Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cosmetic Gestures

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.


Josh said...

It may have begun under the Clinton administration or in the Clinton era, but since budgets are set by Congress, I don't see how the Clinton administration is automatically blameworthy. Although I realize that "It's Clinton's fault" has been a catch-all explanation for global problems for many years.

Timmi Duchamp said...

Point taken!

Nancy Jane Moore said...

Bill Clinton was a decent president (and might have been more than that if his personal flaws hadn't opened the door for the impeachment nonsense), but he compromised more often than I liked and let some things happen that he could have stopped. Josh may be right that this one was beyond his control, but there are other things he did (welfare reform leaps to mind) that were political compromises that did harm.
The Bush administration, however, has managed to damage or destroy everything from the Constitution to our standing in the world to other countries to our infrastructure. The thing that has made me angriest was the way The Washington Post and others treated Bush for years as if he was just another president, when it was obvious that he was destroying the country. Any bad decisions Bill Clinton pale by comparison.
I am, btw, supporting Obama, because I think there's a chance he will shake up the way things are done for the better. (I'm not a true believer, because I'm too old to put too much faith in any politician, but he gives me some hope.) Hillary Clinton is unquestionably her own woman, but I do think she and Bill see eye-to-eye on policy and political matters. What worries me the most about her is that I think she is wedded to the system as is, and will not take any risks to change the things that must be fixed if the country is going to survive. In another time, her commitment to the system might be fine, but we're in such a mess right now that any business as usual is just going to dig us in deeper.
(Didn't mean to get into political endorsements here, but while I'm willing to defend Bill Clinton from any implication that he's as bad as Bush, and am also annoyed by sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton, I wouldn't want to leave the impression that I'm supporting her for president.)