First, the world should heed the call of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to fund a massive increase in Africa’s own food production. The needed technologies are available—high-yield seeds, fertilizer, small-scale irrigation—but the financing is not. The new African Green Revolution would initially subsidize peasant farmers’ access to high-yield technologies and thereby at least double grain yields. The funding would also help farm communities establish long-term micro-finance institutions to ensure continued access to improved agricultural inputs after the temporary subsidies are ended in a few years.
Second, the U.S. should end its misguided corn-to-ethanol subsidies. Farmers hardly need them given world demand for food and feed grains. There is certainly a case for re-doubling the scientific efforts to produce bio-fuels on lands which do not compete with food crops, for example from cellulosic ethanol, but this technology is still not ready for the market.
Third, the world should support longer-term research into higher agricultural production. Shockingly, the Bush administration is proposing to cut sharply the U.S. funding for tropical agriculture research in the Consultative Group for International Agriculture Research (CGIAR), just when that research is most urgently needed. This is an example of the Administration’s anti-scientific approach at its worst.
Finally, the world should follow through on the promised Climate Adaptation Fund announced last December in the Bali Climate Change conference, to help poor countries face the growing risks to food production from increasingly adverse climate conditions. Even as the world staunches the immediate crisis, there will be more wrenching dislocations as drought, heat stress, pest infestations and other climate-induced shocks occur increasingly often.
This story was originally printed with the title, "Surging Food Prices".