April 29, 2008

Sachs on the Food Crisis

I'm not a huge fan of Sachs.  He's a good writer, a good summarizer of information, and a good front man but his policy solutions tend to be too Western-centric and thus too heavily dependent upon throwing money at problems for my tastes which run more towards sustainable solutions.  However, like I said, he's a good compiler and communicator of data and thus I was remiss in not pointing out his piece in Time - here is his summary on the causes of the global food crisis:
The crisis has its roots in four interlinked trends. The first is the chronically low productivity of farmers in the poorest countries, caused by their inability to pay for seeds, fertilizers and irrigation. The second is the misguided policy in the U.S. and Europe of subsidizing the diversion of food crops to produce biofuels like corn-based ethanol. The third is climate change; take the recent droughts in Australia and Europe, which cut the global production of grain in 2005 and '06. The fourth is the growing global demand for food and feed grains brought on by swelling populations and incomes. In short, rising demand has hit a limited supply, with the poor taking the hardest blow.

The last three trends I don't have much of a problem with, the first I'll quibble with in a moment and while the specter of rising oil prices is underlying several of them-fertilizers, biofuels, tranportation-I'm curious as to why he didn't bring it front and center. 

His solutions to countering these trends?  First, spend a lot of money on fertilizer and high-yield seeds thus, in effect, hopefully spurring another green revolution.  I worry about this solution, especially in the case of fertilizers, as dependence upon them and the methods of farming that are incumbent with their use are heavily entrenched in the corporate led global food system.  High-yield seeds, code words for GMO's, are a matter of no small debate but unfortunately the debate is often phrased in paternalistic tones when directed at developing countries who refuse to open their markets, or fields, to their use.  Second, Sachs jumps on the biofuel bashing wagon and says America and the EU should abandon all subsidies for the fuel crops.  Third, and most intriguing to me is basically a call to develop ways to "weather proof the world's crops" by developing sustainable methods of accommodating and adjusting to changes in the global climate.

These aren't bad solutions but neither are they quick solutions and in the face of our 100 million global neighbors now facing the threat of starvation its hard not to ask how we didn't see this coming

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