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Tackling World Food Crisis: Agricultural Reform

by Asinus Asinum Fricat Thu May 1st, 2008 at 03:50:08 AM EST

It took more than 400 scientists and three years of haggling, wrangling and heated arguments to come up with the report by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) as dire warnings from the World Bank, the IMF and the UN's World Food Programme splashed the front pages of the world press in the last few weeks (the Executive summary, the Global summary and all its regional summaries are here in both pdf & HTML forms, a great trove of information for those who are interested). I have read all summaries and will endeavor to read the regional pieces as well in the next few weeks.

The 2,500 pages report concluded that while advances over the last fifty years had resulted in the world's food production increasing at a much faster rate than its population, the present system of production and trade meant the benefits were spread unevenly, and as we know, at intolerable price paid by the small farmers, workers and rural communities and of course, the environment.

Promoted by Migeru


"Malnutrition and food insecurity threaten millions", the authors of the report wrote, "rising populations and incomes will intensify food demand, especially for meat and milk which compete for land with crops, as will biofuels."

The report, commissioned by the UN and the World Bank, prescribed a fundamental rethink of agriculture knowledge, science and technology to develop a sustainable global food system. This report, launched by IAASTD's Professor Robert Watson, fingered the hikes in food prices on the (now known) usual suspects: increased demand, poor weather (read Global warming), export restrictions, more land used to produce biofuels such as corn-derived ethanol, commodity market speculations, and good old fashioned panic buying and hoarding. Outlining some of the challenges facing world farming in the next decades, Professor Watson said: "We need to enhance rural livelihoods where most of the poor live on one or two dollars a day. At the same time we need to meet food safety standards, all of which must be done in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner." Reading through one of the summaries, IAASTD's co-chairman, Hans Herren, rightly notes that contentious political and economic stances are hampering attempts to address some of the imbalance, naming the OECD countries who are deeply opposed to any changes in trade regimes or even subsidy systems. A cursory look at who's who on the naysayers list does not surprise me: USA, Australia, Canada, Britain are among them.

However, in this report there are two salient points that are of considerable importance IMO, and long overdue, particularly gender equality: it strongly urges action to implement gender and social equity in policies and practices. Such actions include strengthening the capacity of public institutions and NGOs to improve the knowledge of women's changing forms of involvement in farm and other rural activities. It also requires giving priority to women's access to education, information, science and technology, and extension services to enable improving women's access, ownership and control of economic and natural resources. Secondly, it questions the role of GM technology. The report's authors are not convinced that GM technology as it is currently practiced could help in the battle against hunger. I quote: "Assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable." Good call. The response from Roger Beachy, president of the US based Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and a strong advocate of GM technology was swift and unequivocal: "the over-precaution on the issue of GM in the face of strong scientific evidence to the contrary was partly to blame for the current world food crisis." Naturellement, Monsieur Beachy, you have billions riding on this, do you not? Adding fuel to the fire, another executive, Tom Arnold of the European Food Security Group, maintained that GM may indeed form part of the future strategies to combat hunger. He says: "There has to be a potential in some of this gene technology to breed shorter cycle or drought resistant plants, for example."  This GM debate will of course go on and intensify as time goes on. It's worth noting that this week's BioVision conference in Alexandria, a gathering where scientists, academics and representatives from the development sector discussed the role of life sciences in tackling problems in developing coutries, the GM issue reared its ugly head in several meetings.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said:

"Agriculture is increasingly reaching limits in terms of arable land and water availability, reduction in soil fertility and increasing environmental impacts. Modern industrial agriculture considers these impacts as extraneous even though the loss of ecosystem services undermines the very basis of what sustains agriculture. If our modern agricultural systems continue to focus only on maximising production at the lowest cost, agriculture will face a major crisis in 20 to 30 years time. There is a collective ignorance about how agriculture interacts with natural systems and this must change."

Up until now, agriculture has been the domain of professional agriculturalists with a narrow focus on increasing productivity. IAASTD has brought in many other voices to create a broad vision that includes production, social and environmental dimensions. Food insecurity is not a result of lack of production but of the inadequacy of agricultural capacity to deliver food such as trade issues (and) the 40 percent loss of food, post-harvest, of which little is said about. Some 33 countries are presently in danger of political instability and domestic unrest because of rising costs. And  with the advent of the biofuels, many countries are seeing this as fuel and food being priced at equivalent levels, effectively stealing from the poor to subsidize the rich car drivers in developed states. Expect more anger in the near future from this inequality.  

