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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

If: The Global Food Supply is Truly Shrinking

If the global food supply is truly shrinking (as these reports culled from Drudge and a feature article in the latest edition of The Economist suggest), then maybe we can find a silver lining.

Perhaps Western governments can stop paying people to not farm their land, a move that could save billions in subsidized inactivity and might even encourage farming on some of that land. For that matter, if food is growing that much dearer, then the price for food will be rising--which means that, perhaps, Western governments can end protectionist farm subsidies altogether, allowing developing nations both access to our markets and a compelling reason to farm: reasonable pay outs.

Perhaps the resulting savings in expenses could be used to offset some of the deficits that our government continues to pile annually onto our national debt. And the cost would be slightly higher prices at the grocery store. Perhaps.

Perhaps the prices would be higher; perhaps they would be lower. WIthout those farm subsidies, growers around the world could truly compete in the American market, encouraging development of land currently left fallow. One of the side effects of massive subsidies and even more massive food aid around the world is disruption of local agriculture in developing nations. Of course, in countries like Zimbabwe, a lack of farming knowledge combined with destructive government policies killed off an industry that once employed some 66% of the private workforce in the country and once was a net exporter of food. Tobacco remains one of the few exports that brings hard cash into the country, but, as for food, the country no longer grows enough to feed itself.

The truth is, it’s hard to know exactly what would happen to food production and prices if the subsidies were removed; it’s even harder to deny that the subsidies and food aid tend to distort the market for agricultural products.

Perhaps now would be a great time, too, for the Luddites who tremble in fear at the thought of genetically modified corn, wheat, and rice to reconsider their position. Genetically modified crops can be hardier and more nutritious than their “natural” counterparts--although the majority of what we consider un-modified merely had the tampering with their genetic makeup happen much slower and less efficiently than the supercrops of today. If crops can be grown that help use time and land more efficiently and feed people more nutritious food, then farm productivity rises--that is, using the same land, farmers get more food to sell to us consumers.

Perhaps we should look at a tightening food supply as an opportunity to embrace productivity enhancing technology and the end to billions of dollars of corporate welfare.

Just a thought.

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