Daniel Bornstein Our trade-based agriculture system is meant to make cheap calories available for urban populations. This model collapses when global food prices rise, because the low wages of the urban labor force are no longer sufficient to afford food. Food prices soared in 2008 and 2011, which wreaked havoc on urban people whose low wages had previously been able to ensure their food access. Furthermore, reliance on cheap food has created a malnutrition crisis: poor urban people can mainly afford carbohydrate-rich foods (i.e. rice) but not the fruits/vegetables that contain vital nutrients. We must look beyond mere food "availability" and take a critical look at nutritional quality of diets of the world's poor
Daniel Bornstein Zachary--the alternative is "food sovereignty," which promotes local control over food systems. You say that selling to local markets constitutes "less-efficient" production, but this is exactly the type of production that feeds local people. The obsession with notions of efficiency completely disregards how such "efficiency" may fail to feed the poorest populations. My main issue with foreign agribusiness investment is that it diminishes the power of farmers in the food system; it assumes that food insecurity is a result of a lack of "private capital," when in reality food insecurity is caused by vast inequalities within the food system
Daniel Bornstein Excellent article. As Naomi Klein writes in The Shock Doctrine, capitalist ideologues exploit times of crisis to extend capitalism, and even manufacture crises to provide an opening for the further entrenchment of the free market. We see problems with free market approaches in international development. The major international development institutions continually deploy the very neoliberalism that has long exacerbated the plight of poor countries. I wrote about this on PolicyMic recently: http://www.policymic.com/debates/5633/take-free-markets-out-of-global-development
Daniel Bornstein Now the multinational seed companies are starting to take control of Kenya's public research system. Starved for cash as a result of the World Bank-imposed structural adjustment programs in the 1990s, the Kenyan government has had to turn to big corporations to fund its research--which means the research becomes beholden to the agenda of big seed companies
Daniel Bornstein Mythili--While the political will associated with Malawi's fertilizer subsidy is laudable, it distracts attention away from investing in the agro-ecological approaches that are best for both the soil and the farmer. In the short-term, the subsidies certainly shield poor farmers from expensive input prices, but I'm afraid such a subsidy won't be fiscally sustainable over the long term. And making farmers reliant on fertilizer isn't good for their soils. In India's Punjab province, heavy use of fertilizers has severely diminished soil fertility, leading to farmer suicides. Organic farming doesn't mean farmer can't produce for market. And I don't think there's any difference in market access between organically-grown and fertilizer-fed crops
Daniel Bornstein But my whole point is that the market FAILS to provision resources to the poorest populations. That's why we need to focus on LOCAL food production and farmers' production rights (i.e. indigenous seed banks, agro-ecological methods). When we rely on the market, food simply flows from the most efficient grower--in this case, large-scale growers who tend to own the most productive land and may be politically connected--to the most capable buyer. Who gets left out? the poor small farmer.
Daniel Bornstein Richard--you fall into the trap of viewing development as a necessarily linear process: you seem to suggest that every country must transition from small-scale to large-scale agriculture. My point with this column is that such an approach has failed historically around the world and will fail in Africa. Plus, Africa isn't industrialized--rather, its economies are oriented toward Western powers--and so the farmers displaced from expensive technologies wouldn't benefit from being pushed off their farm!
Daniel Bornstein To add to my comments: I'm not suggesting that states should completely control agriculture. I'm saying there's been an overemphasis on commodity production and on the introduction of expensive technologies. To support Africa's small farmers--those who paradoxically are the most vulnerable to the food crisis--we need to improve productivity through agro-ecological methods that don't rely on chemicals. One strategy is to plant nitrogen-fixing crops in between rows of food crops so that the former contributes nitrogen to the soil, reducing the need for chemical fertilizer. And indigenous crop varieties not only shield farmers from high seed prices but can grow without lots of fertilizer.
Daniel Bornstein Michael--I completely agree with Moyo's analysis of food aid, and her book Dead Aid is excellent. But when I am critiquing the dominance of free markets, I never suggested that international aid was the solution. My main argument was that market-based approaches value agricultural systems more for their income-generating potential than for their local food security objectives. The focus needs to be on Africa's small farmers--those who have been rendered most vulnerable to to the introduction of chemical-intensive technologies and to export-oriented commodity production. One goal should be to improve the productivity of indigenous, rather than globally-traded, crop varieties.