Above all, political will and commitment is needed to tackle these problems with the radicalism and imagination they need. It is high time the debate on agriculture was conducted on a more informed plane. I haven't heard much from the candidates on these issues.

Over-population is another reason, but that's for another diary.

Display:
I was just hunting down links re the IAASTD report, and was about to read the Global Summary, so thanks for this diary.

Concerning GM crops' capacity to produce more and so "feed the world", apart from the obvious objection that producing more in productivist terms means increasing petro- and aqua-inputs, interesting evidence comes from Kansas State University that GM crops (in this case, soy) don't perform as well yieldwise as non-GM. (See today's Salon). So Beachy's "the over-precaution on the issue of GM in the face of strong scientific evidence to the contrary was partly to blame for the current world food crisis" looks even more unbalanced. The notion that GM crops have higher yields is a commonplace, but false.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 12:10:39 PM EST
Well he has to blow his own horn, as billions of dollars are in the balance for the companies he represents. Greenpeace has posted a fairly persuasive argument a while ago (can't find the damn link) but here is another great source of info: http://www.organicconsumers.org/monlink.cfm
by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 12:20:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Variation on the old toothpaste advertisments:

9 out of 10 agricultural scientists employed by Monsanto think GM crops are just ducky-wonderful and will Save the Day!

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 01:24:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
After hearing some of how Monsanto et al makes business, I think abolishing patents and such on biological processes would bring the GMOs crashing down. They use EULAs on seedbags to get farmers to sign away their rights, and sue those that will not buy it. Can you prove that their GMOs has not spread to your land, making you guilty of infringing on their imaginary property? Can you defend yourself against tons of lawyers?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Tue Apr 22nd, 2008 at 01:27:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Paul Krugman - Op-Ed Columnist - New York Times Blog
My problem with the speculative stories is that they all depend on something that holds production -- or at least potential production -- off the market.

Krugman seems to contend that there can't be a commodity bubble without large inventories. Why should physical stockpiles be necessary?

by generic on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 12:48:08 PM EST
They aren't.

More money chasing a fixed supply must increase the cost of that supply.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 01:19:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess the answer is in his following words: "just in case a bad harvest created a sudden shortage".

Another point, which I addressed in an earlier diary (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/4/11/102334/169/74/493181), it fingered commodities brokers, worldwide, who, in the light of the falling US dollar, hedged themselves against it by panic buying hence larger hoards. So perhaps that's what Krugman alluded to though, like you, I fail to see the logic in that approach.

by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 01:20:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But it wasn't a bad harvest.  That's the startling aspect of this thing.

There was a 200 million ton increase in coarse grain production in 2007 compared to 2006.  In fact it was a record harvest.  It was mis-managed.  Removal of grains (zea mays, mostly) from food to fuel production being one outstanding idiocy.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 01:29:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree. The UN's Jean Ziegler, called biofuels "a crime against humanity", and called for a five-year moratorium. Krugman called it an insanity. The bear awakes!

OTOH, I'm not so sure that the bumper harvest numbers reported are accurate, it may carry a degree of exaggeration. I'm looking into it, awaiting China's figures.

by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 06:11:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I flat-out don't trust the statistics coming from the PRC.  But I'd be interested in hearing what you think.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 10:30:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This makes sober reading:

SHANGHAI (Interfax-China) -- An outbreak of sharp eyespot disease (SED), which affects cereals, is threatening 72.46 million mu (4.83 million hectares) of wheat in China's major producing regions, according to local agricultural authorities.

SED might erode the wheat output by 10% to 20%, while a more serious epidemic could cut output by as much as 50%, officials from the Henan Oil and Grain Product Quality Inspection Center told Interfax. "As it is still the early growth stage for wheat, the impact on output might be reduced, although wheat quality may be downgraded," an official from the center said.

Huang Junfei, a senior commodity analyst with Changjiang Futures, believes SED may well erode wheat output by around 5% on the 4.8 million affected hectares. As there are still a few months before the harvest, good farm work may be able to make up the losses.

by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Tue Apr 22nd, 2008 at 02:38:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh.  Goodie.  

