Thursday, August 2, 2007

Norman Borlaug: Saved a billion people from hunger

Here's an article about Norman Borlaug who recently won the Congressional Gold Medal (after winning the Nobel Peace Prise and the Presidential Medal of Freedom) for his work developing high yield wheat hybrids, planting & soil conservation techniques that have saved many from hunger and given us the science and the technology to eradicate extreme poverty if we choose to. Congratulations, Mr. Borlaug!

Here's an excerpt:
"Borlaug's success in feeding the world testifies to the difference a single person can make. But the obscurity of a man of such surpassing accomplishment is a reminder of our culture's surpassing superficiality. Reading Walter Isaacson's terrific biography of Albert Einstein, I was struck by how famous Einstein was, long before his role in the atom bomb. Great scientists and humanitarians were once heroes and cover boys. No more. For Borlaug, still vital at 93, to win more notice, he would have to make his next trip to Africa in the company of Angelina Jolie.

The consequences of obscuring complex issues like agriculture are serious. Take the huge farm bill now nearing passage, a subject Borlaug knows a thing or two about. Because it seems boring and technical and unrelated to our busy urban lives, we aren't focused on how it relates directly to the environment, immigration, global poverty and the budget deficit, not to mention the highly subsidized high-fructose corn syrup we ingest every day. We can blame the mindless media for failing to keep us better informed about how $95 billion a year is hijacked by a few powerful corporate interests. But we can also blame ourselves. It's all there on the Internet (or in books like Daniel Imhoff's breezy "Food Fight"), if we decide to get interested. But will we? Sometimes it seems the more we've got at our fingertips, the less that sticks in our minds."

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Counterpoint from a Cotton Farmer in favor of subsidies

Someone recently asked me why farmers would favor of subsidies given everything negative said against them. NPR ran a story with a cotton grower voicing his concerns:

In essence, commodity growers worry that even though prices are at a high now, the bottom could drop out. Some fear excessive reform would leave them without support. I feel there is still a lot of room for reform without eroding a middle class farmer's safety net, but there it is to present the opposing view.

LA Times Farm Bill update

Couldn't have said it better myself...Actually, I tried and couldn't....
Pelosi's bad farm bill
The House's new farm package did nothing to uproot harmful subsidies, so it's up to the Senate to dig in.
July 31, 2007

If the farm bill that oozed through the House of Representatives last week is Speaker Nancy Pelosi's idea of accomplishing Democrats' goals, we prefer the good old days of do-nothing Congresses. Pelosi, whose San Francisco district is a center of opposition to traditional farm subsidies, hammered together a broad coalition of Democrats aiming to preservethe status quo for another five years.

Democratic leaders did it by playing Santa Claus. To representatives from California and other states that don't grow the types of crops that traditionally get federal handouts, they doled out $1.6 billion for specialty crops such as vegetables and nuts. To the Congressional Black Caucus, they handed at least $100 million to help settle discrimination lawsuits by minority farmers. To urban liberals, they gave a needed expansion of the food stamp program. And to Democrats in farm states, they presented a bill that keeps in place all of the trade-distorting subsidies that made the 2002 farm bill a shameful violation of international agreements.

To pay for all this, the bill would impose a new tax on U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies. That drew the ire of Republicans who might otherwise have supported it and assured that the bill would pass on a mostly party-line vote. It also produced a veto threat from President Bush.

The added benefits for food stamp recipients and improved nutrition programs are worthwhile, but an obscure new tax that might violate international treaties is the wrong way to pay for them. Instead, the House should have phased out the price supports and loan guarantees that artificially inflate food prices in this country and make it nearly impossible for growers in poor countries to compete. So badly managed are the farm bill's subsidy programs that a Government Accountability Office investigation turned up $1.1 billion paid out over seven years to dead people.

There are three ways to undo the damage Pelosi and company have wrought. First, the Senate could craft a more sensible farm bill when it takes up the matter in September. Second, Bush could make good on his veto threat. And third, Canada and Brazil could win their cases at the World Trade Organization challenging some U.S. farm supports. Because options two and three would only confuse the issue, the best hope for real reform lies with the Senate.