Some economists argue that ensuring people have titles to their land can ensure a feeling of security and boost production. … The greatest proponent of the argument is Hernando de Soto, a development economist who has managed to win praise from the likes of Bill Clinton and the libertarian Cato Institute.
There is plenty of evidence that land rights are connected to productivity, but new research out of Madagascar shows that it is not always the case.
Duke University researcher Marc F. Bellemare tested whether the land rights component of a $100 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact with the government of Madagascar. He found that the provision of formal land rights, meaning land titles, had not measurable impact on productivity when comparing farmers that did and did not benefit from the MCC compact.
Holding a land title is not sufficient if structures are not in place to enforce land ownership and dole it out.
How many of us read a story of disaster striking people half a world away and respond by getting out our checkbooks? Tens of millions of us in any given year, and Americans are especially generous. Relief agencies received more than $1.2 billion in the wake of the disastrous 2010 earthquake in Haiti and $3.9 billion following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. But is anyone foolish enough to go to the local grocery store, buy food and ship it to communities devastated by disaster? Of course not. That would cost much more, take too long to reach people in need, risk spoilage in transit, and likely not provide what is most needed.
Yet with only minor oversimplification, this is precisely what our government’s food aid programs have done since 1954. Our main international food aid programs are authorized through the Farm Bill and must purchase food in, and ship it from, the United States. This system was originally designed to dispose of surpluses the government acquired under farm price support programs that ended decades ago. These antiquated rules continue today thanks to political inertia in Washington.
As a result, only 40 cents of each taxpayer dollar spent on international food aid actually buys the commodities hungry people eat; the rest goes to shipping and administrative costs. And the median time to deliver emergency food aid is nearly five months. We can do better.
From a longer piece by my friend and frequent coauthor Chris Barrett on CNN’s Global Public Square blog. Chris is also the author with Dan Maxwell of what is without a doubt the best book anyone can read on food aid.
Contrary to widespread consumer belief, organic farming is not the best way to farm from an environmental point of view. The guiding principle of organic is to rely exclusively on natural inputs. That was decided early in the 20th century, decades before before the scientific disciplines of toxicology, environmental studies and climate science emerged to inform our understanding of how farming practices impact the environment. As both farming and science have progressed, there are now several cutting edge agricultural practices which are good for the environment, but difficult or impossible for organic farmers to implement within the constraints of their pre-scientific rules.
From a fascinating post by plant pathologist S.D. Savage, in which he gives six reasons why organic agriculture is not the most environmentally friendly way to farm.
People interested in food policy (PPS590 students, even though your term paper is due tonight, this means you) should read Savage’s post in full, but if you are in a hurry, here are those six reasons: Continue reading →
From an editorial in last Sunday’s New York Times:
Food aid is one of the most important tools of American foreign policy. Since the mid-1950s, the United States has spent nearly $2 billion annually to feed the world’s poor, saving millions of lives. But the process is so rigid and outdated that many more people who could be helped still go hungry. Reforms proposed by President Obama will go a long way toward fixing that problem and should be promptly enacted by Congress. Continue reading →
It’s that time of year where I am reading drafts of term papers. While reading a draft of a paper on ethical consumerism, I came across this great paragraph, probably the best I will read today:
Not only do these alternative food networks [Note: Fair Trade, local, organic, etc. -- MFB.] often have high price barriers, they also give rise to a hierarchy among consumers. Those who can afford ethical products are at the top, and cash-strapped families with no other option but to buy generic, mass-produced groceries are seen as morally inferior. Not only can lower-income families not afford these higher quality goods for their personal use, they are also morally chastised for their purchases. Lower class incomes do not enable an expression of values orientated towards a sustainable, fair food production system, however few other forms of activism are available to these communities. Lower class families are victimized both economically and morally for “choices” that arise merely out of economic need. Such a hierarchy ignores questions of access and champions individuals who are already members of an elite, privileged community.
Indeed. Moreover, the student quoted above has managed to capture my view that telling the poor to eat local and organic foods is really placing the horse before the cart.