[BELLS RINGING] SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
SPEAKER 2: The means by which governments, firms, and private philanthropies tackle the food security challenge of the coming decade will fundamentally shape the relationship between food security and sociopolitical stability. In the chats in this next book talk given at Mann Library in November 2013, Dr. Chris Barrett, Dr. Wendy Wolford, Joanna Upton, and Samuel Crowell discuss this complex relationship.
Dr. Barrett is the Stephen B and Janice G Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management in Cornell University's Dyson school and a professor in the Department of Economics. Dr. Wolford is the Polson Professor of Development Sociology and Associate Director for Economic Development at Cornell's David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. Joanna Upton and Samuel Crowell are PhD candidates in the Department of Applied Economics and Management and the Department of Plant Biology, respectively.
CHRIS BARRETT: Thank you very much, Mary. And thank you all for taking time to come join us today. The genesis of this book will hopefully become clear pretty quickly. But I think the key thing to start with is perhaps exemplified by the fact that we've got multiple units from CALS sitting in the front of the room here, all contributing to this volume, is that the struggle around food security is a very multi-disciplinary program. But it's also one in which we've had tremendous success in the past.
And I start with the success because it's very important to keep in mind that from the close of World War II through some time in the 1980s, roughly speaking, the world enjoyed growth in crop productivity that enabled historically unprecedented improvements in human well-being. We saw real food prices fall appreciably as supply expanded much faster than demand.
We saw the food supply expand from being only sufficient to feed about 2 billion people at the close of World War II to today, depending upon how you want to count, we have adequate calories easily to feed all of the world. We just don't distribute it anything like equitably. But we certainly have adequate nutrients of all sorts to feed five to six billion. That's quite a remarkable accomplishment if you think about it. And it's something that had never been accomplished previously.
Indeed, the progress we saw in the '40s through the '80s is part of the problem because that success enabled population growth, income growth, urbanization, broader-scale economic growth, and what some people refer to as the structural transformation of previously agrarian economies becoming more and more urban and industrial. It encouraged and enabled poverty reduction. And it is associated with-- and some people argue causally associated with-- what's sometimes referred to as the long peace-- the Cold War based, but long peace of the latter part of the 20th century.
The problem is all of that induced complacency. We began to take agriculture for granted. Because we were accomplishing so much as a global community dedicated to reducing food insecurity problems, we began to think that this was easy and the world began to radically disinvesting from agriculture.
The problem is that the threats to agriculture-- the pests, the pathogens, the climate pressures, et cetera-- continued to evolve and so we began to see a sharp slowing of supply growth. And at the same time, we began to see acceleration in demand growth. Acceleration in demand growth due to both population growth, and income growth, and the nutritional transition-- as people's incomes grow they naturally graduate from consuming a diet of basic grains and legumes and roots and tubers to diets that are much more based on animal-sourced products, therefore necessarily fairly inefficient because you have to turn vegetable into feed into animal products.
And the result was a steady crossing of the demand and supply lines-- to betray my economist origins-- and what used to be a steadily growth in supply that outpaced the growth in demand, and as a result, resulted in settling real food prices as depicted by the blue line you see here. You see that food prices, if we had a longer time series before 1990, you'd see this was in a steady decline right up until the turn of the millennium.
And right before the start of the 21st century, we began to see demand growth outpacing supply growth. And the predictable consequence of that is that you begin absorbing the stocks you have-- the excess supplies of food you have. And sooner or later, you get upward price pressure. And by the nature of storable commodities, those price pressures typically erupt in a price spike. And that's exactly what we saw happen in 2007, 2008.
Of course, the global economy went into massive recession in 2008, 2009, which brought those prices back down, but they quickly spiked again. And in 2011, we hit historical highs in real food prices. This is all the consequence of a complacency induced by the successes enjoyed by the agricultural research community of the post World War II era, I would argue.
Today, we're in a high food price regime. So the red line here shows the volatility of food prices, which went crazy in the 2007 to 2011 era. But you'll notice have now the latest data point in here is July or August of 2013. By now, they've settled back down to a level that's about 35% above the lows at the turn of the millennium. And all of the serious food modelers are predicting food prices-- real food prices-- inflation-adjusted food prices-- will be, if anything, a little bit higher still in the coming several decades.
So this is the source of a problem because high food prices are associated with social unrest. People take to the streets when the price of bread gets high. And that's part of the story behind the French Revolution, as many of you know.
And this simple graphic from a study done right in the midst of the Arab Spring or right after the Arab Spring of 2011 shows episodes-- country-specific episodes-- and in parentheses the numbers of deaths associated with food riots in these countries. And you will notice right away, the very strong correlation between food riots and associated violent deaths in riots. And the food price series here in black-- that's just replicating a small portion of that graphic I showed you before.
High food prices lead to food riots. Very understandably, food riots result in deaths. In some cases, they result in the overthrow of governments. The Haitian government fell almost certainly as a consequence, in part, of food riots in 2008, 2009.
But the key problem here is causal attribution is very difficult. There are a lot of things going on that cause high food prices and cause unrest. So it's a little difficult to tease out causality cleanly here, at least to the standards that an econometricians like me would be satisfied by.
