Archive for the ‘agriculture’ Category

Food, Crops, Subsidies and Hunger in the Global Economy

November 17, 2008

This spring, disaster loomed in the global food market. Precipitous increases in the prices of staples like rice (up more than a hundred and fifty per cent in a few months) and maize provoked food riots, toppled governments, and threatened the lives of tens of millions. But the bursting of the commodity bubble eased those pressures, and food prices, while still high, have come well off the astronomical levels they hit in April. For Americans, the drop in commodity prices has put a few more bucks in people’s pockets; in much of the developing world, it may have saved many from actually starving. So did the global financial crisis solve the global food crisis?

By James Surowiecki
The New Yorker

Temporarily, perhaps. But the recent price drop doesn’t provide any long-term respite from the threat of food shortages or future price spikes. Nor has it reassured anyone about the health of the global agricultural system, which the crisis revealed as dangerously unstable. Four decades after the Green Revolution, and after waves of market reforms intended to transform agricultural production, we’re still having a hard time insuring that people simply get enough to eat, and we seem to be more vulnerable to supply shocks than ever.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Over the past two decades, countries around the world have moved away from their focus on “food security” and handed market forces a greater role in shaping agricultural policy. Before the nineteen-eighties, developing countries had so-called “agricultural marketing boards,” which would buy commodities from farmers at fixed prices (prices high enough to keep farmers farming), and then store them in strategic reserves that could be used in the event of bad harvests or soaring import prices. But in the eighties and nineties, often as part of structural-adjustment programs imposed by the I.M.F. or the World Bank, many marketing boards were eliminated or cut back, and grain reserves, deemed inefficient and unnecessary, were sold off. In the same way, structural-adjustment programs often did away with government investment in and subsidies to agriculture—most notably, subsidies for things like fertilizers and high-yield seeds.

People try to catch fish at flooded rice fields in Me Linh district ... 
People try to catch fish at flooded rice fields in Me Linh district in Hanoi, Vietnam, Monday, Nov. 10, 2008. The floods have ruined many of the area’s crops.(AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

The logic behind these reforms was simple: the market would allocate resources more efficiently than government, leading to greater productivity. Farmers, instead of growing subsidized maize and wheat at high cost, could concentrate on cash crops, like cashews and chocolate, and use the money they made to buy staple foods. If a country couldn’t compete in the global economy, production would migrate to countries that could. It was also assumed that, once governments stepped out of the way, private investment would flood into agriculture, boosting performance. And international aid seemed a more efficient way of relieving food crises than relying on countries to maintain surpluses and food-security programs, which are wasteful and costly.

This “marketization” of agriculture has not, to be sure, been fully carried through. Subsidies are still endemic in rich countries and poor, while developing countries often place tariffs on imported food, which benefit their farmers but drive up prices for consumers. And in extreme circumstances countries restrict exports, hoarding food for their own citizens.

Related:
Vietnam to grow genetically modified crops

Read the rest:
http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2008/11/2
4/081124ta_talk_surowiecki

China’s Poisoned Milk Scandal: Deaths Went Uncounted, Unreported

November 15, 2008

Li Xiaokai died of kidney failure on the old wooden bed in the family farmhouse, just before dawn on a drizzly Sept. 10.

Her grandmother wrapped the 9-month-old in a wool blanket. Her father handed the body to village men for burial by a muddy creek. The doctors and family never knew why she got sick. A day later, state media reported that the type of infant formula she drank had been adulterated with an industrial chemical.

By CHARLES HUTZLER, Associated Press Writer

Li Xiaoyan sits on the lap of her mother Li Aiqing at their ...
Li Xiaoyan sits on the lap of her mother Li Aiqing at their home in Liti village, near Runan, in China’s Henan province, Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008. Li Xiaoyan’s nine-month-old twin sister, Li Xiaokai who had been drinking a brand of milk formula linked to the melamine scandal died from kidney failure.(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Yet the deaths of Xiaokai and at least four other babies are not included in China‘s official death toll from its worst food safety scare in years. The Health Ministry’s count stands at only three deaths.

The stories of these uncounted babies suggest that China’s tainted milk scandal has exacted a higher human toll than the government has so far acknowledged. Without an official verdict on the deaths, families worry they will be unable to bring lawsuits and refused compensation.

So far, nobody is suggesting large numbers of deaths are being concealed. But so many months passed before the scandal was exposed that it’s likely more babies fell sick or died than official figures reflect.

