Davos Notebook

from Felix Salmon:

World hunger and the locavores

Every so often at Davos you have a short, startling conversation which completely changes the way you think about a subject -- and I just had one of those standing next to Dan Barber, the chef of Blue Hill Farm. He's a very smart, very funny guy, who's passionate about food on every level from preparing the ingredients of the dishes in his restaurants to the logistics of feeding the planet.

I bumped into Barber as we were milling around the Davos conference center, waiting for the panel on "rethinking how to feed the world" to begin. I asked him what he thought of the food in Switzerland; he compared in unfavorably to what he was fed by the airline on the way over here. "I haven't seen a vegetable since Thursday," he added, looking a bit overwhelmed by the number of things that the Swiss seem to be able to do with bread, cheese, and bit of veal.

When the panel started, I could almost see the steam coming out of Barber's ears. It featured two heads of state; two agribusiness CEOs; a representative from the World Bank; and Bill Gates. All of them looked at food mainly as a matter of logistics and problem-solving, and they seemed to do so with real good will and good motives. (Well, maybe not the CEO of ADM.) But they were all very much bought into a model which looks, to Barber's eyes, incredibly shaky.

Essentially the problem is that the people on the panel have internalized the principles of comparative advantage and free trade to the point at which they are more or less incapable of thinking any other way. In a Ricardian world it makes sense for Ohio to overwhelmingly grow corn and soy, since growing corn and soy is what it does best. And because of economies of scale, it makes sense to grow just one type of each, on farms of mind-boggling size. Ohio can then trade all that corn and soy for the food it wants to eat, and everybody is better off.

Except in reality it doesn't work like that. Monocultures are naturally prone to disastrous outbreaks of disease, which can wipe out an entire crop. The panel at Davos has a favored method of dealing with such things: the development of disease-resistant crop strains, often through high-tech and patentable genetic modification. Bright research scientists create clever transgenic crops, and then people like Bill Gates and the World Bank try to get them broadly adopted while setting well-intentioned staffers to work minimizing potential problems with IP licensing. Innovation through agricultural technology is the obvious and necessary solution to the problem of global hunger.

Iran’s foreign minister joins the Davos Debates

Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Manouchehr Mottaki discusses the aims of, and his thoughts on, the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Stingy Italians

berluscoiA black mark for Italy in the doing-good stakes.

Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, took a swipe at the Italian government in Davos for being “uniquely stingy” when it comes to foreign aid.

The good guys are Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Luxembourg — all of which give 0.72 to 1.0 percent of GDP as foreign aid.

But Italy gives a paltry 0.21 percent, following a decision by Silvio Berlusconi’s government to cut its help to poor countries by more than half.

Next year’s potential guest to Davos?

osamaThe World Economic Forum is all about promoting debate and finding solutions to problems the world is facing.

One thing the world’s political and business leaders have been discussing is the role of the dollar in the global economy.

The world’s most wanted man Osama bin Laden has been offering his take on solving global imbalances. He urges the world to stop relying on the dollar in order to solve the global financial crisis.

from Felix Salmon:

Talking to Nouriel

I'll be doing a live video interview with Nouriel Roubini here on Reuters.com in a couple of hours (6:20pm Davos time, 5:20pm GMT, 12:20pm ET), asking him questions from readers. So if you have anything you want me to ask him, leave a comment on this blog or on the liveblog, or send a tweet with the #askroubini hashtag. It should be fun!

Update: Here it is!

The global values crisis

Writer and activist the Reverend Jim Wallis discusses the importance of morals in today’s society.

Marathon day for Greece in Davos

It’s truly a marathon. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou are in Davos to tell the world that they are serious about reducing their huge deficit.

UK finance minister Alastair Darling, who passed by, tapped the PM’s shoulders, saying:  “Are you doing the rounds? Good luck!”

Below you see how our team of text reporters and Reuters Insider television prepping for an interview with the finance minister, inside the congress hall in Davos.

Africa needs to bargain more

africaAfrica is one area we at Reuters is focusing at this year’s Davos (click for our special report)

Kola Karim, chif executive of Lagos/London-based Shoreline Energy International, says moves by Korea, Saudi Arabia and other emerging countries to buy up thousands of hectares of land in Africa to grow food “is sending fears to Africans.”

“Africa needs to ask, are these deals for us? Or for them. There’s a mismatch. We’re talking about countries that lack food. There’s no food for us,” he tells Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Ask Nouriel Roubini

US-ECONOMY/ROUBINIGot a question you would like to ask economist Nouriel Roubini? Now’s your chance. Roubini will be joining us in Davos later today for a social media interview and we want you to send us questions to put to him.

Roubini, Professor of Economics at New York University and co-founder of RGE Monitor)  is one of the few economists to accurately predict the global financial crisis, warning of turbulence in the housing market, loss of consumer confidence and a deep recession.

The interview will be streamed live and you can watch it in this blog post or on our Davos 2010 live blog at 5:20pm GMT (12:20 ET and 6:20pm local time). Reuters columnist Felix Salmon will conduct the interview and put your questions to Roubini.

David Miliband on education

British Foreign Minister David Miliband answers a question posted on youtube.com/davos: How can education help prevent disease, decrease poverty rates and improve living standards, and how can governments encourage and invest in education in developing countries?