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World Ag Congress : World Ag Congress
World Agricultural Forum 2009 Congress 9 "T he Bottom Billion," which I wrote, was an attempt to reach out to citizens everywhere. I realized that policies on development were really stuck in the range of gesture politics. They were pretty ineffective and I think nowhere is that more true than in the domain of policies toward food. THE FOOD CRISIS: POLITICAL AND NUTRITIONAL COSTS Policies toward food are mired in a fog of political populism. That became really serious during the food crisis. A year ago, the world food crisis had risen so fast that it became a huge problem for the urban poor of low income countries. World prices had risen by something like 80% over three years and the urban poor was spending half their budget on food. What happens? Two things. One is political; you get riots. In some of these countries, it toppled govern- ments. Last year in Haiti, as a result of the food riots, the government fell and such was political fragility in Haiti that it took five months to get a new government. Much more than political costs, there are nutritional costs. Who is really at the bottom of the food chain in these societies? Young children. They were already on the margin of nutritional adequacy. If you push them below that margin, they get stunted. Stunting is deeply irreversible. It turns out that it is not just that these children have been mired for life, but their children are. The other feature of stunting is that we do irreversible, mental damage if you malnourish children. CAUSES AND SOLUTIONS This time last year, I was really concerned. Global food prices had to be brought down fast. The worst global recession that we have ever had for a century is one way of bringing the food prices down. But the causes of the surge in world food prices are not a good guide to solu- tions. The causes were basically on the demand side, the solutions are going to be on the supply side. The world agricultural industry has done a really good job of more than keeping pace with population growth. It is perfectly feasible to raise world food supply at a rate equal to the population growth rate. The impediments to my mind are political. GIANTS OF ROMANTIC POPULISM There are three areas of dysfunction, of what I describe as romantic pop- ulism, that have to be confronted and slayed because the consequences of persistently high food prices are devastating for the poorest people in the world. The ban on genetically modified (GM) crops started in Europe and then got imitated in Africa. Africa needs genetic modification more than anywhere else on Earth because of climate change and because of population growth. Genetic modi- fied crops are not the magic bullet that would solve those problems but it will speed up the pace of crop adaptation. Its potential needs to be harnessed for the raising crop yields and reducing crop losses in Africa. The second is the subsidy on biofuels and the illusion that it was going to make America energy self-sufficient. There is a deal to be done between Europe and America. America is rightly pretty angry at the European ban on GM. Europe is rightly angry about the U.S. subsidy on biofuel. There is scope for a mutual de-escalation of folly. Now is the chance to restore your reputation by moving to a mutually beneficial deal: GM in return for the removal of the biofuel subsidies. The third giant of romantic populism: the lure of the organic peasant rather than commercial agriculture, especially in Africa. Modern agriculture is about innovation. It is about changing technologies and being at the frontier of innovation and adopting new practices. Peasant agriculture is really bad at generating innovations and adopting innovations. The solution, if you are going to have peasant agriculture, is to build public extension services. YOU HAVE THE SOLUTION Commercial agriculture may be irredeemably unromantic compared to the organic peasant that Prince Charles extols, but you, and not Prince Charles, have the solution to world hunger. There is a wealth of well- intentioned concern out there amongst ordinary citizens. What we have to do is to force people to face the hard realities that if we are going to defeat world hunger, we cannot afford romantic illusions. If we confront ordinary people properly with the evidence, they will say, "Yes, facing down world hunger is more important than the desire to preserve the peasant lifestyle in aspic." In closing, let me urge you to engage with the big development NGOs. They are potentially your allies in shifting world opinion. We have to see down these giants of romantic populism, please join me in that task. WAF REMARKS BY DR. PAUL COLLIER, ECONOMICS PROFESSOR, OXFORD UNIVERSITY; AUTHOR: THE BOTTOM BILLION FOOD SECURITY FOR THE BOTTOM BILLION Dr. Paul Collier