Daniel Bornstein There's a crucial role for public investment in the agriculture sector. I favor subsidies for the poorest farmers. It's unfair when people demonize subsidies simply because of the U.S. farm lobby's power in Washington. In Africa, subsidies are situated within an entirely different context: they are meant to enable the viability of the smallest farms. Looking at agriculture purely in terms of supply and demand risks commodifying the system. We can't view food crops simply as something to be traded, for this would benefit the largest producers who can withstand the capital-intensity of industrial agriculture. To bring a human rights framework to ag, we need to support small farmers in Africa
Daniel Bornstein Scott--the problem with comparative advantage is that it leaves farmers vulnerable to high food prices. What happens when cocoa growers' income isn't sufficient to match the high price of food on international markets? Comparative advantage theory is exactly what exacerbated Africa's food security in the 1980s. World Bank-mandated structural adjustment programs encouraged African countries to export commodities in which they specialized, assuming they could generate the capital to buy products on the global market. But food insecurity worsened. Western agribusinesses benefit from commodity production's tendency to reproduce social conditions: they can keep these people import-dependent!
Daniel Bornstein Jason--Cornell's agriculture school is actually public (it was established as part of the land grant system). And I think it would be difficult to find a private college that offers a major centered on agriculture. Part of my goal with this column is to generate a discussion on which colleges currently do offer agriculture programs in their curriculum, so I'd be happy to hear of any ag programs you're familiar with.
Daniel Bornstein Hi Doug See one of my recent articles for my solutions to the current problem: http://www.policymic.com/articles/the-multi-functional-future-of-agriculture-in-africa It is nearly impossible to require some local purchase prior to export; the international financial institutions have systemically oriented many African agricultural systems toward export production. The 1 billion hungry figure is widely cited, and I believe the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has used it. Check out Bill Moseley's Op-Ed on the underlying causes of the Somali famine: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/behind-africas-famine-more-than-just-drought-famine-isnt-inevitable/2011/07/28/gIQAJCrsfI_story.html
Daniel Bornstein Samantha--no longer can we just assume U.S. agribusiness' role in development--particularly because many of the strategies embraced by U.S. agribusiness represent silver bullet solutions to highly complex problems. We need a fundamentally different vision for agriculture, one that places social equity at the core. U.S. agribusiness isn't positioned to lead this shift. This shift has to come from farmers' movements around the world, which I hope will eventually compel the U.S. government to transform the ways it addresses agricultural development
Daniel Bornstein Paul--I mean that Shah/Gates Foundation assume that corporations' prominent role in agricultural development is the path to ending hunger. They assume that African farmers' access to crop technologies controlled by these corporations will end hunger. Yet I argue that it is unethical and wrongheaded to make African smallholder farmers dependent on external inputs. These technologies are undemocratic and thus jeopardize food sovereignty (local community's control over its food system).
Daniel Bornstein Paul--you make some good points. However, the institutional constraints under which Feed the Future operates--namely the inclusion of American agribusinesses as one of its intended beneficiaries--is what feeds my concern about one-size-fits all solutions. In promoting the highly technological agriculture that expands the market of seed and agro-chemical companies, Feed the Future neglects agro-ecological approaches. While FtF certainly address issues throughout the value chain, it could better address agriculture's multi-functionality by investing more in agro-ecology (i.e. using cover crops to nourish soils with nitrogen). Also, look at who oversees Ftf: Raj Shah is from the Gates Foundation, which works too closely with corporations.
Daniel Bornstein Investing in women ultimately means they will have less children, which produces ripple effects for development. For example, educated women are likely to have fewer children, and this means fewer children they will ultimately have to feed. Furthermore, it's an injustice that women perform much of small farms' agricultural labor yet have no ownership over land or access to capital. Thus there's a case to be made for gender equity in agriculture.
Daniel Bornstein Good point about corporate control. In fact, the corporate control of the global food system is a large part of the reason for food insecurity in Africa: Western subsidized farmers undermine African producers. And yet the U.S. government adopts this same corporate mentality to "international development." In essence, "development" has become a means for the U.S. to expand the market for its agrochemical and seed companies--all under the guise of "goodwill" and "aid."
Daniel Bornstein Dillon--A "Green Revolution for Africa" isn't the answer to the continent's food security issues. We need locally-led solutions. The Worldwatch Institute launched its "Nourishing the Planet" project to show how locally-led innovations can achieve agricultural development in a way that benefits small farmers, their communities, and the environment. Green Revolution technologies are inherently inequitable, as we saw in India
Daniel Bornstein Obama did a great job of hammering home the point that tax cuts for businesses are necessary when there is a direct link to the well-being of the American middle class. Small businesses have a distinct incentive to hire workers--this is clearly a targeted, pro-middle class policy. Debates over taxes in this country need to be less ideological and more practical, asking the question: What tax policies will favor the middle class and the poor? In a similar vein, in times of crisis we cannot shift the burden to the most vulnerable people; rather, the burden needs to be shouldered by those best-equipped to deal with it.