Agriculture ministers from the Group of Eight (G-8) and major developing nations will meet in Italy this weekend to offer government solutions to the world’s food crisis. But a new IPN study - Feed the World - written by agricultural economist Douglas Southgate shows that governments were the primary cause of the crisis, which began in 2007. Government policies have prolonged the crisis, particularly affecting the world’s poorest people.
Study author Professor Southgate, of Ohio State University, said that governments’ responses – such as bans on food exports in emerging economies, coddling of biofuels development and needless restrictions on agricultural biotechnology – have made the food crisis worse. He added:
“Meddling by politicians makes food more expensive for millions of the world’s hungry. It is a wholly preventable tragedy. That is just unacceptable.”
(The World Bank says that 28 countries still maintain export bans on agricultural goods.)
But there is a solution. Professor Southgate’s study, which is published by IPN in association with INSTITUTO LIBERDADE (Brazil) and other 20 research institutes around the world, argues that politicians both in rich and poor countries must eliminate subsidies, quotas and other trade restrictions, as well as make other policy changes.
Professor Southgate observed that “Modern agriculture can feed the world – if only governments would stop standing in the way.”
The agriculture ministers are due to release their own report this weekend, but Professor Southgate is sceptical that it will lead to anything substantive:
“Governments are good at blaming others. It’s time they take responsibility. And frankly it’s time for action, not words. If governments are serious about solving the food crisis, they should eliminate the barriers to food production and distribution that they have created”, he said.
Professor Southgate’s new study identifies numerous policy changes that would improve agricultural output and reduce the price of food for everyone. These include:
scrapping agricultural subsidies
scrapping import and export restrictions on agricultural goods as well as inputs, such as fertiliser, pesticide and new crop varieties
improving protection of property rights
eliminating subsidies and trade protection for biofuel development
taking full advantage of the opportunities for sustainable agriculture created by biotechnology
* “Feed the World: The Challenge of Agricultural Development” - Published April 2009 is available at the link above.