Feed the world

OUR anonymous insider at Durban — who asked for the Oxfam/WWF proposals for a shipping tax to be widely circulated — certainly got his wish in part, at least as far as the blogosphere was concerned.

The mainstream media once again succeeded in giving the impression that it didn’t quite understand what was going on with the Telegraph’s Louise Gray faithfully reproducing Huhne’s words without leaving any impression on the reader that they might have passed through her brain and even the Guardian making only a passing reference to the subject in an article headed “Durban: what will this year’s conference mean for business?”

On a slightly different tack over at Bishop Hill, where the posting on Oxfam had at the last count attracted 66 comments, the appointed representative of the hard-of-thinking battalion took issue with the idea that free trade would do anything to end famine and was more than slightly resistant to the idea that in many parts of the world — notoriously Africa — lack of food is only partly due to weather (or climate) conditions and much more so to local politics.

Having decided to blog on this subject as a follow-up to yesterday’s item, research showed that (by no means for the first time) I was too late, in this case about five months too late, the excellent Matt Ridley having covered the subject to an extent in an article in The Times at the beginning of June, reprinted here by the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

He makes much the same point that I did yesterday, namely that there is no chance, barring some major disaster such as the environmental NGOs getting their own way, that the world will be unable to feed itself any time soon.

Over the past 60 years, Ridley points out, crop yields have trebled on the major cereal crops and maize and wheat prices — in real terms — have halved over the same period.

While admitting that Oxfam is right that the presence of obesity and hunger on the same planet is a scandal, he adds:

If Oxfam were really serious about malnutrition it would stop writing reports about corporate greed, climate change and the need for world governance and start trucking nitrates.

Hear, hear!

The idea that ‘drought=crop failure=famine and that’s all there is to it’ has been assiduously promoted by the NGOs for years. It’s a seductive argument which the average non-thinker can accept without the danger of incurring a headache — what you might call the “stands to reason, dunnit?” factor, hence the title of this blog!

But having established that there is no agricultural reason for not feeding the global population, at least in terms of the amount of available land, this simple equation needs further investigation.

Researchers at Harvard University last year published a book claiming:

Africa can feed itself. And it can make the transition from hungry importer to self-sufficiency in a single generation.

An article in the Guardian last December, citing the book (the work of Professor Calestous Juma),
tells us that:

  • one in three Africans is chronically hungry in spite of almost £2bn being spent on food aid annually and ten times that amount being spent on food imports;
  • Africa is the only continent with land readily available to expand agriculture;
  • southern Sudan alone could feed all Africans if it was properly developed.

[Emphasis mine]

So where, precisely, does this leave the likes of Oxfam and the other NGOs who claim to be dedicated to the welfare of the poor of Africa? And where does it leave the developed countries who are happy to brag about the 0.7% of GDP that they are giving in overseas aid which appears to be making not a damn of a difference?

I have suggested, somewhat cynically I admit, that the rich nations and the charities do seem well able to identify just the right level of aid to prevent too many of the poor dying of starvation while at the same time making sure that they don’t start getting ideas above their station. Perhaps I am doing governments and their willing helpers a disservice but if there is one constant theme in this charade is that the more “help” that is offered, the less genuine progress is actually made.

We shall return to this subject again, I have no doubt.

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