What with African stem rust running amok in Africa and the Middle East ...

A fertilizer shortage in the wheat belt of the US ...

A drought in Australia ...

Things be getting down right interesting.

Maybe we should start a $25/bushel countdown series?

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue Apr 22nd, 2008 at 11:26:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is key:

Up until now, agriculture has been the domain of professional agriculturalists with a narrow focus on increasing productivity.

Merely having people leave the land for big city slums does not improve agricultural yields, as linca wrote:

The majority of peasants in the third world are stuck with agricultural methods that went out of fashion in the High Middle Ages... And the productivity that comes with it : whereas these tools only allow a worker to cultivate about 1 hectare,  or 2.5 acres by himself, and yield thus 1 ton of grain from his work, a 1900 European or American peasant, using animal traction and basic industrially produced tools, could cultivate ten times the area, and get about 10 tons of grain for his work, and thus was already 10 times more productive ...

As the use of hand/animal labor was not able to raise the total yield of the land but concentrated the improvement - 10 peasants producing 10 tons to 1 peasant producing 10 tons.  

Second, the nine who left the land didn't evaporate!  They moved to major cities where they compete for lower paid, unskilled, jobs implying supply-side driven wage reduction.  In turn, this indicates the market price of agricultural goods produced in that country will lower as the Purchasing Power of those jobs is divided among more people.  

Third, the migration of people from rural to urban areas enfeebles the rural economic structure as the number of consumers lessens.

This trend is countered by the introduction of (however minimal) Public Health measures by various organizations increasing the rural population.  From a humanitarian stance lowering the child death rate is a good thing.  From a systems stance, not so much.  A general trend in Africa, for example, is that women and children stay in the agricultural areas while the men go to the city to try and earn some money, returning intermittently.  Since, as Asinus Asinum Fricat observes, women are not empowered this intermittent return implies Yet Another Kid.  

The last thing anybody or the planet needs.

The given examples are from Africa.  The same general system is in place in any country conforming to the same general pattern, e.g., rural Appalachia in the US., albeit with different dongles; the dance is the same, the steps are unique to the economic and technological situation of the country.

While disheartening I submit this opens the possibility that solving the Third World food crises would go a long way to solving the problems of rural poverty in the First World as well.  If this is shown to be correct it would give 'cover' for First World politicians to effectively act to change policy.  

The key, as I've already said, is to broaden the pool of experts influencing First World agricultural policy making.  As an added benefit it would broaden the pressure group(s) beyond those directly benefiting from the current policies.  Those people are powerfully connected to and in the political structures of a country.  It has been said, elsewhere, the largest beneficiary of EU agricultural subsidies in the UK is the Royal Family.  I'll bet a dollar to a bucket of cow manure investigation would uncover similar situations in the other EU countries.  It will be hard to overcome their influence.  If it isn't, nothing will happen.

Before ending this ramble let me say: eliminating ag subsidies would be a disaster, effectively gutting agriculture in the US and EU.  Whether or no in some different reality ag subsidies aren't required in this reality -- you know, the one we live in? -- it can't be done.  

What needs to be done is a wide-ranging, embracing, policy change to move the global agriculture system from here to there.  Where "there" is a sustainable agricultural system in vibrant, economically viable and diverse, rural areas.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 01:11:02 PM EST
A 10 for that.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 03:00:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you.

[O/T] We're starting to develop a really good database of information and analysis on things agricultural.  

Perhaps some (hint) FP'er (hint) could put a slot in the Debates Box (nudge, nudge) others of us (push, push) could work on throwing together some position papers (type, scribble, type, type).

Seriously, it would be a shame to let all this fall through the cracks. [O/T]

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 03:13:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Got an idea for a specific focus? Or just a boilerplate statement of global problems and everyone have a go at hashing out solutions?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 03:29:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Right now compiling all the diaries, and the ensuing discussions, in one place would be a good start.  

Then abstract the various Topics: GM, water depletion, transference of food crops to bio-fuel production, rural economic diversity, overpopulation, Climate Change, & etc with their associated diaries/comments -- something like I did here.  (which I then let lapse, my bad.)