And a key thing to remember here is that most countries that suffer high food prices do not erupt into food riots. Most countries that suffer food price spikes don't have deaths. They don't go through unrest. So part of the puzzle is to uncover what is it that makes a place vulnerable to social and political disruption due to disruptions in its food economy.
But the key driver here is that food security worries we know do spark public protest. And the key element seems to be where there are already preexisting grievances-- something that has nothing to do with the food economy per se, but you have a community of underemployed or unemployed young men in cities who already feel that the government is failing to adhere to its social contract to ensure that they have adequate livelihoods. And now suddenly, they're struggling to pay for their meals. That's just one step too far. The straw that breaks the camel's back.
And that's the genesis of this project. In the Arab Spring of 2011, there was a lot of popular commentary about the food price spike being the thing that was leading to the collapse of governments in North Africa. Now, that's an incredibly oversimplistic explanation of what took place.
But the key thing is that security agencies, intelligence agencies suddenly paid attention. They realized that there was something about global agriculture and the food economies that maybe they better pay attention to, whether these were the strong causal drivers that some people were oversimplistically describing them as or whether these were just important correlates, or in some cases, perhaps, the straws that broke the camel's back. They needed to understand this and the security agencies didn't.
So the US intelligence community actually approached Cornell and said, we just have no understanding of the global food economy. We don't understand the pressures that are giving rise to these food price spikes into food riots in countries and threatening governments-- both allies and countries with which we're commonly not in agreement all the time. And we need help to understand that.
And so Cornell convened a workshop that I organized in June of 2012, where we drew a group of experts who all prepared assessments of what were the real drivers. And that resulted in this book that has just come out. So that's what we're going to present to you today.
The high food prices lead not just to riots in the streets of cities. Indeed, one of the central themes of this book is that people are commonly misled to think that the real sociopolitical risk of food price spikes is around urban disruptions. And as I said, most places don't erupt into riots. And there's only one country whose government seems to have fallen due to food price riots-- Haiti's-- and they had lots of other problems that already existed.
A much more pernicious threat, the contributors to this volume argue, is that high food prices also make the value of agricultural resources much greater. And they are helping to drive the rush for lands in the developing world, and increased attention to water, and often overlooked competition for genetic material-- the basic genetic stuff of animals and plants, on which agriculture depends.
In these land grabs, which directly led to the overthrow of the government of Madagascar. This is a picture from the central square in Antananarivo after the government fell after it had leased on a sweetheart deal-- 1.2 million hectares of land to Daewoo, the Korean conglomerate which was looking to safeguard a supply of rice on rice lands in Madagascar. And this was the last straw for the Malagasy, with a government that they already had some grievances with.
But it also has fed rushes in marine fisheries that increasingly run risks of fish wars, as they're sometimes called. Grabs for water as water is becoming increasingly scarce, especially with climate change. And as Sam will talk about, gene grabs, which are not really paid attention to. But we see both corporate and government interests that are increasingly trying to gather up the intellectual property around genetic material on which future discoveries depend crucially.
So these are very serious threats. And these are where we argue the real threats associated with continued complacency in the food economy come from. It's the increased competition for resources that can spark serious problems.
So this relationship between food security and sociopolitical stability seems real. You see that sort of graphic of food prices and riots. Whether these are simple correlations due to common drivers-- like we know that climate episodes, hot days lead to more likely unrest. There is a strong correlation between violence and climate. There's a nice study in Science quite recently by Miguel, Burke, and Hsiang that demonstrates this. And that also obviously, bad climate episodes lead to crop failures and food price spikes. So this could entirely be correlation due to variables that affect both outcomes.
It's very difficult to tease out the causal links, but we don't have the luxury of waiting until we can get clean designs. And it's hard to run experiments on the global agricultural economy. So it's not clear that that would be a fruitful research strategy anyway.
So the group of us and the other contributing authors who aren't able to be here today took the relatively hazardous route of we'll engage in some speculative inference based on the observational data available and some expert opinions of what's going on. One thing we can quickly agree on is sociopolitical crisis causes food insecurity. You don't want to live in a war-torn zone if you want a reliable diet. And places like Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo are excellent examples of this.
In 2011, as many of you know, several states of Somalia were declared in famine by the United Nations-- the first time a famine had been declared in decades. And the reason was very simple. This is a war-torn area that was primarily controlled by an international terrorist organization, Al-Shabaab. The UN World Food Program couldn't even deliver food aid into the region. Al-Shabaab wouldn't let them in. It's very much a consequence. Hunger there and the famine situation was very much a consequence of war and sociopolitical instability.
But increasingly, it seems that instability is a consequence of food insecurity, not just a cause. We don't really need additional reasons to pursue peace. You don't have to convince intelligence agencies, ministries of defense around the world that they should invest in peace because that will improve food security. That's not an argument that really adds anything to the side of people who want to pursue peace.
