Tuesday, June 10, 2008

from WSJ How to Continue the Fight Against Hunger

Excellent oped from Wall Street Journal

June 6, 2008; Page A13

At the Washington, D.C. offices of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) there is a plaque dedicated to America's great statesman-general, George C. Marshall. It contains a quote from his epic 1947 Harvard commencement address, which spawned the Marshall Plan. The quote reads: "Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos."

Our government needs to rediscover that vision. We are in a world food crisis that stands to drive at least another 100 million people into hunger and exacerbate global instability.

Solving the food crisis will require emergency food aid in the near term. But greater food availability in the low-income, food-deficit nations cannot be achieved with one silver bullet. No doubt, greater availability of fertilizer is critical to any solution. Yet we also need a long-term vision of growth, and integrated investments that incorporates research, human and institutional capacity building, infrastructure, sound policy, markets and governance.

Food demand is growing fast. Studies have shown that as a country's income increases, so does the consumption of animal products and processed foods. These food products require more grain to produce the same calories. This demand will surely continue to grow.

About 75% of the world's poor still live in rural areas of developing countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa, many of the very poor spend 80% of their income on food. When prices for grains double and triple in a year, we can expect not only large-scale malnutrition, but also major political and social instability. Developing countries and donors must commit to long-term solutions that increase agricultural production and rural incomes in the developing world.

Nearly three decades ago, the Green Revolution – and other advances in technology, production methods and related investments in agriculture – greatly increased food production world-wide, particularly in Asia and Latin America. Over time, food abundance was taken for granted as the supply outpaced population and income growth.

We need investment in the maintenance of successful varieties of crops, and the development of technologies to raise yield ceilings. Moreover, research to develop seeds more resistant to climatic stresses like drought must be dramatically accelerated.

Developing countries should use the food-price crisis to reaffirm their commitment to bolster food production. A few years ago, African heads of state committed to increasing expenditures for agriculture to 10% of their national budgets. But most of the countries have not reached this goal.

USAID must help developing countries produce more food. At one time, USAID led the donor world on agriculture, but there has been a long slide over the last 20 years. This slide was over several administrations and sessions of Congress, and was only interrupted by some additional resources a few years ago under USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios.

For many years USAID has invested far too little in agriculture. Its 2008 allocations includes little money for core funding for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, whose research centers were critical in developing the Green Revolution, new crop varieties that probably saved more lives in the 20th century than any other technology.

U.S. land-grant universities have been institutional marvels in agricultural science, teaching and the continuing education of farmers. Yet today, USAID has only meager engagement with U.S. universities in the area of solving hunger.

President George W. Bush recently requested a supplemental appropriations bill for food that includes $150 million for long-term agriculture work. This appropriation should be a first step in a return to sustained, substantial support for long-term agricultural development.

Food, agriculture and growth must once again become fundamental and sustained USAID objectives. Let's heed the words of George Marshall and focus our resources on hunger, poverty and desperation.

Mr. Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, is professor of international agriculture at Texas A&M University. Mr. McPherson is president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.