Then construct a flow-chart or Fuzzy-Cognitive Map or some other Modeling tool to provide a Top-Down and Bottom-Up Index.

Goal: provide a quality Information Source for position papers and decision-makers.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 03:51:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, one, I'll pool the diaries together into the Occasional Series box.

Next, I think a debate might be the occasion for identifying the issues & topics, as well as sketching the outlines of solutions (debatable of course).

Then attempt the type of tool you suggest, for which we don't have a slot. The ETwiki was supposed to do this kind of thing, but it's spam-botted to hell.

The fuzzy-cognition tool I may leave to others... ;)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 04:11:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This week is going to be too busy for me to devote to non-money making activities.  I'll do what I can, when I can.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 04:18:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll start with the first part, then we'll see about the second?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 04:25:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you can put up the Debate Box and whatever you can find I'll plug away filling the gaps.

As to the second, I know how to do that.  The challenge will be getting enough time to do it.  But that's OK.  My feeling is it's better to start with high-quality but limited rather than lots and lots of nuthin.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 05:03:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
is an important focus around which many issues revolve - and thus worthy of a unique database. Not as sexy as finance, but perhaps more important.

  • food
  • biofuels
  • water
  • land rights
  • diet
  • poverty

etc in no particular order

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 12:38:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good list.  Plus

  1. Rural/regional development
  2. Ecological impact/sustainability
  3. Subsidies/trade barriers/marketing regimes

I did an academic study 20 years ago that demonstrated that the then level of CAP price subsidies not only severely depressed world agriculture by dumping European surpluses on world markets, but cost more than paying European farmers a "social wage" whilst dismantling price subsidies.  That is what has been (slowly) happening since with "decoupling".  Current price rises may make European agricultural viable again even without "social wage" payments.  The long term value of the CAP in maintaining a European agricultural industry at a time of declining world prices is now being born out.  Once farmers leave the land, they almost never go back.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 1st, 2008 at 01:15:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why are agricultural subsidies calculated at level of the producers and not the consumers? Decoupling seems a better system than crop prices, but I think it still has complexities which prevents it from being a really responsive system of food production.

Can't the subsidies operate almost like a backward VAT, moving upwards from the end value of the produce to the consumers, which promotes premium crops (like organic, for example). The subsidy only being paid if the end consumer is within the EU to prevent dumping on third world markets.

Member of the Anti-Fabulousness League since 1987.

by Ephemera on Thu May 1st, 2008 at 03:33:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Subsidies started out as an attempt to produce some price stability (smooth fluctuations) so that farmers had some certainty of at least a minimal return on their investment/crops.  As world food prices fell below the economic cost of production in Europe the subsidies rose to ensure farming within the EU remained viable.  This incentivised volume production. However large productivity increases resulted in both surplus production (butter mountains, wine lakes etc.) which in turn were dumped on world markets depressing world prices further and creating an even greater need for subsidies!  The costs became so enormous that the subsidies exceeded total farming income from crops/products actually sold.

The solution, which I advocated 20 years ago, was to decouple the social supports for farmers from their actual production - and thus de-incentivise production - and positively support reduced intensity/ more sustainable/environmentally friendly farming.  The result was that farmers got a social wage, the environment was supported, overproduction eased, third world farmers had less produce dumped on their markets, and the total cost of the enterprise to the taxpayer/consumer was reduced.

Now, with world prices rising, and pressure to liberalise trade (not least to provide access to developed markets for third world producers), farming incomes are rising in any case, and the need for a social wage support structure within the EU may diminish.  However the money saved should be spent on ensuring third world farm productivity rises to enhance their incomes, prevent food prices rising further, and provide subsidies to the poorest of the poor who have no prospect of feeding themselves.

The problem with increasing farming productivity is that it increases energy/chemical inputs and reduces labour inputs leading to increased unemployment/rural poverty, soil degradation, social inequality, corporate dependencies etc. so more sustainable and equitable means of increasing production have to be found.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 1st, 2008 at 03:57:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It sounds like the correct solution would be a reverse Corn Law, only allowing exports from Europe when world prices rose above a certain level in order to prevent food shortages. Other than that, European (and US) produce is just bad news.

