challenges of the 21st Century: Food

Ok - this is my second introductory interlude (see italics below).  I should just delete the whole thing but I'll leave it for posterity.  I'm even less ambitious this, my third time around, to try and finish this post but I feel the need to post something regarding the current food crisis since its makes up about 2/3 of the links I've been bookmarking over the past month and actually makes the case for my original post even stronger.  Unfortunately, that means that this has devolved into nothing more than a glorified links post, sorry, but I'll only include the best/most helpful for your and my sake.

The Washington Post has just started a new five-part series that gives a good introductory overview and so far seems to be pretty solid.  Including this pretty sweet graphic which gets at the heart of the net import/export issue (at least on a nation state issue - see original post, way down there, for how that plays out in-state) and who that makes more vulnerable:

The folks at the Center for Global Development blog call for a New Deal style trade policy on hunger and then rightly point out what will NOT help things get better, the adaption by Africa and Latin America of American/European style subsidies which are themselves part of the problem: 

If that were not enough, despite the current global food crisis, the farm bill retains an additional subsidy to U.S. shipowners, as well as farmers, by requiring that U.S. food aid be purchased in the United States, packaged here, and much of it shipped to where it is needed on U.S.-owned ships. That means that roughly half of the already-inadequate U.S. food aid budget goes for distribution and transportation, rather than to feed hungry people in poor countries.

(This single fact alone is why Care International decided last year to stop receiving $45 million in federal aid money from the US Government.)

Reuters also has a good round up of articles/coverage on what they are calling Agflation with the incumbent maps and graphics, I'm a sucker for those.

If you are visual/auditory oriented check out Bill Moyers' recent segment which focuses more on America but has a good segment on subsidies and an interview with David Beckmann from Bread for the World.

For your online economist's roundup try these posts by Chris Blattman, Simon Johnson here, Tyler Cowen here, Dani Rodrick's response to Cowen and his taking to task of the World Bank's Zoellick, Tyler's response to Rodrick's response, Paul Collier here

There is, of course, more but that will get you started and up to speed and if anything of interest pops up I'll let you know.

April 14th - This post has been sitting in my draft box for about 2 weeks now as I just haven't had the energy to pull it together and say all I wanted to say, because, let's be honest, I'm writing it for myself.  But over the last four or five days there have been a number of articles, op-eds, and blog posts that say, from much more credible sources, pretty much everything I wanted to say and they say it better so I'll try and pull them all together and make some sense of the conglomeration.  

April 6'th - There were several, more worthy, contenders for the title of "transcendent challenge of the 21st century" that came to mind when I pointed out John McCain's elevation of the confusion between cause and effect to the level of a national security issue.  The first, actually it may have been second, is not nearly as sexy, especially in an election year, as "radical Islamic extremism" but it seems like it should be an important issue regardless since it finds a spot on most lists entitled "Necessities of Life."  Food.

Food is getting a lot of buzz these days as global prices are on the rise and that is a challenge worthy of some weighty contemplation.  For Mr. McCain and his ilk such contemplation can easily be phrased in the language of, "What contextual factors might lead to the creation or inflammation of breeding grounds for 'radical Islamic extremism'?" and valid cases for concern are readily forthcoming. (1 scoop of poor governance + 2 extremist conflicts + 1 skyrocketing price of palm oil = Pakistan)  However, there are a number of other reasons to be worried about rising global food prices that have nothing to do with playing the terrorist card.

The global commodities market has long been a damned if you do, damned if you don't affair when it comes to food prices.  Low prices on global markets are bad news for rural farmers who can't make enough money off their crops to feed their families or recoup for next season's planting, but the urban poor are awash in cheap cereal crops that get off loaded onto developing markets in a sea of "generosity" (sticking it to the rural one more time by driving their local prices even lower).  High prices on global markets are good news for rural farmers because they can actually turn a profit on their crops (thanks in part to the absence of the aforementioned "generosity" which suddenly has a market elsewhere) both locally and globally and lay aside a bit for the future, but the urban poor get the short end of this one with no food aid arriving and no recourse to grow for profit. 

So, what do you do?  My hope, when one or two of these stories started emerging at the end of last year was that this would be hunger's "peak oil" - i.e., it would spur a rash of rethinking when it comes to the commodities market, global agriculture, and sustainability resulting in a call for newer, better methods and technologies that were rooted in the realities of the issue, a realization of the necessity of local production and a foot firmly in the marketplace.  I'm not sure that is happening.

1 comment:

a conversationalist said...

Am I the only person who is somewhat disturbed at the superstar status that economists seem to possess in our society today (sorry pomeroy). What does that say about how we value things-pun intended. I mean really, these guys probably have groupies.*bitterresentfulsigh*

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