By contrast, the possibility that improving food security might attract additional interest if it helps to advance the cause of peace, if it facilitates sociopolitical stability in countries that otherwise might be vulnerable to disruption, conflict, and chaos-- that's an argument that is much more novel. And that's precisely why the intelligence community came to Cornell, as arguably the greatest repository of expertise about the global agricultural system.
And they wanted to know is this something we should worry about? And the answer is yes. It's something that they should worry about. But they should worry about it not just for the reasons they were thinking of-- that climate change is real, climate change is driving agricultural systems disruption, that will therefore lead to sociopolitical disruption.
A central argument of this book is that the things that they need to perhaps be most on guard for is that policy responses by governments, by firms can also be severely disruptive. That governments will make choices, firms will make choices that can aggravate the underlying grievances that lead to sociopolitical stability if we don't think carefully about what people do. That the adverse spillover effects of things like export bans, land grabs, gene grabs, et cetera-- these are very serious issues. And we need high-level attention to them because they are natural responses of short-sighted politicians who aren't thinking about the broader systems connections.
So I can't really do justice to an almost 500-page book in 15 minutes, but let me try to quickly summarize the four key pathways by which the collective group of authors hypothesize food security impacts sociopolitical stability.
The first is the one we already talked about and doesn't really need a lot more discussion. And that is that food price spikes lead to urban unrest. And spontaneous instability can sometimes be disruptive to governments, but it's a very rare event when you think hard about it. It's gotten a lot of press. But when you sit down and just think about the numbers, one country's government fell out of 200 and some governments over two major episodes of price spikes in the course of three years. That's a low probability event.
Another crucial thing to keep track of here is that the argument is often made that these price spikes disproportionately hurt the poor, which is true because the poor spend an overwhelming share of their budgets on food. And so when food prices go up, this hurts the poor much more than it hurts you and me because we only spend something on the order of 5% to 15% of our income on food. So a family that's spending 60% to 80% of its budget on food is obviously hit hard by a doubling of food prices. You and I might notice, but it won't cause us to go hungry.
The people who take to the streets are not the people who suffer the most from the food insecurity induced by food price spikes. So this is a crucial thing that people often make a mistake in saying, this is hurting the poor, therefore they take to the street, and therefore governments are threatened. It's urban populations, especially urban middle class populations, it appears from the best of evidence available that are much more likely to take to the streets.
And it's less a matter of the economic welfare hits of a food price spike than it is the breaking of the social compact-- the psychosocial effects of the fact that people feel vulnerable and they feel the governments aren't standing up for them. It's a demonstration of their powerlessness and the lack of a government commitment to defend them and defend the well-being of their families.
It's not about the magnitude of the welfare impacts. If it was about who suffers most, we'd be seeing pregnant women, young children, and the most desperately poor rural farm workers taking to the streets. And that's not the population that riots in the capital cities.
The second pathway by which we see this effect of food insecurity on sociopolitical stability is around this intensified competition for natural resources or resources, in general, where we think of natural resources is including things like genetic material. And this is where the biggest threats seem to lie.
And the problem here is that the competition for rural resources-- the resources that underpin agricultural production-- are taking place precisely in the spaces that are least well controlled by government, where guerrilla movements, rebel movements have the easiest time taking hold, establishing a reliable long-term defensible platform from which they can mount not just a political opposition, but potentially a violent opposition. And this has been the origin of civil wars in many countries over the years. And this is a source of real concern going forward.
Grabs of resources that disrupt populations seriously in the developing world-- and this is concentrated disproportionately in sub-Saharan Africa today, although there are real problems in South America and Asia as well-- but these are giving rise to very real displacements and very real contestation over resources where the property rights in land, the property rights in water, the property rights in genetic material are relatively poorly defined for many people. And so they naturally lead to grievances when there's suddenly a reallocation, especially when you have outsiders who come in and are seemingly taking over resources. It lends itself to lots of problems.
The third pathway by which food insecurity might affect sociopolitical stability has to do with changing technologies. The prior two stories are all about things threatening sociopolitical stability. And this is largely around the prospect of relieving the pressure.
That where governments can and do invest in improving agricultural technologies, agricultural productivity so that food supplies begin increasing again per capita, and in particular in the regions where we're going to see the largest growth in demand in Africa and Asia where we see improvements in the food distribution systems because the urbanization of populations means that food consumers are becoming increasingly removed, physically, from the place in which food is produced. So the systems that have to deliver food from farmer to table are under even accelerating stress, compared to just the average aggregate numbers, because people are increasingly removed from where the farming is taking place.
So technological change and increased productivity in agriculture is one of the central things that governments need to begin paying attention to. And by technological change and improvements of productivity, we don't just mean farm-level productivity. We mean the capacity to deliver food at reliable cost and reliable quality to consumers who are increasingly in urban, and peri-urban areas, and slums.
Technological change isn't a panacea. That is not a message of this book. The Green Revolution is a good example of both the benefits and the hazards created by technological change. But without technological change, it's very hard to imagine a scenario in which we don't have real problems associated with food insecurity and resulting sociopolitical instability.
