Thursday, May 29, 2008
More on Food II
(Do you get the feeling I am getting obsessed with the food issue?) A recent article by Amartya Sen discusses the problem of global food prices and food availability. His sober assessment is that things will eventually get better, but global food production does need to increase, and more important, while part of the contributing factor is indeed accelerating demand from China, India, Vietnam and other growing economies (hey! George Bush almost got it right...), these countries need to do a lot more in making sure that food is equitably distributed between the newly rich and the poor. Increased demand of food from a larger well-to-do class is driving food prices up, leaving the poor to face higher food prices but no greater income. It's no use just blaming the developed countries of the world for all our ills. Sen's favourite example of famine and its causes is the famous Bengal famine of 1943, which he has studied extensively. He gives here some interesting details, which, I at least, was unaware of. The British rulers were determined to prevent urban discontent during the war, so the government bought food in the villages and sold it, heavily subsidized, in the cities, a move that increased rural food prices even further. Low earners in the villages starved. Two million to three million people died in that famine and its aftermath. In other words, it was, at least partially, artificially induced. He also discusses the issue of ethanol from agricultural products. This process contributes little to reducing global warming, while diverting scarce agricultural resources to fuel production. Do read some of the comments to the article. Most of them are very well-informed and its a pleasure to read the discussion (unlike some of the discussions that appear in the national newspapers here in India). There are amusing interludes - one worthy keeps referring to Prof Sen as 'she' and defends the production of ethanol from corn. (He corrects himself later at least about the first goof-up).