News & CommentaryArchive
Jan 25, 2011
Food for the World - New Report on Global Food Future
The food crises has been out of the news since the riots and price spikes of 2008, but that seems more a function of the news cycle than effective problem solving. Commodity prices are still higher than they were in early 2007, according to the recent Global Food and Farming Futures report, produced by the UK government. That same document concludes that feeding the world’s poor today and in the future will require a major agricultural transformation.
Such certainty denies the reality that very smart and informed people disagree on what that transformation should look like. Some argue that the agricultural sector needs more investment in better seeds and inputs to increase yields. Others suggest that the problem is not supply but distribution—the world already grows enough food, but huge amounts are wasted, and the means of production are destroying the earth.
These subjects are often discussed in global terms. That is right in some ways, given the global trade in agricultural commodities such as wheat, rice, corn, cotton, coffee, chocolate, among other things. (A great New Yorker piece from a few weeks ago tracked the imminent demise of the Cavendish banana, the monoculture-grown variety eaten by the milllions in the West and threatened by a blight that is threatening its extinction). Yet, it is hard to imagine an effective food fix that isn’t based at least in large part on local or regional policies and actions, given that the causes of food scarcity are so varied and location-specific. In the U.S., there is general excess, but too much of the wrong stuff, encouraged by twisted policies. In Zimbabwe, there is production potential, but political and social unrest of the past years makes it hard to cultivate a plot through to production and feel confident that the money you earn is going to be worth anything at the other end.
For donors who feel strongly about food availability, working local seems a better way to do good for a community and affect a system in need of revision.