Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Talking points on environment, food prices, natural agriculture and trade

GM Foods: From Simon Jenkins in the Guardian:

It is clear that modification, which is as old as botany, has side-effects. But increased food productivity is so patently a good thing that to ban GM from European imports, and thus from Africa, is beyond perverse. Increased Indian and Chinese consumption is sucking the world dry of grain at just the time when the GM ban is denying the developing world the swiftest path to higher productivity - and at a time when supply is curbed by biofuel substitution.

These various green policies have established a lethal pincer movement on world food production. As the Oxford economist Paul Collier points out in his book The Bottom Billion, Africa has been subjected by European governments to one form of "befuddled romanticism" after another, from campaigns against GM foods and low-wage produce to "save the peasant" farm reform. Africa, says Collier, has less commercial agriculture than it did at the end of the age of empire, half a century ago.

While antagonism to science merely impedes progress, antagonism to economics is regressive. American subsidies to ethanol fuel are not just causing "tortilla riots" but costing American taxpayers a staggering $5.5bn a year. Biofuel tankers are circling the globe, burning gasoline and chasing subsidies. They have joined carbon emissions certificates among the world's greatest trading scams.

Link between biofuels and higher food prices, from the World Bank:

Increased bio-fuel production has contributed to the rise in food prices. Concerns over oil prices, energy security and climate change have prompted governments to take a more proactive stance towards encouraging production and use of bio-fuels. This has led to increased demand for bio-fuel raw materials, such as wheat, soy, maize and palm oil, and increased competition for cropland. Almost all of the increase in global maize production from 2004 to 2007 (the period when grain prices rose sharply) went for bio-fuels production in the U.S., while existing stocks were depleted by an increase in global consumption for other uses. Other developments, such as droughts in Australia and poor crops in the E.U. and Ukraine in 2006 and 2007, were largely offset by good crops and increased exports in other countries and would not, on their own, have had a significant impact on prices. Only a relatively small share of the increase in food production prices (around 15%) is due directly to higher energy and fertilizer costs.

More on biofuels and food prices, via Center for Global Development:

The evidence is increasingly compelling that the current generation of biofuels is contributing to global hunger and worsening, not helping to address, climate change. They are also only economical as long as oil prices stay high. Investing in research and development of a new generation of biofuels that could be grown on marginal lands not useful for food or forests is a worthwhile endeavor. But in the midst of the current crisis, and given the new evidence on the perverse effects on the environment, continuing to subsidize and promote the use of food crops for fuel is simply unconscionable.

Decreasing poverty in rural areas, from the International Assessment of Agriculture Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, a 1500-page report claiming that agriculture progress has been highly uneven and stressed the importance of "natural" agriculture programs like crop rotation and local fertilizers.

Important options for enhancing rural livelihoods include increasing access by small-scale farmers to land and economic resources and to remunerative local urban and export markets; and increasing local value added and value captured by small-scale farmers and rural laborers. A powerful tool for meeting development and sustainability goals resides in empowering farmers to innovatively manage soils, water, biological resources, pests, disease vectors, genetic diversity, and conserve natural resources in a culturally appropriate manner. Combining farmers’ and
external knowledge would require new partnerships among farmers, scientists and other stakeholders.

Repsonses to the report, via Guardian:

Responding to the report, a group of eight international environment and consumer groups, including Third World Network, Practical Action, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, said in a statement: "This is a sobering account of the failure of industrial farming. Small-scale farmers and ecological methods provide the way forward to avert the current food crisis and meet the needs of communities."

Lim Li Chung, of Third World Network in Malaysia, said: "It clearly shows that small-scale farmers and the environment lose under trade liberalisation. Developing countries must exercise their right to stop the flood of cheap subsidised products from the north."

Guilhem Calvo, an adviser with the ecological and earth sciences division of Unesco, one of the report's sponsors, said at a news conference in Paris: "We must develop agriculture that is less dependent on fossil fuels, favours the use of locally available resources and explores the use of natural processes such as crop rotation and use of organic fertilisers."

As the Doha Trade Round remains blocked and food prices have skyrocketed around the world, countries should try to work out bilateral trade deals, says former World Trade Organization head Supachai Panitchpakdi told the Wall Street Journal.

"You see governments going country to country negotiating” trade deals involving key commodies like rice, wheat and milk, said Mr. Supachai, who is now secretary general for the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development. “That is something that is necessary.”


Angry African said...

We are starting to stare into the ledge here...
But don't think bilaterals are the way to go. We know how developing countries get squeezed on this. Imagine, they did that to developing countries through tougher calls on Intellectual Property Rights - guess what they'll do on food exports...

Africa Flak said...

Thanks for the comment, AA.

I kind of waver on this issue. I think that Supachai is just being realistic: what are the chances that we see a Doha Round trade agreement? However, you make a good point: The EU does a good job of dividing and conquering African states over these EPAs while the U.S. goes ahead and ignores them. Personally, I don't know who is going to blink first.