Beijing‘s apparent reluctance to admit a higher toll is reinforcing perceptions that the authoritarian government cares more about tamping down criticism than helping families. Lawyers, doctors and reporters have said privately that authorities pressured them to not play up the human cost or efforts to get compensation from the government or Sanlu, the formula maker.

“It’s hard to say how the government will handle this matter,” said Zhang Xinkui, a Beijing-based lawyer amassing evidence of the contamination for a possible lawsuit. “There may be many children who perhaps died from drinking Sanlu powdered milk or perhaps from a different cause. But there’s no system in place to find out.”

In the weeks since Xiaokai’s death, her father and his older brother have talked to lawyers and beseeched health officials, with no result.

“My heart is in pain,” said her father, Li Xiaoquan, a short, taciturn farmer with hooded eyes. From a corner of his farmhouse courtyard in central China’s wheat and corn flatlands, he pulls a worn green box that once held apples and is now stuffed with empty pink wrappers of the Sanlu Infant Formula Milk Powder that Xiaokai nursed on. “We think someone, the company, should compensate us.”

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081115/ap_on_re_as/as_
china_tainted_milk_toll;_ylt=AhcKMuAvsxWggSPLvIOf.cqs0NUE

Vietnam to grow genetically modified crops

November 13, 2008

Vietnam plans to test genetically modified (GM) agricultural crops from now until 2010 and then grow them on a large scale, media reports in the communist country said on Thursday.

Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat announced the plan in a National Assembly session this week, said the state-run Vietnam News Agency.

AFP

Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat talks to media in 2006. Vietnam ... 
Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat talks to media in 2006. Vietnam plans to test genetically modified (GM) agricultural crops from now until 2010 and then grow them on a large scale, media reports in the communist country said on Thursday.(AFP/File/Hoang Dinh Nam)

Under the government plan, Vietnam would from 2011 plant GM species of maize, cotton and soybean, said the news site Vietnamnet quoting experts attending a recent biotechnology workshop.

The Ho Chi Minh City Biotechnology Centre plans to grow a GM maize variety from the Philippines on a trial basis, the report said.

GM technology has been highly controversial, praised by some for increasing yields and improving varieties, and condemned by others for creating “frankenfoods” that pose dangers to the environment and people’s health.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20081113/sc_afp/vietnambio
techagriculturegm_081113171333

Capitalism, fiscal woes; contempt for economic liberty

November 9, 2008

There has always been contempt for economic liberty. Historically, our nation was an important, not complete, exception. It took the calamity of the Great Depression to bring about today’s level of restrictions on economic liberty. Now we have another government-created calamity that has the prospect of moving us even further away from economic liberty with the news media and pundits creating the perception that the current crisis can be blamed on capitalism.

We see comments such as those in the New York Times: “The United States  has a culture that celebrates laissez-faire capitalism as the economic ideal.” Or, “For 30 years, the nation’s political system has been tilted in favor of business deregulation and against new rules.” Another says, “Since 1997, Mr. Brown [the British prime minister] has been a powerful voice behind the Labor Party’s embrace of an American-style economic philosophy that was light on regulation.”

By Walter E. Williams
The Washington Times

First, let’s establish what laissez-faire capitalism is. Broadly defined, it is an economic system based on private ownership and control over of the means of production. Under laissez-faire capitalism, government activity is restricted to the protection of the individual’s rights against fraud, theft and the initiation of physical force.

Professor George Reisman has written a very insightful article on his blog titled “The Myth that Laissez Faire Is Responsible for Our Financial Crisis.” (http://georgereisman.com/blog/2008/10/myth-that-laissez-faire-is-respo nsible.html) You can decide whether we have an unregulated laissez-faire economy. There are 15 Cabinet departments, nine of which control various aspects of the U.S. economy. They are the Departments of: Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education, Energy, Labor, Agriculture, Commerce and Interior. In addition, there is the alphabet soup cluster of federal agencies such as: the IRS, the FRB and FDIC, the EPA, FDA, SEC, CFTC, NLRB, FTC, FCC, FERC, FEMA, FAA, CAA, INS, OHSA, CPSC, NHTSA, EEOC, BATF, DEA, NIH and NASA.

Here’s my question to you: Can one be sane and at the same time hold that ours is an unregulated laissez-faire economy? Better yet, tell me what a businessman, or for that matter you, can do that does not involve some kind of government regulation.

