As the U.S. struggles with what the Associated Press is calling the “worst food inflation in 17 years” and reports of global food shortages are pouring in, new light is being shed on the politics of anti-meat, trans-fat free, and “all natural” activism. While food cops fight to take away our cupcakes and green groups try desperately to convince people that less efficient agriculture is the way to go, the voices of reason are focusing on the big picture.
It’s getting easier separate sound advice from the crass, petty world of knee-jerk activism, and today’s message from Oxford University Professor Paul Collier is a prime example of the former: “If we’re to solve this global problem [of hunger], we need more globalization and less sentimentality.” Collier’s guest column in the London Times, “Food shortages: think big,” makes some important points about the “Super Size Me” anti-globalization trend of recent years:
The remedy to high food prices is to increase supply … There are still many areas of the world — including large swaths of Africa — that have good land that could be used far more productively if it were properly managed by large companies. To contain the rise in food prices we need more globalization, not less …
Unfortunately, large-scale commercial agriculture is deeply, perhaps irredeemably, unromantic. We laud the production style of the peasant: environmentally sustainable and human in scale…
Africa has less large-scale commercial agriculture than it had 60 years ago. Unfortunately, peasant farming is not well suited to innovation and investment. The result has been that African agriculture has fallen farther and farther behind.
Lo and behold, the answer to global food shortages is to make more of it available by increasing efficiency — even if the companies able to do that for us might (gasp!) make a profit.
But the anti-capitalist crowd isn’t the only group that has its priorities out of whack. Following the recent departure from anti-technology hysteria by Britain’s Country Life magazine last month, Collier points out that yet another unintended consequence of giving in to knee-jerk activist fears has reared its ugly head:
In Europe deep-seated fears of science have been manipulated into a ban on both the production and import of genetically modified [GM] crops. This has obviously retarded productivity growth in European agriculture. Again the best that can be said of it is that we are rich enough to afford such folly. But as an unintended side-effect it has terrified African governments into banning GM lest their farmers be shut out of European markets. Africa definitely cannot afford this self-denial. It needs all the help it can possibly get from GM drought-resistant crops.