To Feed the World in 2050 We Have to Change Course

Timothy A. Wise and Kristin Sundell

Regular Triple Crisis contributor Timothy A. Wise (Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE), Tufts University) and Kristin Sundell (ActionAid USA) are the co-authors of the ActionAid report “Rising to the Challenge: Changing Course to Feed the World in 2050.”

The 2008 global food price spikes were a wake-up call to global policymakers, shaking them from the lethargic slumber of the overfed. The rhetorical responses were swift, but policies and practices have changed little. That is in part because they relied on the tried-and-failed solution of increasing commodity food production.

Agribusiness led the charge, with dire warnings about unsustainable population growth and looming resource constraints. How can we produce enough food to feed this growing population?

“Between now and 2050, we need to double the food supply,” said Dr. Robert Fraley, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Monsanto, during an interview withNational Public Radio’s Takeaway host John Hockenberry.“That’s probably the greatest challenge facing mankind.”

Indeed, that is the theme of this year’s World Food Prize event, taking place October 15-17 in Des Moines, Iowa. This event promises more of the same solutions.

The panic is not warranted, the claims about the need to double food production are unfounded. According to ActionAid’s report, “Rising to the Challenge: Changing Course to Feed the World in 2050,” the solutions lie not in the rush to increase industrial food production but in supporting sustainable and productive farming practices among small-scale farmers – particularly women – in developing countries while halting the diversion of food to biofuels and reducing the obscene levels of waste and spoilage that keep one-third of the world’s food from nourishing anyone.

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Land Degradation, Less Favored Lands and the Rural Poor: A Growing Global Problem

Edward B. Barbier

This summer, I completed with a graduate student of mine a major report for the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative, which is entitled Land Degradation, Less Favored Lands and the Rural Poor: A Spatial and Economic Analysis.  This study had three objectives:

  • To determine the spatial distribution of global rural populations on less favoured agricultural land and in less favoured agricultural areas from 2000 to 2010;
  • To determine the spatial distribution of global rural populations on degrading and improving agricultural land from 2000 to 2010;
  • To analyse how these spatial distributions affect poverty in developing countries.

The table below summarizes our findings over 2000 to 2010 for the distribution of rural populations on less favoured agricultural land (LFAL), in less favoured agricultural areas (LFAA), degrading agricultural land and improving agricultural land.

A sizable proportion of the rural population in developing countries is concentrated on LFAL, which are subject to low productivity and degradation due to steep slopes, poor soil quality or limited rainfall.   In 2000, over 1.3 billion rural people in developing countries, representing almost 36 per cent of the rural population, were located on these lands, and their numbers increased to 1.5 billion in 2010 (35% of the rural population).

Summary of spatial distribution of global rural population, 2000 to 2010

Developing countries are all low and middle-income economies with 2012 per capita income of US$12,615 or less (World Bank 2014).

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Chicken Comes Home to Roost

Sunita Narain

What should I eat now? Is there nothing that is safe?” This is what I am asked every time the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) does a study on toxins in food. It is a fact that our food is becoming unhealthy—not because of deliberate adulteration but because we are choosing to produce it in unsafe ways. India is at the beginning of industrial food production focused on efficiency and profits, and not on consumer safety, so it still has a choice to get it right. Why should the country not exercise its right to food that secures livelihoods and nutrition?

This time CSE has looked at antibiotics in chicken. Its laboratory bought 70 samples of chicken from different markets across the National Capital Region. It analysed each animal for six antibiotics: oxytetracycline, chlortetracycline and doxycycline (class tetracyclines);enrofloxacin and ciprofloxacin (class fluoroquinolones) and neomycin, an aminoglycoside. All these antibiotics are critical for humans. These are the same medicines we are prescribed when we are taken ill. These are life-saving drugs.

Today we know antibiotic resistance is almost a health pandemic. It is said that humans are headed towards a post-antibiotic era, where these miracle medicines will not work. No new class of antibiotics has been discovered for the past 20-odd years, so what we have is what we should keep for critical treatment. It is well known that resistance is growing because of our overexposure to antibiotics. A drug is no longer effective for treatment when microbes become resistant to it.

But we do not realise that our overexposure to antibiotics is also growing because of the food we eat.

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China’s Government Land Exposé

Sara Hsu

A farmer works the land in Southern Guangxi Province.  Source: Author.

China’s National Audit Office, under the direction of the cabinet, recently launched an audit to review funds from land sales obtained between 2008 and 2013. The audit is part of the government’s fight against corruption.  Local governments have often used land sales to increase revenue, at times under dubious circumstances, taking land from farmers at extremely low prices and selling the land to developers for a tidy profit.  The audit brings to light ongoing issues with local government revenue and rural land use rights.

Local governments receive a portion of value added and corporate taxes collected in their region, as well as all personal income and business taxes, but this has proven insufficient to generate a steady rate of GDP growth.  In order to combat this problem, officials have used rural residents’ land both as a source of revenue and as collateral in taking out loans via local government financing vehicles.  In this way, they have access to a major asset, unimproved land that promises to gain in value.

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China's Government Land Exposé

Sara Hsu

A farmer works the land in Southern Guangxi Province.  Source: Author.

China’s National Audit Office, under the direction of the cabinet, recently launched an audit to review funds from land sales obtained between 2008 and 2013. The audit is part of the government’s fight against corruption.  Local governments have often used land sales to increase revenue, at times under dubious circumstances, taking land from farmers at extremely low prices and selling the land to developers for a tidy profit.  The audit brings to light ongoing issues with local government revenue and rural land use rights.