Member of the Anti-Fabulousness League since 1987.
by Ephemera on Thu May 1st, 2008 at 05:01:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Diary!

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 6th, 2008 at 07:49:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm just a bit confused about the proposed goal regarding the international trade of food. For example, suppose the U.S. decides to dedicate a big (bigger) chunk of available agricultural resources to corn for ethanol transportation fuel. That will obviously increase the price of corn-based products in the U.S., and if there is international trade in corn, or in any other food commodity in any way related to corn or that makes use of corn or is a replacement for corn (e.g. rice, wheat, etc.) in some application, then it will increase the price of those goods also.

On the other hand, there is a pretty consistent anti-NAFTA sort of viewpoint here on ET, I think, so the conflict is whether to propose isolationist and protectionist agricultural policies for each country or region, or to admit the global food marketplace and thus try to come up with a global policy.

In my view the U.S. is likely to enter an isolationist phase now, in the aftermath of Iraq and our generally successful policy over the last couple of decades of pissing off everybody else in the world and the resultant bad blood between us and practically everybody except our reliable lapdogs the U.K. So in that case perhaps regional solutions are acceptable? India grows its own staples, as do China, the E.U., etc., and only luxury foods enter international trade???

by asdf on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 08:17:13 PM EST
I'm just a bit confused about the proposed goal regarding the international trade of food.

So am I, if that makes you feel better.  (LOL)

We can't go on maintaining the status quo.  That way, IMNSHO, leads to mass starvation, mass migrations, and resource wars.  NAFTA or an imposed NAFTA-type solution isn't much better; we don't need Yet Another give away to the plutocrats and their lackies.  

If we do nothing we're going to wake up in the Malthusian Nightmare.  

What we should do is unclear, aside from the motto: a sustainable population fed from a sustainable agricultural system.  There isn't a plan, that I know of, that sets forth what needs to be done.  Admittedly, what we should do will almost certainly be modified by what we can do: politically, economically, socially, culturally, technologically.  But that's irrelevant.  Any plan can kick-start a discussion and even the worst plan can be turned into the best of plans once it's written down and subjected to serious and prolonged critique.

In a very real sense, we don't have a goal.  Yet.  Over the coming months we should be able to fash one out and then, hopefully, start sticking it in people's faces; people who can actually do something about the problems.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Apr 20th, 2008 at 11:17:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know if you read the relevant parts in the article I was linking to in my diary. Summarizes well what would be necessary :

In order to allow all farmers in the world to construct and cultivate sustainable ecosystems, capable of producing a maximum of good quality products without degrading the environment, it is absolutely necessary to put an end to the international agricultural prices war. It is necessary to break with the trade liberalization which tends to bring prices into line with the lowest offers from surplus exporters. It is above all necessary to guarantee sufficiently high and stable prices to farmers, in order for them to live from their work with dignity. To this end it is necessary to create a much more equitable and much more effective organization for international agricultural trade than the one which is currently in place. A new organization that would be based upon the following principles :

  • establish large regional common agricultural markets, by regrouping countries having similar levels of agricultural labour productivity (West Africa, Southern Asia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, North America, etc.) ;
  • protect these regional markets against all imports of low-priced agricultural surpluses by variable customs duties, thus guaranteeing high and stable enough prices to poor farmers from disadvantaged regions, so as to allow them to live from their work and to invest and expand their business operations ;
  • negotiate, product by product, international agreements fixing in an equitable manner an average purchase price on the international market, as well as the quantity and the export price allowed to each of these large markets, and if necessary, to each country.

The rise in agricultural prices will have to be gradual, so as to avoid negative consequences for poor consumers-buyers. In spite of this, it will probably be necessary to implement food aid policies. But, instead of founding these policies on low-cost food distribution, which maintains peasant misery and reduces domestic markets, it will be convenient to support the food purchasing power of poor consumers, so as to expand domestic markets. Therefore, food aid policies could rely on food stamps, financed by state budgets or international aid, distributed to the needy and for free for the poorest, and exchangeable for food (as in the United States).

