The April 18 issue of Science Magazine reports that despite the Bush Administration's public response to the "impending calamaity" of food shortages around the world-- ordering $200 million dollars in food aid-- "behind the scenes, however, researchers charge that the US government is moving to slash funding for international agricultural research."
Last week, several concerned scientists circulated an online petition seeking to reverse cuts to research funds they say are being planned by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), calling them "unacceptable mistakes that will damage worldwide food production for many years to come." The group argues that international agricultural research should be expanding. "Restoring [support] isn't really enough; this should be an area of major growth," says Jeffrey Bennetzen, a plant geneticist at the University of Georgia, Athens, and a petition organizer.
The disastrous shortfall in grain production has already sparked food riots in several countries. But it's obviously going to get worse:
[A] perfect storm is brewing. Across the developing world, farmland and water for irrigation have been lost to urban development and industrialization. Grains are being diverted to feed livestock to meet rising demand for meat and to make biofuels. Droughts in Asia and Australia have severely curtailed grain production. And productivity has stagnated, says Zeigler [director general of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines], due to cuts in agricultural research in the 1990s.
The result is a steady rise in grain prices. On 20 March, the UN's World Food Programme issued an appeal for help in covering a $500 million shortfall in its $2.9 billion budget this year to feed 73 million people in 78 countries. In the 3 weeks since, food prices shot up another 20%. "You could see the train wreck coming for years," says Zeigler.
In other words, this policy began with the Clinton Administration.