Thursday, December 13, 2012

Agdes Tweeting

As you probably notice, I started Tweeting a couple weeks ago. I feel this is an excellent way to keep up with the volumes of interesting material coming out of the web. I added a Twitter fed so you can check out articles and random things I'm following. And just a couple days, Oxfam twitted about my article on local procurement!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sending Cash, Not Corn

My piece advocating for food aid reform and urging the congress to switch to local and regional procurement just got published by The Morningside Post. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Four Years into Purchase for Progress

See below a good overview about the United Nations World Food Program approach to local procurement - the Purchase for Progress or P4F. This is an excellent model to replicate as the Congress considers reforming food aid in its 2012 farm bill negotiations. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

The End of Groundhog Day? Reforming American Food Aid

Washington DC, Th  Dec 5th, 2012  
At a conference organized by Farm Journal last Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that rural districts are losing their ability to exhort political pressure on their elected officials to maintain farm bill programs. This, and the fiscal cliff debate, is drastically changing the political climate of farm bill negotiations. After decades of fruitless criticism to the way the U.S. government distributes food aid globally, international development experts are finally seeing a real opportunity to incorporate long overdue changes to American food aid programs.

The United States remains one of the few countries that continue to ship food aid across the Atlantic instead of providing cash to purchase it close to where the food is needed, a practice common in Japan, the European Union and others donors. American food aid is expensive and ineffective. The Government Accountability Office estimates that approximately 60% of the program’s funds go to shipping. In addition, it can take up to six month for the food to reach its destination –too long to adequately address emergencies. 

Following the example of other countries, the Senate version of the farm bill introduced about $200 million to ‘local and regional food procurement’ or LRP. Instead of sending containers of corn and soybeans, LRP programs provide cash to the World Food Program and NGOs to purchase the food aid close to where is needed. Compare to our current program, LRP will save over 50% in shipping, and strengthen local farmers in the developing world by increasing the demand for their crops. 

The Senate’s effort, however, is currently threatened by a House version of the farm bill that rejects the LRP program. Understanding the reluctance of the House to embrace LRP to save money and make food aid more effective requires following the money and analyzing population trends. 

The farm bill covers a wide range of issues supported by countless lobbying groups. While liberals tend to favor food stamp and conservation programs, conservative groups exhort robust political pressure for farm subsidies and crop insurance programs.  Last year alone, ‘crop production and basic processing industry’ contributed to the House agricultural committee over $2.9 million, with 70% funneled to Republican congressmen. These contributions come from larger farmers and corporations that see no benefit in purchasing grains abroad. 

Opposition to the LRP also comes from rural Congressional districts where farming is still vital to their local economies. In contrast to the Senate, many House policymakers represent these constituencies which demand strong protection against climate variability and subsidized price support for their commodities. For the most part, these districts see little logic in using taxpayer monies to buy corn not in the Mid-West but somewhere in Kenya. 

Why is it that we don't have a farm bill?” Vilsack said. "It isn't just the differences of policy. It's the fact that rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country.” According to the Department of Agriculture, over half of rural counties are seeing negative population growth in the past five years. As young people move to cities, farmers’ priorities are becoming less significant to policymakers.

While the issue of reforming the food aid has become a “Groundhog Day” among development circles, it seems that the fundamental changes in the political environment may allow the LRP to become law once for all. With the growing fiscal pressures the momentum is on the side of those opposing farm subsidies and supporting more efficient approaches to food aid. 

Sunday, December 09, 2012

My Contribution to Feeding the World

Eating cold-blooded animals, a more efficient way to eat flesh for those of us who can't live without meat. In the picture you see a delicious Szechuan broth with frog legs floating along with chili peppers. You can find this delicacy at Legend Restaurant in the Upper West (109th and Broadway).

Although not better than giving up meat entirely, I'm (almost) sure that the environmental impact of cold-blooded sources of meat is much smaller that beef, chicken and pork. Like humans, cows, pigs and chickens spend most of their calories keeping their bodies warm. Frogs, snakes, and others use the sun for that. I guess the next logical step is eating bugs. Stay tuned

Global Kitchens - An Awesome Exicibition at the American Museum of Natural History

The new exhibit  “Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture” at the American Museum of Natural History is something you don't want to miss if you are anywhere on the East Coast. I had the opportunity to check out a few days ago now I can't wait to visit it again. The exhibit covers the history, science, economics, culture, and taste - yes you can taste the stuff! - of food from all over the world. They even talk about Chontaduros, my favorite fruit!

Right as you come in, the world's amazing diversity of food crops, including some very weird looking potatoes, is showcased. As you continue you come across a cool live example of vertical gardening, growing greens and herbs. Then, you are suddenly bombarded with vivid colors and figures representing an Aztec public market (see picture). The curators did an impressive job capturing in this vibrant scene the chaotic and diverse nature of markets - You can almost hear the women selling the tamales and the garrobos. The exhibition continues with several documentaries and a demonstration on how to make delicious cider. There are also various displays on the economic significance of agriculture, and how it's traded around the world. Anyway, please visit it if you have a chance. You won't regret it.

To learn more about the exhibition read what the NYTimes had to say about it. Also, check out the promotional video below:

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Food for Thought

The Food for Thought blog from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, has been publishing excellent commentaries on  international food security and nutrition. Check them out below:

Coding for Hunger: Not Development as Usual. By Dr. Maura O'Neill,  chief innovation officer and senior counselor to the administrator at USAID.
Biotechnology and Africa’s Strategic Interests. By Calestous Juma, Professor at Harvard University
Post-Harvest Technology Solutions: Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast. By Alexandra Spieldoch, Coordinator of the Network of Women Ministers and Leaders in Agriculture within Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture & Natural Resource Management.
Tackling Poverty with Nutrition Innovations. By Dr. Manfred Eggersdorfer, Senior Vice-President Nutrition Science & Advocacy at DSM Nutritional Products.
More Scientific Advancements In Agriculture Show Strong Potential to Help Increase Farmers’ Yields. By Dr. Robert T. Fraley, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto Company. 

Solving the Agriculture-Nutrition Equation

Jess Fanzo in her awesome blog "You Are What You Eat" wrote back in Agust that the understanding of the connections between agriculture and nutrition and health remains the "Holy Gray of Nutrition." She compiled a  broad list of on-going research and published papers on the subject with the conclusion that, well, there isn't one yet. The casual connections between agriculture and nutrition remain elusive at best.

This may change soon. A  DFID-funded report reviewed 151 research projects on how we can use agriculture to use nutrition. Also, FAO just drafted a paper on the " The Guiding Principles on Agriculture Programming for Nutrition." And fresh from the oven, the World Bank hosted an event earlier this week to present a recent discussion paper in Prioritizing Nutrition in Agriculture and Rural Development. One of the presentation's concluding remarks is that while there is a need for more research, we already have sufficient evidence to move ahead with ag projects that we know will have a positive impact on nutrition.
See below the video of the presentation.