Also, the larger book that exposes this solution in detail is partly available on googlebooks : A History of World Agriculture By Marcel Mazoyer, Laurence Roudart. A very interesting book, very informative about the history of agriculture, its various means of production, its evolution...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 04:13:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for that info. I'll have a looksee at the book you suggested. Your diary is sensational (in the good sense!)
by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 07:11:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
linca:
Therefore, food aid policies could rely on food stamps, financed by state budgets or international aid, distributed to the needy and for free for the poorest, and exchangeable for food (as in the United States).

Why food stamps and not cash? I suppose they make it easier to predict the quantity of food needed?

by generic on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 08:51:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suppose so as to avoid distorting the market. The whole idea is about being able to set up price controls on food...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 08:55:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Being a cynical kind of guy ...

State imposed food price controls when the State is controlled by an entrenched kleptoarchy, as in most of the developing world, carries the danger of only being another source of profit for the kleptoarchy.  They could use the regulations to buy from the peasant farmers at an imposed low price and sell at a less than global market but still high price to the urban consumer.  

Or they could use the crises to steal, at gunpoint, the food from the peasant farmer to deliver, at a price, to the urban consumer.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 10:28:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do kleptocracies really need state imposed food price controls to do that ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 10:31:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nope.

But imposing Food Price Controls to "solve" internal hunger and starvation allows them a propaganda point for internal and external political 'cover.'

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 10:48:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes I did read it.

I'm not convinced, yet.

Examination of the sources (published 1986-2003) of the article reveals their analysis is based on what may be termed 'the previous regime.'  "Previous" is used to indicate the global food system may be - unclear at this point - shifting to a new equilibrium.  

Their analysis, thus their proposed solution, is spot-on for the system as it existed from 1963-2004 (say.)  Subsidized grain from the First World was removed from the consumer grain markets of the First World and dumped into the Third World.  This effectively, as Professors Mazoyer and Roudart state, "... small farmers in the developing countries have had to face competition of food staples coming from international markets at ever-lower prices.  As a consequence, they also have had to sell their output at ever-lower prices." [Page 4]

But we're not in that situation as of this writing.  

Over the past several years the coarse grain harvests have been stabilizing  yet the consumption of coarse grains have increased leading to a draw down of the world's grain reserves from 180 day supply (1995 - IIRC) to a 54 day supply (Apr 2008.)  Concurrently, the price of coarse grains have sharply increased over the past year.  As the prices have increased the economic basis of Professor's Mazoyer and Roudart argument has changed.

It is no longer the peasant farmers who are bearing the brunt of First World policies, their selling prices are increasing.  It is the urban population of the developing world who are bearing the burden: they cannot afford to buy food at the current global market price.  Worse, food prices are now reaching levels such that, as was reported yesterday (no cite,) the Philippine government can no longer afford to purchase food for its population at current prices.

Facing too high, from their inhabitants ability to pay, prices certain food producing nations, such as Indonesia and Turkestan, have imposed export restrictions to privilege internal demand to avoid unrest.  Worse, 'unique' government policies (the US in particular)  the source of the former (?) "grain glut" are reducing exports.  Climatic factors, e.g., drought in Australia, is lowering their wheat harvest.  Together these are lowering the amount of coarse grains offered on the global market.

In this climate the establishment of regional areas, protected by economic regulations to restrict movement of coarse grains is madness.  It would tend to eliminate shipment of grains from surplus areas to deficit areas.  

Exactly the wrong action to take.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 10:19:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The first question is, is the agricultural system shifting to a new equilibrium ? Their analysis of food price goes back much longer than a few decades ; rather, back from around the beginning of the 19th century. Prices spikes have happened regularly since that time, last in the 70's. Is the current crisis similar or more long term ?

The proponents of the Washington consensus are already using the crisis to ask for more liberalisation - yet the countries suffering right now are those that liberalized too much, whereas those that built a buffer between the global market and the consumer have no problems.

Economic regulations would not, in the proposed system, eliminate shipments between regional areas ; they'd be replaced by food aid (with stamps and all that). Restarting liberalization now would spell disaster once prices go back down.

The food riots are as much a wider economic problem - wage kept down to give good margins to the entrepreneurs, compensated by subsidies on food. Food prices rising can be solved by more food liberalization - how much of it is possible ? - or by raising wages...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 10:41:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... is the agricultural system shifting to a new equilibrium ?

