What Would an African Green Revolution Entail for Land Use and CO2 Emissions?

Wheat in Israel. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Most of the readers of this blog are familiar with the Green Revolution which, according to Wikipedia,

refers to a series of research, and development, and technology transfer initiatives, occurring between the 1940s and the late 1960s, that increased agricultural production worldwide, particularly in the developing world, beginning most markedly in the late 1960s.

The name most often associated with the Green Revolution is that of Norman Borlaug. Borlaug was a plant scientist and University of Minnesota alumnus whose work on plant breeding led to the maize yield improvements that paved the way for greater food security since the 1970s. Borlaug also won the Nobel peace prize for his work.

The innovations brought forth by the Green Revolution worked really well in Asia and, to a lesser extent, in Latin America (in his book Food Politics, Rob Paarlberg has a good discussion of the institutional differences that led to different outcomes). The Green Revolution, however, has almost completely bypassed Africa (with the result that African yields have either stagnated or decreased over the last few decades), so a lot of the discussion surrounding food policy debates in recent years has focused on how an African Green Revolution can happen, and what it will look like. Continue reading

On Small vs. Large Farms: Yours Truly in the Washington Post

Small, diversified farms are less efficient than large ones. Which means that food grown on them is more expensive. Marc Bellemare, an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s department of applied economics, calls farmers market produce “luxury goods,” and Tim Griffin, director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, explains the dynamic simply: economy of scale. “As the farms get larger, it’s easier to invest in labor-saving machinery, technology and specialized management, and production cost per unit goes down,” he says. It’s Econ 101.

Even John Ikerd, professor emeritus of agriculture and applied economics at the University of Missouri and an outspoken advocate of the idea that small organic farms ought to feed the world — an idea Bellemare calls “wishful thinking” — acknowledges that we’d need many more farmers to make that happen, and that food would be more expensive.

From an article in the Washington Post last week.

In the middle of July, I received an email from Tamar Haspel, who writes the Unearthed column about food for the Washington Post, and who is herself a farmer (she farms oysters on the coast of Massachusetts). She wanted to talk about the inverse relationship between farm size and productivity, which I have written about both on this blog and in a 2010 article in World Development. The end result is the article I link to above.

Why Are We Importing Our Own Fish? Because It is Efficient to Do So (and a New Working Paper)

From an op-ed published this summer in the New York Times:

Sending all this wild fish abroad and then importing farmed fish to replace it is enough to make you want to take a stiff drink and go to bed. But when you wake up and reach for your bagel, surprise! The fish swap will get you again.

The United States imports seafood in increasing numbers, even for salmon, which it has in abundance.

The prevalence of imported farmed salmon on our bagels is doubly curious because the United States possesses all the wild salmon it could possibly need. Five species of Pacific salmon return to Alaskan rivers every year, generating several hundred million pounds of fish flesh every year. Where does it all go?

Again, abroad. Increasingly to Asia. Alaska, by far our biggest fish-producing state, exports around three-quarters of its salmon.

To make things triply strange, a portion of that salmon, after heading across the Pacific, returns to us: Because foreign labor is so cheap, many Alaskan salmon are caught in American waters, frozen, defrosted in Asia, filleted and boned, refrozen and sent back to us. Pollock also make this Asian round trip, as do squid — and who knows what else?

When you dig into the fish-trade data, things get murkier. In its 2012 summary of the international fish trade, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted, somewhat bizarrely, that its definition of exports “may include merchandise of both domestic and foreign origin.”

So, for example, when fish sticks are cut from blocks of imported “white fish” in an American facility and exported to a foreign country, they are classified as American domestic production. Meanwhile some of our imports, as with an unknowable portion of our salmon, are taken from American waters, reprocessed elsewhere and brought back home. …

And that’s my point. Globalization, that unseen force that supposedly eliminates inefficiencies through the magic of trade, has radically disconnected us from our seafood supply.

Continue reading

Summer Wrap-Up (and Blog Fatigue)

Machu Picchu (Photo: Marc F. Bellemare).

I’m an academic, which means that my summers are characterized by high expectations and low productivity.

Every spring, I make a list of all the research projects I want to work on during the summer. Inevitably, by the time September comes around, I have accomplished about half of what I had set out to do.

So it goes. Which is not to say that my summer was completely unproductive. Here is a list of things that I did spend time on this summer, in no particular order: Continue reading

EAAE Quality of Research Discovery Award for Bellemare, Barrett, and Just (2013)

No, this is not a repost of this previous post of mine. Similar prize for sure, but different professional association. Whereas my previous post was about the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA), this time, my coauthors and I have won the European Association of Agricultural Economists’ (EAAE) Quality of Research Discovery award for my paper titled “The Welfare Impacts of Commodity Price Volatility: Evidence from Rural Ethiopia.”

As per the EAAE’s website, to win the Quality of Research Discovery award,

The research must be a significant contribution to the field of knowledge in any of the areas of agricultural economics. The work should demonstrate excellence in research and may deal with conceptual as well as empirical analysis of a relevant issue.

I’ve discussed our award-winning paper many times on this blog, but here is the abstract in case you are new here: Continue reading