The Need for Food Innovation

In his recent New York Times column, Tyler Cowen echos some of the key themes in my forthcoming book.  Here are a few excerpts:

THE drought-induced run-up in corn prices is a reminder that we’re nowhere near solving the problem of feeding the world.


For all its importance to human well-being, agriculture seems to be one of the lagging economic sectors of the last two decades. That means the problem of hunger is flaring up again, as the World Bank and several United Nations agencies have recently warned.

There is no shortage of writing — often from a locavore point of view — in support of more organic methods of farming, for both developed and developing countries. These opinions recognize that current farming methods bring serious environmental problems involving water supplies, fertilizer runoff and energy use. Yet organic farming typically involves smaller yields — 5 to 34 percent lower, as estimated in a recent study in the journal Nature, depending on the crop and the context. For all the virtues of organic approaches, it’s hard to see how global food problems can be solved by starting with a cut in yields. Claims in this area are often based on wishful thinking rather than a hard-nosed sense of what’s practical.
WHAT to do? First, put food problems higher on the agenda. In the United States, there is no general consciousness of the precarious state of global agriculture. Even in the economics profession, the field of agricultural economics is often viewed as secondary in status.

Being an agricultural economist, you probably won't be shocked to hear that I agree with the last sentence.  But, it's nice to hear someone else say it.  And it's nice to see a nod to my fellow agricultural economists who have been studying these types of issues for decades but whose voices often tend to get overlooked or drowned out by those pushing the latest fashionable food fads or development policies.