I don't know.  Ask me again in about 5 years.  The last few years could be a blip with the system returning to the basic trendlines of the last 50 years.  More likely, given the shift in fundamental factors (Climate Change, decreasing productivity of marginal lands, shifting grains from food to biofuel, & etc,) a new equilibrium is in the offing.  Further, population increase is a steady input leading to a positive feedback loop lowering the food per capita statistic.  

But I don't know one is in the offing, I merely think one is.

Re: Washington Consensus

This thing is dead.  For the reasons you give and without the financial resources to force countries to comply US hegemony over the world's economic system will slowly decline.  

Economic regulations would not, in the proposed system, eliminate shipments between regional areas ; they'd be replaced by food aid (with stamps and all that). Restarting liberalization now would spell disaster once prices go back down.

Correction noted.  OK, I'll go with that.

I do note, tho', the underlying assumption - from both of us - of the existence of a surplus to distribute.  I'm not going anywhere with this, just calling it to the foreground.

Re: Food Riots

That's the floating brown stuff in the punch bowl.

TSP wrote a diary outlining the situation in Egypt.  So let me use that as the example.  With the majority of the urban population living on marginal purchasing power any perturbation carries the danger of demonstrations turning into riots turning into social unrest turning into armed civil combat.  There is already low-level urban conflict (terrorism, sic) sporadic in Egypt.  The seeds of armed combat exist.  What hasn't - yet - happened is a change in attitude among enough of the populace from resigned acquiescence or despair to active hostility to the Murbarck (sp?) government.  

Ok, how to prevent that?

Four ways:

(1) raise food production -- I doubt it
(2) lower demand by lower the population -- I doubt it
(3) increase the average pay to match rising food prices -- I doubt it
(4) do all of these and more (such as empower women) -- I doubt it

I doubt each of these because they go completely counter to the established cultural, technological, political and economic basis, structures, and trends.  

The Egyptian government may be able to stave-off a serious, widespread, challenge to its power by shifting lands from export products (flowers-to-Florence) to food production for internal use.  But at some point, at some level of population, even that won't be enough.  

This

is why.

The constant increase in population is sucking-up the world's resources and the world's ability to support that increase in population.  It. Can't. Continue.

Insane, short-sighted, policies such as liberalization, food-to-biofuel, are exacerbating the situation by removing the 'capital' we need to get from here to there and bringing the tipping point closer, faster.

Sorry. I seem to have mounted my soap box and am ranting away.  (Again.)

To cut to a conclusion: Agricultural Reform is intimately intertwined with other factors.  With de-population being, IMO, the most important.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 11:54:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Stay on the soapbox - you're doing good ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 12:41:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks.  Sometimes it seems all I post is snark with a side-order of Doom-&-Gloom.  

Just found a report of a speech given by the US Ag Secretary yesterday talking about the spread of African stem rust - a dwarf wheat disease - in the developing world.  This at a time when the US wheat stocks are at a 60 year low, the global stocks at a 30 year low.  Throughly depressing.

Excuse me while I go to bed and pull the covers over my head.  ;-)

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 05:07:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But then Mazoyer keeps warning that development  of third world agriculture is necessary because at one point it'll be actually needed to feed the growing population - perhaps we are reaching this stage earlier than expected (and perhaps not : is it Peak Food already ?).

Maybe in many places the socio-economico-political system won't be able to adapt to these new conditions - and then some sort of revolution might become likely. In semi-developed countries, famine won't be accepted by the population.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 04:42:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And if, indeed, we are reaching "Peak Food", then indeed food production in the third world needs to be ramped up faster than slower ; in which case higher grain prices will still help capital build up...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 04:44:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When even the ag-economists at the World Bank (a scruffy lot) start talking about needing a agricultural revolution on the order of the introduction of dwarf wheat ... things are grim.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 05:37:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What about applying the Antiquity agricultural revolution in the third world ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 06:00:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I need to find out what that means before I can say.

Is that from the Mazoyer and Roudart book?

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 06:22:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it's from the book. Mazoyer identifies various major agricultural systems, with increasing productivity :

Slash-and-Burn, which came first ; then Hydraulic system (think the Nile) ; the  diverse Inca system which uses the variety of ecosystems around the Andes mountains with local specialisation and redistribution ; both of those systems are more or less a side track, not applicable everywhere.

