Commodity Corner

Views on commodities and energy

Millions Fed: some solutions close at hand

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More than a billion people go hungry each day — about the same number as did in the late 1950s. That’s both a “tragedy on a grand scale” and an “astounding success,” according to a new report called “Millions Fed,” produced by the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
    
While the absolute number of hungry people is the same as it was 40 years ago, the proportion is dramatically smaller — one in six today, compared to one in three then, the report said. It illustrates 20 successful case studies where progress has been made in the fight against hunger.

Some solutions come from science: new varieties of wheat, rice, beans, maize, cassava, millet and sorghum. Others deal with markets, government policies, or the environment.
    
Two farmers from the Sahel region of Africa, oft plagued by drought and famine, visited Washington last month to talk about solutions they found close to home — one of the success stories trumpeted in “Millions Fed.”
    
Almost 30 years ago, farmers in Burkina Faso experimented with a traditional technique called “zai,” digging pits in their plots and adding manure to improve soils before the rainy season, resulting in dramatically better yields.
    
Yacouba“There was a long period of drought in my village,” Yacouba Sawadogo told reporters. “Many people left because their life was very, very difficult. But I decided to stay,” he said, explaining how he taught others the technique.
    
In Niger, farmers manage trees on their land to prevent erosion, improve yields, and provide livestock fodder. Before, women had to walk 6 miles to get firewood, but now they have enough for themselves and to sell to others, said Sakina Mati, who coordinates tree projects in six villages.
    
The projects have improved 13 million acres of farmland and fed 3 million people, said Oxfam America, a development group that works with the farmers.
    
It’s food for thought as rich nations ramp up efforts to help small farmers grow more food in poor countries. “In our approach toward solutions and programs, we really need to listen as well as talk,” said Gawain Kripke of Oxfam.
    
“Solutions don’t always come from us.”


    

PHOTO CREDIT: Yacouba Sawadogo on his farm in Burkina Faso /Courtesy of Oxfam America

Less talk, more action needed on food security

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World Food Day is Friday, and on opposite sides of the developed world, two large groups of experts have gathered to talk about the risks of food insecurity and what should be done to reduce hunger. In Rome, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is mulling how to feed the world in 2050, and in Des Moines, Iowa, the World Food Prize forum will focus on the role of food in national security.

Last year’s spike in food prices raised the political profile of food security. G8 nations and the United States have pledged money and action. I spoke with Per Pinstrup-Andersen, an agricultural economist at Cornell University and a Food Prize laureate, to get his take on what that means. Here are some excerpts. 
     
pinstrup_andersenQ. What do you think is different now in terms of the political will to address this problem? 
A. I think there is an increase in the political will. However, past initatives or past rhetoric of that kind didn’t really result in much action. I’m very concerned that we’re going to see a lot of additional rhetoric and a lot of plans being designed and discussed during the next year or so, but probably not very much action. Insofar as developing country governments are concerned, I doubt if the political will has changed at all. There is a lot of talk. But unless the developing country governments decide to prioritize the eradication or at least the amelioration of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, not much is going to happen.

from LEGACY Reuters Summits:

The best geologists want to be in Tullow’s team

Tullow Oil is the Manchester United of the energy world -- at least when it comes to recruiting the finest talent.
The oil industry has long complained of the difficulty of recruiting enough highly-qualified staff, but as Europe's largest independent oil explorer by market value, Tullow says it is a magnet for all those geologists ambitious to add discovering a new field to their CVs.
"If you are successful, you will always attract... like everyone wants to play for Manchester United," Aidan Heavey, chief executive of Tullow Oil, told the Reuters Global Energy Summit.
Many oil companies, he said, have ceased exploring, partly because of a difficult financial climate, partly because of a lack of opportunities.
Tullow's exploration successes include major finds in Uganda and offshore Ghana.
Apart from snapping up the finest geologists, Tullow has also been busy grabbing credit. Heavey said banks had made available $2 billion in credit in March this year.
"It's a huge achievement in the current market," Heavey said. "It's probably soaked up most of the credit available for small oil companies."

A food czar could bring sexy back to agriculture

It seems if you got a problem in Washington today, you need a Czar to take care of it. And now some powerful U.S. senators believe the agriculture sector should get one to sharpen efforts to feed the world’s poor.
    
foodaid3Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman told lawmakers on Tuesday that too often agriculture takes a back seat to other “sexier” issues in policymaking, but it must be a priority if the country hopes to address global hunger and malnutrition.
 
“It is not a secondary factor,” Glickman said before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
 
Senator Dick Lugar, the Republican leader of the committee, supported appointing a White House food coordinator to take on raising agriculture and food aid’s prominence.
    
This “food czar” would be tasked with coordinating efforts between the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies involved in food aid and agriculture production.
    foodriots
The need for a food czar doesn’t seem as far stretched when considering recent events that have nudged agriculture over into the realm of a national security issue.
    
Soaring food prices last year sparked food riots and led to political instability in some parts of the world. The threat of violence and coups continues as the recession makes it increasingly difficult for even more people to buy food.
    
A food czar could possibly mitigate future riots by improving the United States’ role in making other nations self-sufficient in agricultural production, an area some say the country has failed in. 
 foodaid2  
In fact, U.S. efforts to address the long-term challenge of persistant malnutrition earn an ‘F,’ according to political science professor and author Robert Paarlberg.
 
He said U.S. agriculture assistance to Africa has plummeted 85 percent since the 1980s. “So as things have been getting steadily worse in Africa, the United States goverment has curiously been doing steadily less,” Paarlberg said.
 
A food czar, Lugar said, would have the difficult job of addressing this conundrum.

Photo Credit: Reuters/Luc Gnago (Farmers in Cote d’Ivoire work on a rice field); Reuters/Alberto Lowe (Riot police clash with Panamanians over food prices in Panama City); Reuters/Margaret Aguirre (A child in Ethiopia is severely malnourished due to widespread starvation brought on by drought and soaring food prices)