There’s potash in them thar hills… and maybe sometime soon we’ll be wondering aloud whether potassium carbonate (thanks: Wikipedia) can push on to $2,000 per ounce. In the meantime, the buzz around fertiliser stocks has driven agriculture funds to some eye-catching outperformance.
The world needs to spend $83 billion a year to ensure it can produce enough food amid a changing climate for its growing population by 2050, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates.
Rich countries have pledged more than $22 billion over three years to help small, impoverished farmers grow and sell more by investing in seeds, fertilizer, roads and marketing infrastructure.
Philanthropists have thrown their weight behind the goal. Bill Gates challenged research companies last week to make new technologies available to small farmers without charging them royalties. (Click on the link at the bottom to see his full speech to the World Food Prize forum.)
On the congressional scale of measurement, Blanche Lincoln got a plum of a birthday present — the gavel as Senate committee chairman. She is the first woman to head the Agriculture Committee. Amid the congratulatory banter on Sept 30, Lincoln’s 49th birthday, were reminders of the enduring power of its members, past and present.
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.
Former 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.
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.
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.
U.S. farmers could set a record for soybean plantings this year, topping 2008’s 75.7 million acres. The Agriculture Department will release its initial projection of seedings later this week. Some economists see plantings of 79 million acres (32.9 million ha) given that market prices and production costs currently favor soybeans.
During his first week on the job, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said no one knows for sure how many people work at the Agriculture Department. Speaking to USDA employees and later to reporters, he used that startling anomaly as an argument to update USDA’s computer equipment.