Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On Ethicurean: What 1974 has to do with 2008

This is on Ethicurean, it is written by Daryll E. Ray, who holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy at the University of Tennessee and directs UT’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC). He is perhaps best known for lead-authoring “Rethinking U.S. Agriculture Policy: Changing Course to Secure Farmer Livelihoods Worldwide,” a debate-changing paper published in 2003. His articles and other work are available at www.agpolicy.org. The piece below, written with APAC Research Associate Harwood D. Schaffer, offers an historical perspective on today’s global food crisis.Times of crisis often shine a bright light on long-standing problems. That was just as true in 1974 as it is today.

"In mid-1974, agricultural commodity prices were triple the level of two years earlier and concern was raised that malnutrition in developing countries was on the rise. We now find ourselves in a similar situation: agricultural commodity prices are two-and-one-half times the level they were at the start of this recent surge in prices and the portion of the world’s malnourished is on the rise.

To put the current circumstances in perspective, we find it helpful to look back at the earlier crisis and see what lessons can be learned. The World Food Conference met in Rome in November, 1974 as agricultural prices hovered near their peak and people were dying as the result of famines, particularly in Bangladesh.

The goal of the conference was to “develop [the] ways and means whereby the international community, as a whole, could take specific action to resolve the world food problem within the broader context of development and international economic cooperation.” In the Conference Report to the United Nations [.doc], representatives of 135 states adopted the Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition. The goal established was to eradicate “hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition within a decade.”

That goal was not met, and in the intervening decades, the issues of hunger and malnutrition have often fallen off the radar screen of the media and the general public. It takes a devastating famine or a price spike like the current one to garner the world’s attention, and even that attention could be fleeting.

No matter what one thinks about the advisability of using crops for the production of biofuels, the current crisis — culminating in food riots in more than 30 countries — did not develop in just the last 24 months. It has been a long time in the making and the challenges are far more profound than the “food vs. fuel” debate makes it seem. (more…)

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