The need for genetically modified food in Africa

Here is an excerpt from an incredibly interesting piece by Paul Collier in the Guardian.  Simply put, he is arguing strongly in favor of genetically modified foods for Africa.  (The ban on GM food in Europe is just one in a litany of actions by first-world governments to subsidize and protect domestic agriculture at the expense of the developing world.)

My only question for Collier is, what the likelihood is of widespread adoption of GM foods in Africa if there is not a major policy shift in Europe?  Put another way — isn’t the risk of adoption too great for the foreseeable future, given the level of uncertainty around the ability to export GM crops into first-world markets?

Africa cannot afford the GM ban. Its cities, fed by imports, need global prices to be low. Without cheap food the children of the urban poor will be malnourished. Africa’s farmers, broadly self-sufficient, need higher productivity. Productivity per acre has stagnated, so rising production has depended on expanding the area under cultivation. But with population growth this option is running out.

On the horizon is climatic deterioration due to global warming. The semi-arid parts will get drier, and rainfall variability will mean more droughts. In southern Africa, the staple food – maize – is likely to become unviable. Whereas for other regions the challenge of climate change is to reduce carbon emissions, in Africa it is primarily about agricultural adaptation.

It is conventional to say that Africa needs a green revolution. The reality is that the green revolution was based on chemical fertilisers, and even when fertiliser was cheap, Africa did not adopt it. With the rise in fertiliser costs as a byproduct of high energy prices, any green revolution will perforce not be chemical. What African agriculture needs is a biological revolution. This is what GM offers, if only sufficient money is put into research. There has as yet been no work on the crops specific to the region, such as cassava and yams.

Hat tip to Owen for the heads up on this one.

Forget the Olympics: another barometer of China’s rise

I just came across this great post in Chris Blattman’s blog. Chris and I overlapped in graduate school, and he’s now a rogue Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale.

Apparently, across certain parts of Africa, the ubiquitous greeting of foreigners as “mzungu” (“white person”) have begun to be replaced by “mchina!” (“Chinese person”), regardless of the foreigner’s country or origin.

It is amazing to see the increased investment by China into Africa, which no doubt has both positive and negative effects. The flood of cheap goods is good for consumers but may be undermining the nascent manufacturing sector. This is significant since manufacturing has such significant job creation potential, and it is hard to move large numbers of people out of poverty without following the path from agriculture to manufacturing to services.

I could never get over, when I was in Indonesia, being called an “orang blanda” (Dutchman), which has stuck as the catch-all term for foreigners regardless of provenance (despite the Aussies in their midst), thanks to Indonesia’s colonial history. This also serves as a reminder that in many places in the world, globalization is still nascent, foreigners are still a novelty, and the divide between “us” and “them” is wide and clear.