In places like Africa, where we already have most countries, even if food were equitably distributed, cannot satisfy the nutritional needs of their populations. Food availability is already insufficient. We simply have to improve food availability through local productivity improvements in order to relieve pressures. Genetically modified foods are a big issue here and a big source of contestation, including political contestation. So it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
The fourth and final pathway are the policy interventions that governments undertake to try to augment supply. And I emphasize that they try to augment supply because they can't really produce new food through trade barriers, through storage policies, through things like that. They can just redistribute food across space and over time.
And these are policies that, carefully managed, can perhaps be helpful. There are some sound arguments for particular sorts of buffer stock policies, for example. But most of these are palliatives. And the real danger of these policy interventions is that they lull governments into believing that they've solved the problem. That governments put in place a buffer stock. They buy up grain. They release a little bit of it to try to take the top off a price spike.
And they say, we're done. We wash our hands. We don't have to put the money into investing improving the productivity of smallholder farmers. We don't have to make sure that people living in the slums around cities can access reliable inexpensive food. Instead we'll just rely on a buffer stock or we'll slap in place an export ban. And by slapping in place an export ban, we prevent growers from being able to export product to other countries. That brings down prices domestically for a short period of time. And it just exports the problem to whoever was your client.
When Ukraine and Russia slapped in export bans on wheat in 2010, what happened to the contracts for wheat deliveries in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt? Well, suddenly all those contracts were reneged upon. And the supplies of wheat coming into those countries dissipated dramatically and prices took off. And that's the origin of the bread riots in North Africa was the Ukrainian and Russian export bans on wheat that began in 2010 and really started to have a bite by 2011.
So the punch line of the book is that we need to pay attention to food or there will be consequences. That the global security and intelligence communities are right to suddenly be paying attention, even if the narrative behind the 2011 Arab Spring events was terribly oversimplistic.
It wasn't all about high food prices or bread riots in Tunis, and Tripoli, and Cairo leading to the overthrow of governments. Those were correlates. They were expressions of longstanding, preexisting grievances for other reasons. But they were very real events that underscore the threats that exist if we don't attend to the global food economy.
There is a very reasonable hypothesis that continued food insecurity or worse yet, growing food insecurity will spark further sociopolitical unrest with especially grievous consequences for populations in those countries obviously, but also with consequences for all of us around the world. So we really do need to make serious efforts in improving agricultural productivity.
And that has to be coupled with serious social protection measures. That you have to ensure that there are measures in place-- cash transfer programs, food assistance programs-- that provide a buffer for populations that are vulnerable to price spikes that will inevitably happen because they do happen with some regularity. We just don't want to see them with the frequency we've seen them over the last half dozen years.
And this focus has to be especially in Africa and Asia because that's where more than 90% of the growth in food demand will take place over the next 20 years. And the idea that America will feed the world is a wonderful marketing pitch, but it's an illusion. So the reality is more than 90% of the food consumed in the world is grown in the country in which it is eaten. So we can grow food here and that will drive global food prices, but we have to promote productivity growth and social protection programs in the developing countries where the food demand growth will take place.
So that's the core narrative that comes out of this book. You can see here the organization of the book into thematic chapters-- land, et cetera. Sam will present work with Susan McCouch on crop technologies. And then there's a set of geographic chapters beginning with Wendy Wolford's excellent chapter on Latin America. And continuing around the world, Joanna Upton will present our chapter on sub-Saharan Africa.
So I thank you for your interest. And I'd like to pass this on to Sam, as he'll talk about crop technology.
SAMUEL CROWELL: I wanted to start the talk with a really broad question because this is a really broad topic. And to summarize all of the problems of the agricultural sector in 10 minutes is a pretty lofty goal. So in the context of food security, what exactly is a crop technology? And you can imagine how do you wrap your mind around this kind of thing?
And so I think we can all agree that a crop can basically be divided into four major chunks of either food, fiber, feed, or fuel-- the four F's. And I think that in the context of food security, it's really important to recognize that even though we only eat one of these, there's direct competition between all four of these types of crops that impact the entire agricultural sector. And so whether that's competition for public or private research funding or whether that's just a simple decision by a farmer to choose what to grow that they can make the most profit off of, really at all levels of the system, there's competition between all four of these types of crops.
And so I think that technology is really the harder word in this phrase-- crop technology. And so the official definition of a technology is the practical application of scientific knowledge. And so in the context of agriculture, that could really be anything. I mean, it could be a plow, the use of fertilizer, computer modeling of plant performance, genome biology, or it could even be satellite imaging of fields.
And so how do we boil this down? How do we talk about this in the context of food security? And so as a plant scientist or a plant breeder, we often divide this into two major chunks, which we call agronomic technologies and biological or genetic technologies.
And so really, agronomics are focused on characterizing and understanding the environment in which a plant is grown, whether that's managing soil or water or using techniques like conservation agriculture, where you don't till you and you reapply plant matter to the top of the soil to prevent erosion.
And biological technologies are really focused on understanding how a plant works. What is it doing in the field? What is the physiology? How do we leverage the genetics to maximize performance of that plant in an environment?