Local governments receive a portion of value added and corporate taxes collected in their region, as well as all personal income and business taxes, but this has proven insufficient to generate a steady rate of GDP growth.  In order to combat this problem, officials have used rural residents’ land both as a source of revenue and as collateral in taking out loans via local government financing vehicles.  In this way, they have access to a major asset, unimproved land that promises to gain in value.

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“Land grabs” and Responsible Agricultural Investment in Africa

Timothy A. Wise

Can land grabs by foreign investors in developing countries feed the hungry? So says the press release for a recent, and unfortunate, economic study. It comes just as civil society and government delegates gather in Rome this week to negotiate guidelines for “responsible agricultural investment” (RAI), and as President Obama welcomes African leaders to Washington for a summit on economic development in the region.

At stake in both capitals is whether the recent surge in large-scale acquisition of land in Africa and other developing regions needs to be better regulated to ensure that agricultural investment contributes to food security rather than eroding it by displacing small-scale farmers.

The recent study paper will not advance those discussions. It is the kind of study that gives economists a bad name. Economists like the one in the oft-told joke who, shipwrecked on a deserted island, offers his expertise to his stranded shipmates: “Assume we have a boat.”

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"Land grabs" and Responsible Agricultural Investment in Africa

Timothy A. Wise

Can land grabs by foreign investors in developing countries feed the hungry? So says the press release for a recent, and unfortunate, economic study. It comes just as civil society and government delegates gather in Rome this week to negotiate guidelines for “responsible agricultural investment” (RAI), and as President Obama welcomes African leaders to Washington for a summit on economic development in the region.

At stake in both capitals is whether the recent surge in large-scale acquisition of land in Africa and other developing regions needs to be better regulated to ensure that agricultural investment contributes to food security rather than eroding it by displacing small-scale farmers.

The recent study paper will not advance those discussions. It is the kind of study that gives economists a bad name. Economists like the one in the oft-told joke who, shipwrecked on a deserted island, offers his expertise to his stranded shipmates: “Assume we have a boat.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Will the WTO Fast-Track Trade at the Expense of Food Security?

GDAE’s Timothy A. Wise and Jeronim Capaldo wrote the following op-ed for Al Jazeera, based on Wise’s work on the WTO’s conflict over food security (see articles hereherehere, and here) and Capaldo’s work on the exaggerated gains from trade facilitation (see articles here and here). See GDAE’s other work on the WTO.

Timothy A. Wise and Jeronim Capaldo

The General Council of the World Trade Organization begins a two-day meeting in Geneva today, with India and other developing countries threatening to block implementation of an agreement on trade facilitation. They would be justified in doing so.

The potential gains from that agreement, reached last December in Bali, Indonesia, are vastly overstated, and they flow primarily to rich countries and private sector traders. Meanwhile, the United States and other developed countries have made little effort to resolve the legitimate demands that developing country food security programs be exempted from archaic stipulations of the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture (AoA).

India has threatened to withhold its support for trade facilitation, which would effectively scuttle the deal in the WTO’s consensus-based process. The Indian government charges that there has been no serious movement on a re-tabled proposal from the so-called G-33 group of developing countries (which now includes 46 nations) to renegotiate parts of the WTO’s agreement on agriculture so that government efforts to buy and distribute food to the poor are not treated as illegal agricultural subsidies.

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Big Food, Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, Big Finance, and Little Marijuana

Sasha Breger Bush, Guest Blogger

Passed in 2012, Colorado’s Amendment 64 legalized the growing and selling of marijuana on a recreational basis. With medical marijuana, recreational marijuana has helped lift the people of Denver out of the Great Recession by inspiring leagues of new small businesses, creating new jobs, boosting commercial real estate values, and increasing state and local tax revenues. It turns out that the local marijuana market is fairly recession-proof and is actually bolstering local resilience to global crisis.

As I’ve watched this novelty unfold over the past couple of years (with considerable delight, to be frank) and witnessed first hand the important benefits for our local economy, I’ve grown increasingly concerned about the possibility of legalization on the federal level. While state level legalization has—for all of its still considerable problems—motivated economic recovery and helped working and middle class folks earn more income, get better jobs and enjoy more robust public services, federal legalization risks these benefits leaking out of local economies into the pockets of Big Business.

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High Risks, Few Rewards for Mexico with Monsanto's Maize

Timothy A. Wise

Triple Crisis contributor Timothy A. Wise’s analysis of genetically modified maize and the risks to Mexico, the world’s cradle of maize cultivation, continues. His previous posts on the topic can be read here and here.

I had come to Mexico to investigate the ongoing controversy over the proposed introduction of genetically modified (GM) maize into the birthplace of this important global food crop. The issue was hot, because last October a Mexican judge had issued an injunction halting all experimental and commercial planting of GM maize, a process that was well underway in six northern states. The ruling cited the need for precaution to ensure that Mexico’s rich diversity of maize varieties were protected from inadvertent “gene flow” from GM maize.

As I began to investigate this most controversial of biotech initiatives, the question that most puzzled me was: why anyone in Mexico thinks the country needs anything that transgenic maize has to offer?

Monsanto, of course, had an answer to that question. I met with a group of company officials in their high-rise offices in Mexico City’s transnational business district of Santa Fe. They offered their “Vision 2020,” in which transgenic maize is key to feeding the world. In Mexico, they argued, it would help double Mexican maize production, reduce persistent rural poverty among the country’s small-scale maize farmers, restore the country’s self-sufficiency in its key food staple and reduce the negative environmental impacts of maize farming. They even used the term “food sovereignty” to describe their goal for Mexico. This was more than a vision; this was a hallucination.

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