May 05, 2011

Summer Reading List: Foreign Policy’s “Food Issue”

the articles in the new Foreign Policy “Food Issue” first hit my
RSS feed about a week back, I snidely Tweeted: "Doesn't look like FP's food issue will stack up to Wired's food
issue...from 3 yrs ago " That Wired issue was great. But I didn't give FP a fair chance until it arrived on my desk and I read through the entire issue. Now, I say, it's definitely worth making the Summer Reading List

of the Earth Policy Institute Lester Brown provides the main article, “The
New Geopolitics of Food
.” At first, this piece reads as a little bit
deterministic about trends, and makes some static assumptions based on
population growth and other factors.  I
see this problem often with analysis on natural resource scarcity presuming
linear patterns of production and consumption. Yet I get the sense that with
this piece, Brown is more so highlighting what challenges our business-as-usual
policies will create. Trends will
change, but likewise our policies for managing resources must change to prevent
shortages in commodities like food from turning into political turmoil and
outright security risks. Indeed, this is where Brown ends: by identifying the
major components of international food policy that need to change to ensure
that the envisioned future of geopolitical tension and even conflict over food
scarcity doesn’t manifest.


points out that water stress is creating food bubbles in “some 18 countries,”
and that the buffer food production capabilities from countries like the United
States are far less reliable as they were decades ago given the amount of
arable land dedicated to food-crop feedstocks for biofuel production. We can expect
that grain production will continue to drop in countries like Saudi Arabia,
Iraq, Syria, China and India.
From export restrictions to leasing foreign territory to shady contracts, this
article does a sound job of identifying all of the food-related measures
countries are resorting to that security and foreign policy types need to be
aware of (and as FP has a broader readership than this blog, I’m happy that
this special issue will deliver this info to people who perhaps don’t know this
stuff yet).

line in particular struck me the most if any security-minded readers aren’t yet
convinced why they should care about
natural resources: “In this era of tightening world food supplies, the ability
to grow food is fast becoming a new form
of geopolitical leverage
” (emphasis mine). This exact concern appears in
the opening paragraph of my new minerals report (to be released shortly). For
the U.S. to be effective in navigating the global strategic environment, we
have to account for all the cards that countries hold. On the leverage to be
gained through trade in resources, we have largely failed to get ahead of this
trend just as other countries are increasingly wielding commodities as
geopolitical tools. 

another piece, “More
Than 1 Billion People Are Hungry in the World; But what if the experts are
” authors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of MIT’s Abdul Latif
Jameel Poverty Action Lab display deep research in examining hunger and
poverty. They show that the now-polarized public debate on foreign aid misses
most of the nuance that should be informing policy. It’s a must-read in full.

FP food edition includes additional
useful features such as “Food, Fill in the Blanks” on the last page, with quips
on the Green Revolution and food fads. Author Anna Badkhen weaves together
cultural, social and political threads related to food with a particular focus
on the Arab Spring in “The
Baguettes of War
,” which should earn some kind of prize for amazing
headlines. Two related online pieces, “How
Goldman Sachs Created the Food Crisis
” and “Don't
Blame Goldman Sachs for the Food Crisis
” are worth your time as well.

will conclude our Summer Reading List for this week. Be sure to include some
Ray Bradbury, Twilight, In Touch Weekly and comics in your beach bags as well
to even out the intellectual load. We’ll follow up with more cool reads as the
lazy days of summer go by.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user "reallyboring."