Then comes "light tooled animal pulled agriculture", which corresponds to the Ard : it was created after the Mediterranean forest disappeared, uses fallow land. IIRC, the lack of capital access in the Third World means that many farms still have not accessed this technical level.

Later systems are "heavy tooled animal pulled agriculture", corresponding to the introduction of the plough to till the heavy soils of Northern Europe. It requires access to iron, stronger animals, and corresponds to the triennial crop rotation.

Afterwards would come the disappearance of fallow land with nitrogen enriching plants introduced into the rotation, and then various waves of mechanisation.  

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 08:02:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And when are you writing that peak food diary ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 06:02:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You know, I'd forgotten about that.  (he wrote sheepishly)

I'll get to work on it.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 06:13:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
seconded.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon Apr 21st, 2008 at 06:37:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can you make this, and the top-level comment, into (a) diar(y/ies)?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 6th, 2008 at 07:46:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The principles satisfice admirably. To what extent would a governing international body need to limit or to prohibit futures trade? I don't actually advocate prohibition, as someone will argue (erroneously) that derivatives are necessary investment vehicles. Rather, I can imagine that time (e.g. expiry, seasonal term) and brokerage license constraints could regulate surplus hoarding and waste by conglomerates.

Pardon me, if I'm all washed up, but I've been immersed in New Deal-era history. Finance got a free pass on regulation, while the proto-G8 leaders nattered on about regulating (i.e. re-inflating) price levels world-wide by tariff and domestic production controls.

The US is at that point again in the pirates' parlay. I wrote a bit how central planners intend to regulate debt production here. It would be nice to anticipate opposition from finance industry, also dependent on subisidies.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Thu May 1st, 2008 at 01:12:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the other hand, there is a pretty consistent anti-NAFTA sort of viewpoint here on ET, I think, so the conflict is whether to propose isolationist and protectionist agricultural policies for each country or region, or to admit the global food marketplace and thus try to come up with a global policy.
I'd go for the global policy route. We need the same on Climate Change.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 6th, 2008 at 07:48:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
there was much of interest in the IAASTD...

as I noted over at FS, courtesy of B at MoA who scooped us all with this...

The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology (IAASTD) recently released its final report in Johannesburg, South Africa. The result of an exhaustive 3-year international consultation similar to that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IAASTD calls for an overhaul of agriculture dominated by multinational companies and governed by unfair trade rules. The report warns against relying on genetic engineered “fixes” for food production and emphasizes the importance of locally-based, agroecological approaches to farming. The key advantages to this way of farming-aside from its low environmental impact-is that it provides both food and employment to the world’s poor, as well as a surplus for the market. On a pound-per-acre basis, these small family farms have proven themselves to be more productive than large-scale industrial farms. And, they use less oil, especially if food is traded locally or sub-regionally. These alternatives, growing throughout the world, are like small islands of sustainability in increasingly perilous economic and environmental seas. As industrialized farming and free trade regimes fail us, these approaches will be the keys for building resilience back into a dysfunctional global food system.

Expecting solutions from the institutions that created the disaster in the first place is like calling an arsonist to put out the fire. Getting the poor back on the land and providing them the support presently being captured by the world’s agri-foods monopolies would be a truly systemic and durable solution to our current global food crisis.

what I've been saying for years and what has been obvious to anyone on the ground...

Amongst the 22 findings of the study that chart a new direction for agriculture: a conclusion that the dominant practice of industrial, large-scale agriculture is unsustainable, mainly because of the dependence of such farming on cheap oil, its negative effects on ecosystems — and growing water scarcity.

Instead, monocultures must be reconsidered in favour of agro-ecosystems that marry food production with ensuring water supplies remain clean, preserving biodiversity, and improving the livelihoods of the poor.

monoculture industrial agriculture is not good for growing food.  it is good for growing money.  and you can't eat money.

as to Monsanto and their ilk -- well, they're like any other corporate mafia... except worse, because what they are trying to enclose and monopolise is life itself.


The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu May 1st, 2008 at 11:19:28 PM EST
oh yeah... over at IA, the current consensus between me and my buddy SG... the locavore/slow-food/organic movement has profound political implications...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu May 1st, 2008 at 11:22:05 PM EST


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