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/nov
/09/capitalism-and-fiscal-woes/

Vietnam Urges Rice Exporters to Buy, Ship Stockpiles

November 7, 2008

BVietnam, the world’s second-biggest rice exporter [after Thailand], is calling on companies to buy up stockpiles from farmers for shipment overseas before the harvest this month, according to a statement on the government’s Web site.

By Van Nguyen and Rattaphol Onsanit, Bloomberg

State-run Vietnam Southern Food Corp. and Vietnam Northern Food Corp. will have to buy 300,000 metric tons that meet export standards, said the statement, citing Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai. The ministries of trade and foreign affairs together with the Vietnam Food Association will seek overseas customers.

The Southeast Asian nation is facing a rice glut after restricting exports earlier this year amid concerns there may be a shortage. Increased exports may further depress global rice prices, which have slumped about 40 percent in Chicago since reaching a record in April.

“Vietnam’s rice production has been rising, and its government is encouraging traders to get this supply out,” said Visut Tanprasatprinya, vice president of Bangkok-based Siam Rice Trading (Thailand) Ltd., which ships around 200,000 tons a year. “That’s why we see prices tanking.”

The price of Thailand’s 100 percent grade B white rice, a benchmark for the commodity across Asia, was set at $595 a metric ton this week by the Thai Rice Exporters Association. That’s the lowest price since March.

Higher rice shipments may help Vietnam to sustain economic growth after the government pared back targets for expansion this year because of surging inflation, a widening trade deficit and the global financial crisis.

Debt Payments

Deputy Prime Minister Hai asked Vietnam’s commercial banks to extend companies’ overdue debt payments and grant more loans at the “lowest possible lending rate,” allowing them to purchase more rice, said the statement, which was issued yesterday.

Exporters borrowed more than 18.8 trillion dong ($1.1 billion) in the first nine months to buy 3.2 million tons of rice, the central bank reported, according to the statement.

The total amount of rice available for export this year may be 5.3 millions tons, instead of an August projection of 4.6 million tons, the Lao Dong newspaper reported on Nov. 1., citing the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Between January and October, the country shipped about 4 million tons….

Above: Vietnamese farmers harvest rice…

Read the rest:
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/new
s?pid=20601013&sid=a83GZC6EPFgU

Food Shortage: More Bad News From China

April 17, 2008

By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom

China announced Thursday huge tariffs on fertilizer exports and said agricultural land was in rapid decline due to industrialization.

China’s official communist news agency Xinhua News announced that export tariffs on fertilizer would increase by 100%.  This will cause a virtual shutdown in the export of fertilizer from China.  This is necessary to preserve fertilizer for suffering Chinese agriculture.

The fertilizer is widely used in rice, corn and wheat growing which is essential to feed the 1.3 billion Chinese.  China also hopes to control rapidly rising domestic agricultural costs and inflation.

“Agricultural costs [in China] are going through the roof. Land prices, the cost of money, the relative cost of labor, fertilizer, a shortage of seeds,” said Paul Schulte, of Lehman Brothers in Hong Kong. “Yet rising agricultural prices can be a windfall for those with economies of scale.”

The China News agency also said the amount of farmland has decreased to crisis levels.

Western observers said the two announcements on the same day are an effort to prepare the world for a food shortage crisis in China.

File photo shows a Chinese farmer working in his field next ...File photo shows a Chinese farmer working in his field next to a chemical factory near Yixing Town in Jiangsu province. The amount of farmland in China has shrunk to critical levels, state press reported on Thursday(AFP/File/Mark Ralston)

Related:
Thailand Pledges to Export Rice at “Reasonable Cost”
https://johnibii.wordpress.com/2008/04/16/thailand-pledges-to-export-rice-at-reasonable-cost/

Food Crisis in North Korea a “Disaster”
https://johnibii.wordpress.com/2008/04/16/2868/

Food and energy costs lead wholesale prices to soar in March
https://johnibii.wordpress.com/2008/04/15/food-and-energy-costs-lead-wholesale-prices-to-soar-in-march/

Food Shortages Causing Panic?
https://johnibii.wordpress.com/2008/04/15/food-shortages-causing-panic/

From rice in Peru to miso in Japan, food prices are rising
https://johnibii.wordpress.com/2008/04/03/from-rice-in-peru-to-miso-in-japan-food-prices-are-rising/

Perils in The Price Of Each Grain of Rice
https://johnibii.wordpress.com/2008/04/03/perils-in-the-price-of-each-grain-of-rice/

Lowly Rice Grain Impacts Global Economy
https://johnibii.wordpress.com/2008/03/29/lowly-rice-grain-impacts-global-economy/

China Hikes Tariffs to Stem Fertilizer Exports

April 17, 2008

BEIJING (Reuters) – China slapped massive tariffs on fertilizer exports on Thursday in a bid to control rapidly rising domestic agricultural costs and inflation, and above all to ensure it grows enough grain to feed its 1.3 billion people.

