Tyler Cowen, on the slow improvements in agriculture and the difficulties that Africa faces.
Consider Africa, which is often considered to have turned a corner and to be headed toward steady growth. The expansion of the African middle class and the decline in child mortality rates are both quite real, but the advances have not been balanced — and agriculture lags behind.
In a recent address, Michael Lipton, an economist and research professor at Sussex University in Britain, offered a sobering look at Africa’s agricultural productivity. He suggests that Rwanda and Ghana are gaining, but that most of the continent is not. Production and calorie intake per capita don’t seem to be higher today than they were in the early 1960s. It remains an issue how Africa’s growing population will be fed.
… On top of all that, many African nations have unhelpful policies toward agriculture. Malawi, for instance, subjects corn to periodic export and import restrictions as well as to price controls, all of which thwart development of a well-functioning market. When market speculators save corn in anticipation of greater scarcity, they may be punished by law. These restrictions of market incentives exacerbate the basic supply problems.
What can we do about these problems?
… the United States government should stop subsidizing its own corn-based biofuels, mainly ethanol. Today, about 40 percent of America’s field corn goes into biofuels, thanks to a subsidy and regulatory policy dating from 2005. With virtual unanimity, experts condemn these subsidies as driving up food prices, damaging land use and costing the taxpayers money. Once the energy costs of producing the biofuels are taken into account, it doesn’t even appear that this policy helps slow climate change. It has become a form of crony capitalism, at great global expense.
Perhaps Christians should take up the elimination of ethanol subsidies as a “social justice” issue. Is it just to funnel money to American farmers at the expense of hungry, poor people worldwide?