Category: Agriculture

Bette Midler, the Jenny McCarthy of Food Policy?

BetteMidlerActress Jenny McCarthy is well-known for opposing vaccines, because they “cause autism.” Never mind the fact that there is an overwhelming body of research that shows that vaccines do not cause autism, Jenny McCarthy just knows. Because Jenny McCarthy is a celebrity, she commands much more attention than her knowledge of medicine would normally command.

Likewise with Bette Midler, who has taken to pontificating about genetically modified organisms in the tweet above (and probably elsewhere; I didn’t want to look…)

Really, is it be too much to ask from celebrities that they stick to what they know?

(ht: David Rieff, via Twitter.)

Why Farmers in Developing Countries Sometimes Love Risk

Using a unique data set collected among farmers in India’s semiarid tropics, we document the surprising prevalence of risk-taking behavior in the face of realistically framed high-stakes gambles. We hypothesize that this apparently anomalous behavior is due to a combination of credit constraints and nonconvexities in production. In particular, the high-stakes nature of the gambles creates the potential for a farmer to undertake a productive investment that would normally be unaffordable and thereby move to a permanently higher level of income. We show that the degree to which farmers are willing to accept risk in return for this opportunity appears to relate in an intuitive way to their current agricultural production technology as well as the demographic composition of their household.

A new paper by Annemie Maertens, A.V. Chari, and David Just.

Standing Up for GMOs


Rice is the major dietary staple for almost half of humanity, but white rice grains lack vitamin A. Research scientists Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer and their teams developed a rice variety whose grains accumulate β-carotene. It took them, in collaboration with IRRI, 25 years to develop and test varieties that express sufficient quantities of the precursor that a few ounces of cooked rice can provide enough β-carotene to eliminate the morbidity and mortality of vitamin A deficiency. It took time, as well, to obtain the right to distribute Golden Rice seeds, which contain patented molecular constructs, free of charge to resource-poor farmers. Continue reading

Jennifer Aniston and I, Together at Last…

… in a Bloomberg article on quinoa:

Bolivian farmer Rafael Garcia is living larger thanks to one of Jennifer Aniston’s favorite salad ingredients.

“We sleep in good beds. We eat good food,” said Garcia, who heads an alliance of 37 producers of a crop called quinoa in the western Oruro region. “We now have bikes and motorcycles while we used to go everywhere by foot.”

Thousands of miles from celebrities and chefs who tout the health benefits of quinoa — a seed packed with protein and fiber — sales are lifting the fortunes of Andean farmers who’ve grown it for centuries mostly for subsistence. Governments of Peru and Bolivia, which still dominate the $123 million export market, are hoping the trend can last as prices that have doubled to about $3,000 a metric ton since 2007 attract better capitalized competitors.

I am quoted further in the article, when discussing how the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has declared 2013 to be the International Year of Quinoa:

Those attributes will help distinguish Bolivian quinoa from the competition, said Paola Mejia, the manager of the Bolivian Chamber of Royal Quinoa and Organic Products Exporters, which is seeking international certification for the seed grown by the country’s 12,000 farmers.

“There are different sorts of quinoa and the world is going to ask for different quality types,” she said in a phone interview.

It’s not clear the world will keep asking, according to Bellemare. “To say, ‘Let’s make this the next big thing,’ maybe Madison Avenue would be able to do that. I honestly doubt the FAO has the marketing firepower,” he said.

In Industrialized America, Why Do Members of Congress Favor Farm Subsidies?

That’s the title of my first Key Findings Brief (link opens a .pdf document) as a member of the Scholars Strategy Network (SSN), which I finally joined last week after putting off submitting my application materials for months and after being encouraged to do so by my coauthor Nick Carnes, who is himself co-director of the Research Triangle SSN regional network.

As per its mission statement, the SSN Continue reading