And so really, it's this interplay between manipulating or tweaking the environment in which a plant is grown and understanding that plant and tweaking the plant in response to that environment that is the holy grail of plant breeding. And given that nearly a third of the world is currently depending on the income derived from small farms less than 2 hectares, maximizing deployment of these technologies is really one of the most efficient ways to help people who are food insecure.
And so this isn't a new idea. This has essentially been going on since the domestication of crop plants. And I included this photo of the Banaue Rice Terraces because I think it's an excellent example of how even 2,000 years ago, people were engineering the side of a hill to grow rice at the same time that they were selecting certain traits in rice varieties to perform well in such a specific environment.
And so you can think of modern plant breeding as essentially an accelerated version of this process. Instead of happening over 10,000 years, it's happening over less than 100 years in most cases. And a modern plant breeder really strives to release a new variety every 10 to 15 years.
And so even though this is a relatively linear process from domestication until the deployment of a modern variety, the act of actually breeding is very cyclical. Because you identify the trait that you want, you cross it into the variety that you want to grow, and then you identify the trait again and carry it through to the next generation. And you do it over, and over, and over again. And eventually, you come out with a uniform variety that performs well in the field.
And so you can see I took this photo at Erie back in March. I think it's a really excellent example of the modern breeding process because you can see that there's this field in the background that's entirely uniform-- all one variety. But here in the front, you have a whole bunch of different varieties that are being grown at the same time-- all different heights and stages of life. And they're screening them and trying to incorporate novel traits into modern varieties to perform well across a broad range of environments.
And so really, it's access to this genetic information that's key to developing a new crop variety. Because depending on how far back you have to go for your trait, if you're going back to just a land race or you have to go all the way back to a wild relative, this circle gets bigger and bigger, and it takes longer and longer, and it's harder to incorporate new traits.
And so without being entirely super literal, the Green Revolution is the best example from the public reading sector of this process. It took rice and wheat varieties that are really tall and gangly-- almost as tall as me-- and breed them down until they're roughly ankle high. And they performed well under very specific fertilizer and watering regimens, and led to a significantly increased yield.
But the key part of that phrase is that, yes, we bred them to be a certain way, but only in response to environmental management. And so obviously, we're no longer in the Green Revolution age. We're in the post-Green Revolution. And the agricultural research landscape has really changed in the past 50 years.
And so one of the biggest things is that there has been a significant decrease in the growth of agricultural research funding in the public sector. And you can see no matter where you are in the world, investments have slowed, or in the case of high-income countries, it's actually reversed. They're going down.
And so this has had some serious implications on the type of research that's conducted and on the types of crops that are investigated. With 90% of agricultural research happening in the developed countries and over half of that being done in the private sector, it really becomes more of a profit margin question then, and then developing the type of crop that could benefit farmers in the developing world the most.
And so I just wanted to return to this idea of environments and genetics being the core of plant breeding. Because when you're a breeder in the private sector, you have one more thing to think about. And that's protecting your investment.
And so there's really three major ways you can do that. You can either protect the genetic material that you use to develop your crop variety. You can release a variety that only performs well for one year, as we do in hybrids. Or you can come up with a way to patent and protect your technology, so that even if it is stable over several years, nobody can access it after that first year. They have to buy more seed every year.
And so it's that last one that's really the most controversial. And that's what genetic engineering has really allowed the private sector to do. And so essentially, what it's done is it's allowed the private sector to deliver technology in the form of a seed, in the form of genetics. It's very easy for a farmer to use and to implement, but that's also protectable. And it's also entirely agronomically based.
And so I just want to end with the example of genetic engineering because I think it's a really promising, but also tenuous topic at the moment. And so for those of you who aren't biologists, who don't understand how it works, essentially what you do is you use a naturally-occurring bacteria-- agrobacterium-- to artificially inject a gene of your choice into a plant. And this is an entirely natural process. It's just that breeders have figured out a way to choose what gene they want to put into the crop plant.
And what that lets you do is it lets you bypass this cyclical process we talked about. You can essentially leap frog a gene from anywhere in the kingdom of biology. And oh by the way, it's also subject to utility patents because it's an idea that you can patent and control. And that's a really powerful thing for the private sector.
And so since 1996, it's been a very successful technology. The deployment of GM crops has increased 94-fold. It's the fastest adoption of technology in the history. But it's not actually that new of an idea. Again, 99% of GM crops are only for four crops, but they were designed to provide agronomic performance-- insect resistance or herbicide resistance-- which lets farmers easily weed, easily manage the agricultural landscape.
And I think what a lot of people don't realize-- and this is something that even my boss, Susan, and I didn't know until we did some research-- is that 90% of the farmers who actually grow GM crops-- 16.7 million farmers in 2011-- were living in the developing world, growing crops on less than 2 hectares of land. And 14 million of those farmers were growing Bt cotton, which A, is not a food crop and B, is again, agronomically driven. All that farmer needs to do is plant a seed that provides resistance to a pest. They don't have to purchase any extra inputs and it's very successful. And it's been very successful.
So just to wrap up my talk, I wanted to stress again that the privatization of the agricultural sector-- this transition-- has really led to a shift in the way that public researchers can access not only genes and genetic material, but also the types of technologies that they can use to deploy technologies to farmers in the developing world. Because again, most of these technologies in the private sector are only focused on things that are important to the developed world.
