Fixing the Food Chain

The world’s natural resources are sufficient to produce the food needed in the foreseeable future without damaging the environment. But governments must adopt follow enlightened policies and put science to work.

COPENHAGEN The global food system is in disarray. Four years ago, a 30-year trend of decreasing food prices rapidly reversed course. Grain prices have more than doubled since 2004, and prices for most other foods have increased significantly. Add unsustainable management of natural resources, emerging negative effects of climate change, and sharply rising prices for fertilizers and energy, and we are faced with the most severe global food crisis since the early 1970’s.

Dramatic price hikes reflect several factors: adverse weather in key food production areas, rapid increase in demand for meats and dairy products, higher oil prices, draw-downs of food stocks, greater use of food commodities for bio-fuel, and failure to invest in rural infrastructure, research and technology, and other public goods needed to facilitate agricultural growth in developing countries. The skyrocketing cost of food has resulted in more starvation among the poor, reduced purchasing power among the non-poor, and food riots in more than 30 countries. 

The key lesson to learn is that insufficient investment in science and inappropriate government policies lead to food crises. To avoid these shortcomings in the future, the world’s farmers and food processors must be helped to produce more food to meet increasing demand fueled by growth in world population and incomes. Moreover, they must produce more with less land and water, at reasonable prices, and without damaging natural resources or worsening climate change.

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