Beijing’s 100 percent-plus tariffs on some fertilizer exports should temper domestic costs but may drive up prices in world markets that depend on China’s supplies, the latest in a series of commodities-related protectionist moves around the world that risk fuelling rather than cooling global food costs.

File photo shows a Chinese farmer working in his field next ...
File photo shows a Chinese farmer working in his field next to a chemical factory near Yixing Town in Jiangsu province. The amount of farmland in China has shrunk to critical levels, state press reported on Thursday(AFP/File/Mark Ralston)

China’s anxiety is greater than most — it is struggling to grow enough corn and wheat to feed its multiplying urban eaters, and fears higher costs of fertilizer, diesel and labor might discourage farmers from planting grains, thereby raising feed costs for meat breeders and exacerbating inflation.

Read the rest:
http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/world/international-
china-fertiliser.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Vietnam cracks down on hamster craze

March 7, 2008

HANOI (AFP) – Vietnam has launched a crackdown on hamsters, a wildly popular pet here in the current lunar Year of the Rat, fearing an influx of the foreign-bred rodent furballs could spread disease and destroy crops.

From next Monday, anyone possessing or trading hamsters faces stiff fines of up to 30 million dong (1,875 dollars), the Vietnam News daily reported, citing a new agriculture ministry directive to enforce a ban imposed last month.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080307/od_afp/
vietnamhealthanimalshamstersoffbeat_080307085225

China’s Genetically Altered Food Boom

February 19, 2008

By Krista Mahr
Time Magazine
February 18, 2008

In the wake of poisonings in Japan linked to Chinese-made dumplings, last week brought a fresh wave of scrutiny to China’s control over its food industry. In 2006 and 2007, European officials discovered an unauthorized variety of genetically modified (GM) rice made in China — illegal in both Europe and China — in processed food exported to European Union nations. Last Tuesday, the European Commission enacted an emergency regulation on Chinese food imports: Starting April 15, food products containing Chinese rice will require mandatory certification that they’ve been tested for the experimental GM variety called Bt63.

The measure underscores a discomfort in the West with China’s growing dominance in the business of inventing and selling genetically modified seed. Faced with feeding every fifth person on the planet with less than one-tenth of the world’s farmland, Beijing has been pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into transgenic crop research and development, hoping the plants, whose DNA is combined with genetic material that programs them with traits like pest and weed resistance, will help farmers yield more food and commodities at a lower cost — especially as farmland is being lost to development and drought. Most of China’s cotton is already transgenic, and rice, wheat, maize, soybeans and livestock are in the pipeline. “China decided that conventional technology would not allow it to feed its people,” says Clive James, chairman and founder of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). In the 12 years since GM crops have been commercially grown, James says most planting has been in the Americas. “I believe that the second decade will be the decade of Asia,” he says.

Read the rest:
http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1714218,00.html?xid=rss-topstories

Iran, Vietnam Cooperate

January 5, 2008

Tehran (Iranian Republic News Agency) January 5, 2007 — The agriculture ministers of Iran and Vietnam here Saturday declared that both countries are determined to expand cooperation in agriculture sector.Iranian Agriculture Jihad Minister Mohammad-Reza Eskandari said in a meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart that the two countries can implement joint projects in the fields of agriculture, cattle breeding and fishery.

Eskandari further called for expansion of technical and scientific cooperation in the fields of forestry, wood production, export of local products as well as formation of joint working group in the near future.

Iran can prepare grounds for awarding scholarship to Vietnamese students to study at MA and Ph.D levels, he noted.

Vietnamese Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat, for his part, underscored the need for expansion of cooperation particularity in biotechnology sector.

He cited rice, corn, coffee, plastic, paper and tea as major crops produced in his country, adding that Vietnamese officials make efforts to promote economic growth and improve living standards of the Vietnamese people.

Vietnam imports wheat, meat, cotton, soy, corn and
chemical fertilizer, he noted.