And so right now, the current work-around is to develop these novel public-private partnerships in order to get access to technologies like genetic engineering and implement them in crops that are actually important to farmers in Africa and Asia. And so a lot of our chapter is focused on not only describing how these technologies work, but how they're accessed and delivered to farmers all over the world. Thank you very much.
WENDY WOLFORD: Good afternoon. It's nice to see you all. And it's really nice to be here. My chapter on Latin America is coauthored with Ryan Nehring, who I think is in the audience. He worked at the UNDP International Poverty Center doing research in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Brazil for two years and is now a PhD student here in development sociology with me.
We were given the nearly impossible task-- thank you very much-- of doing an overview of what is happening in Latin America-- a region that is not only very large, but where there is almost as much intraregional variability as there is interregional variability between Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
So my first point, or my first caveat, is to say that it's difficult to write about Latin America as a whole in regards to anything, but particularly in regards to food security or to the price shocks of the late 2000s. This is a very diverse region. And while the price shocks hit the region as a whole quite hard, there was real variability as you can see from this slide, ranging from significant increases in a handful of countries, like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Costa Rica, to much lower price increases in countries like Brazil and Peru.
There was also real variability in sociopolitical instability or in food protests. There were protests in several countries, as Chris said, in the wake of the 2007, 2008 price increases, most notably in Haiti, where street demonstrations and riots shook the country, but also in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and in Mexico.
But as Chris said, again, not all of the countries that saw high price increases saw protest. And some of the countries that didn't see high price increases did see protest. And Brazil was one of those. So we need to take a closer look to understand what's happening in the region.
Stepping back from the protests to look at the region as a whole, the agricultural sector in Latin America can be characterized by two elements that perhaps distinguishes it from other regions. On the one hand, Latin America as a whole has a net positive trade balance in agriculture. The region exports more than it imports. So to some extent, it's fair to say that food is available.
On the other hand, as you can see on the right-hand side here, the region has some of the highest levels of inequality in wealth and in access to resources such as land. Some of the highest levels of inequality anywhere in the world.
So in our chapter, we look out from this context of variability, availability, and inequality to make three key arguments. The first argument is that in order to understand the relationship between food security and sociopolitical mobilization, you need to differentiate between different kinds of protest. In particular, you need to separate fairly spontaneous protests around consumption-- what we would know of as food riots-- from sustained protests, or what we might call mobilization-- mobilization around production issues or access to productive resources, such as land.
The second argument is that neither kind of protest is a simple reaction to hard times, to high food prices, or to inequality. Rather protest and organization happen when people feel that a situation is unfair and that protest may effect change. Even protests around high food prices in Latin America, as Chris said, aren't necessarily about the prices themselves, which remain historically low. Rather, protests are about expectations that are generated by the abrupt nature of change and by a collective sense of social injustice.
The third argument then is that when considering the relationship between food security and sociopolitical instability in Latin America, one has to recognize the contribution that organized social movements have made to promoting food security. These movements throughout the region may engage in activities that look a lot like sociopolitical instability or unrest-- so public demonstrations, marches, land occupations, or occupations of government buildings and government or political public spaces.
And governments may have a hard time differentiating these different kinds of protests and may see this protest as a threat to national security. But these movements have been quite critical to building the infrastructure that Latin American states are employing to meet food security challenges.
Latin American countries have instituted an impressive number of social protections and subsidized public goods that are helping to promote food security in both rural and urban areas, from conditional cash transfer programs to popular restaurants, public purchasing programs geared toward small farmers, nationalized grocery stores, and more.
Social movements have been an important part of this in a variety of ways-- in electing officials who prioritize food security or security for the poorest more generally. And this is a reference to the wave of progressive administrations that has ushered in a so-called "pink tide" across Latin America in the 10 or 15 years-- relatively populist governments concerned with redistribution, such as Morales in Bolivia, Correa in Ecuador, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil.
These social movements have fought for the right to food. And Latin America has some of the strongest framework laws that are being put into place in protection of the right to food. Many of these movements have joined a broader global peasant movement called Via Campesina, about which you may have heard. This is a movement of movement that fights for attention to food security issues under the umbrella of what's referred to as food sovereignty. This movement has been very visible in multilateral settings such as the FAO and the United Nations, more broadly.
One of the largest and most well-organized movements in Via Campesina is the Brazilian movement, The Rural Landless Workers Movement. Founded in 1984 to push the government for access to land, the MST is a very good illustration of the kind of protest that has taken place to push governments or to push the Brazilian government to institute food security protections. The movement now has over 1.5 million members on over 1,500 rural land reformed settlements, or settlements where land has been distributed to the rural poor throughout the country.
In the 1990s and into the 2000s, the movement broadened its struggle from simply land occupations, or looking for land distribution to the rural poor, to now address questions of agricultural development and food security protections, more broadly. The MST is watched very carefully by the US security community, which sees the potential threat in the movement's radical language-- a fairly Marxist language-- and its tactics of large-scale property occupations.
