Accounts from around the world describe a “global food crisis”—a series of events resulting in an inflation of price indices for commodities such as rice, maize, and wheat upwards of 40% per year by highlighting the gravity of the decisions it forces global citizens to make in order to survive. In more than 30 countries across the globe, the weight of food decisions is so pressing that it has led to food riots. African nations have endured the highest number of conflicts.
According to a recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the crisis is unraveling of more than 30 years of international development, resulting in increased calls for help for the UN World Food Program. While experts point fingers and hypothesize about the cause of the crisis, it is apparent that there is no one single cause or solution. However, one proposal stands out to ASA–CSSA–SSSA, the proposal for increased investment in research, development and technology transfer.
"The present situation is a result of the international community's neglect of agriculture in developing countries for a long time," notes Dr Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). "The share of agriculture in official development assistance has declined from 17% in 1980 to only 3% in 2006. Investment in agricultural research in developing countries is less than 0.6% of their Gross Domestic Product compared to more than 5% in the OECD countries."
"Increasing agricultural production in developing countries will only be achievable by additional public and private investment. FAO estimates incremental public investment needs at about US$24 billion every year—this includes increased resources for water management, rural roads, storage facilities, as well as research and extension,” Diouf said when he addressed a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels in July of this year.
The International Food Policy Institute concedes that in China spending on agricultural research, education, and rural roads was more effective in promoting agricultural growth and poverty reduction, yielding 10 times greater returns than input subsidies. Is China a good case study?
Is the Chinese Model Worth Extrapolating?
In China, the researchers for the World Bank found that between 1981 and 2004 agricultural growth relieved the nation’s rate of poverty four times more than did growth in the manufacturing or service sectors.
Is part of the success and impact of China’s growing agricultural sector related to its continued investments for institutes that are developing crop and livestock varieties to improve agricultural productivity? Evidenced by recent activity, this seems to be what China believes. On 2 July 2008, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, approved a National Program for Long- and Medium- Term Grain Security, which ensures that grain security will be China's long-term basic national policy. The DuPont business, Pioneer Hi-Bred will be a significant partner for China in these efforts and has offered resources to help improve the productivity of Chinese farmers.
"We need to increase the productivity of each acre of land for China to achieve food security—and biotechnology will be a key technology in doing so," claims William S. Niebur, Vice President of DuPont Crop Genetics Research and Development. "China has experienced productivity gains in rice and corn production through hybridization, but growth has reached a plateau. New technologies are needed to achieve the step-change increase in corn and rice production that is required to meet China's growing demand for grain."
It will be interesting to see what role the crop sciences play in the execution of China’s national grain security program, both publically and through private-R & D effforts.
Will plant breeding, crop physiology, and cropping systems also be part of the research and development efforts?
Tell Us What You Think!
Does the Chinese model reinvent the wheel, or serve as a renewed method for providing aid? Does R&D help to alleviate poverty and mitigate food shortages? If so, how? What are your experiences from the field?