But many would argue that the MST has played a critical role in Brazil's much touted food security programs put into place over the last 15 years. These programs are now some of the darlings of the international food security scene, in part because of the role of José Graziano da Silva in the FAO.
Just to name a couple of the advances that were put forward by the MST-- and I'll hurry up quickly because I know Joanna has very little time left-- in order to outline some of the advances, the MST was critical in getting a Ministry of Agrarian Development established in Brazil, so that there is a Ministry of Agriculture and a Ministry of Agrarian Development.
This very much mirrors that dichotomy that I suggested earlier of availability, but inequality-- so a Ministry of Agriculture and a Ministry of Agrarian Development. The MDA has been a critical supporter of small family farm policies and initiatives from access to credit to agroecological production, or promoting food production on the smallest farms.
The MST also actively campaign for Lula and helped him to organize or formulate some of the early Fome Zero policies that Lula put into place in the beginning of his first administration in 2003. So Fome Zero is a national poverty alleviation and food security strategy that explicitly targets the structural causes of poverty, including combined food and farm crises, inequality, and falling farm prices.
In 2003, Lula reestablished Brazil's National Food Security Council, Consea, which has become one of the critical places or organizations in which food security policies have been designed. And the civil society sector has been a key part of this council-- the MST being one of the most important members of the civil society organization.
Brazil's policies now are being replicated in countries across the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where policies like the public acquisition of food are taken from the Brazilian setting and being implemented in a number of sub-Saharan African countries.
So just to summarize the arguments from the Latin American section, in the paper, in the book, we do attempt to look at issues that range across the region as a whole, in addition to making this argument about the different kinds of protest. But we suggest that to address food security concerns in the region in the future-- a region that's characterized by food availability and inequality-- one needs to pay attention to different kinds of protest and to distribution, participation, and voice. Thank you.
JOANNA UPTON: So I would often say last but not least. In this case, last but very, very unfortunately for this area of study, not least. I'm going to be talking about sub-Saharan Africa and some of the main issues that Chris and I identified in our chapter.
So this map just sort of shows a stylized indicator of composite vulnerability across the continent. And I'll start out with the same point that Wendy made about Latin America. The diversity between regions and between countries and even in some cases within countries is so vast that it's hard to actually characterize specific solutions or issues because they're very diverse around the continent. The darker red areas are higher degrees of variability. And as you can see, it's a large degree of variation both in the characteristics or stressors and in progress over the past couple of decades between countries.
So to continue to motivate the focus on Africa, this continent is unfortunately distinct in three key ways, which is having the highest rates at a country level on average around the continent of undernourishment, of ultra poverty-- not just extreme poverty, ultra poverty-- and conflict-related deaths.
And so for those of you who know there are different dimensions to food security, including availability, access, use, this creates problems across several dimensions. And availability, actually unlike most of the rest of the world and unlike the globe generally, there are availability problems in sub-Saharan Africa.
But this graph shows country-level availability-- and Chris mentioned this in the introduction-- by just a pure availability of calories and protein. And it's only about 34% of all countries in the region that have a sufficient amount. And that's disregarding distributional issues and access and other factors. That's just production of calories. So more than 60-some-odd percent of different countries in the region don't have that, which highlights the issue of access. Because if they don't have availability in country, that means transportation and trade and infrastructure is a major problem with access in sub-Saharan Africa.
The other major issue around access is, of course, poverty. So like I said, 20% of the population overall on the continent is considered ultra poor. And that constitutes basically 65% of the world's ultra poor.
Again, the extreme diversity I've shown in that map also means that coming up with kind of a Green Revolution-like single scenario solutions or solutions that would even have broad hold across the continent is difficult because the solutions have to be very localized and problems are very unique.
The other thing we identified is the fact that each area where there are major opportunities for progress in the area of food security is also itself fraught. It's also itself an area where there are potential movement for conflict or for other types of tensions. So I'll highlight that a little bit as I go forward.
So we spend a fair amount of time in the chapter describing the conditions in sub-Saharan Africa and then the progress over the past couple of decades. I'm just going to summarize that by using the four key pathways that Chris identified in the introduction that are pathways through which food security and sociopolitical stability are interrelated or that food security, in particular, might affect sociopolitical stability.
The first, as you might recall, is the food price spikes and urban unrest. Well, here, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest population growth rate still today. We're looking at a projection to reach approximately 1.1 billion people by the next few years, coming from about 800 million today. And the key point in that is also that this population is young. On average, in Western countries in the US, the average age of the population is around 40. And in sub-Saharan Africa, it's as low as about 20, which means we have a very young population.
It's also rapidly urbanizing. Back in 1980, about a quarter of the population was urban. This is rising toward about 40% soon, which means that you have a very young urban population. Education levels are rising, which is good in its own right. But if you have educated people with no opportunities, this leads to disaffection and possibility for urban unrest.
In terms of competition over rural resources, on one front, one might look at Africa and think that this would be a more positive area and that there is an abundance of land and water. These are proximate figures from the FAO on the amount of that of land that's arable-- it's actually being utilized-- and irrigable land that's actually being irrigated. But these demand pressures are huge. Populations are obviously growing and poverty is reducing, which is in some ways good, but it means that there's more demand-- more money available for purchase of food.
And then this land is also appealing, as Chris highlighted, for other interests. And the land grab issue is severe. In cases where these land grabs or land investment deals are seen as not transparent or as disaffecting the poor, there are neocolonial energies that can kind of rise. And that can lead to a degree of rural discontent.
The third avenue is through improving technologies and technical efficiencies, and this connection between this and alleviating [AUDIO OUT] Again, you'd think there's a great opportunity in Africa, and there is in that it's the largest yield gap on average-- i.e. difference between your current yield and actual potential yield is huge. Which you'd think creates an opportunity for improvement. And this growing young, more educated population would also potentially help with this.
But on the other side, technical capacity is very slim. And actually as Sam had mentioned, R&D investment in research and development in Africa has been declining over the past couple of decades. So there's a serious problem of technical capacity. Even where it exists, poverty leads to problems of adoption. So the rural people are very poor and hence the adoption of new technologies is difficult.
And there's controversy over some of the potential solutions. GMO crops in particular have been-- basically, Africa has been made a battleground over that issue. And so many countries have very political views over GMO adoption.
In terms of policy interventions to augment supply, this issue is heightened in sub-Saharan Africa in that it's a very common practice by sub-Saharan African governments to hold food security stocks and to try to basically mediate food supplies over time and space through types of controls. But this has distributional implications. And in turn, governing capacity is weak, which not only means that these policies might be poorly executed, but that the capacity to support people who are disaffected by such policies-- i.e. through public support and to be pushing for productivity improvements-- is limited.
So I'll kind of looking forward into the future, talk about just general demand side and supply side issues, summarizing the last slides, that will likely characterize or to some degree, shape the food system in the next decade. The demand side, again, I'd mentioned. Poverty is on the decline, which means that there's more money out there to purchase food.
And with population growth, that means increases in demand. But the population growth combined with urbanization means that there is reliance on infrastructure to get food around and to have food reach the people who need it, which is a very fraught issue in sub-Saharan Africa. And infrastructure is still challenging and limited.
Communication infrastructure is improving. This is again, in itself, a good thing. But this is in countries where suppressing dissent is common. And communication improvements, and the Facebook and Twitter world, also means the ability of disaffected groups to be in touch. And that can potentially help to stir conflict or rioting.
So on the supply side, we have this land and water abundance. And investments-- and [INAUDIBLE] actually recently highlighted this in a publication-- these investments in land and land grabs could be an opportunity-- i.e. you could see employment for people who were landless in the first place or improved uses of land through the system. But the conditions that would create this have to be there. And these conditions are historically, unfortunately, not in place-- i.e. governments are not managing these investments in a productive way to help promote food security.
The productivity gap again creates possibilities for an increase in supply. Some pathways we talk about in the chapter are through irrigation-- i.e. irrigating all this land and tapping unused water resources. Soil fertility management is a possibility. Sub-Saharan Africa has a comparative advantage in livestock. And that could even be used to holistically manage soils and to reclaim desertifying soils.
GMOs, again, and other types of crop technologies and plant technologies are a possibility. But again, there's some conflict in that area and often, adoption capacity is weak. So the demographic trends, in terms of increased labor and education, could also help fill that productivity gap. But the conditions under which that would happen are limited.
So the main things that we focus on as what need to be focuses of policy in Africa are total factor productivity growth. This is in contrast to distributional types of changes that create win, gains, and losses-- i.e. where the policies that will increase prices will negatively affect consumers, whereas policies that decrease prices might hurt producers. Total factor productivity gains are a way of escaping that and actually benefiting both sides at once.
But there are issues here with government capacity. So government capacities need to be strengthened in prioritizing this kind of productivity growth, creating opportunities for these young working-age populations and increasingly urbanizing populations, managing foreign investments and land grabs to try to leverage them to promote transparency, but also to leverage them for production priorities that are important domestically.
And then again, social protection and safety nets for the ultra poor and those who are disaffected by policies and by the changes that are happening. This is important not only for food security, but to the degree that those who are disaffected might be involved in conflict or unrest, which is not always the case. To that degree, of course, supporting these people will be very important for avoiding conflict.
So those are the core drivers that we identify. And that covers it. Thank you for being here.
SPEAKER 1: This has been a production of Cornell University, on the web at cornell.edu.
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Rising demand for food is no longer being met with a rising supply, and the specter of widespread food insecurity fostering sociopolitical instability weighs on policymakers worldwide. In a Chats in the Stacks book talk Nov. 7, 2013 at Mann Library, Chris Barrett, Wendy Wolford, Joanna Upton, and Samuel Crowell discuss this complex relationship, which is explored in their new book, "Food Security and Sociopolitical Stability."
Barrett is the Stephen B. & Janice G. Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management in Cornell University's Dyson School and Professor in the Department of Economics. Wolford is the Polson Professor of Development Sociology and associate director for economic development at Cornell's David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. Upton and Crowell are PhD candidates in the Department of Applied Economics & Management and the Department of Plant Biology, respectively.