August 07, 2009

Weekly News Roundup: Hungry for Security

Food was on the mind this week, with reports from several continents on how issues of agriculture and land tenure impact security.

Wired’s Danger Room continues to follow U.S. Army Agribusiness Development Teams (ADTs), which are getting their hands dirty in Afghanistan helping local farmers build sustainable livelihoods. Leveraging years of experience in the American Midwest, National Guardsmen are traveling around north-central Afghanistan, teaching locals about the entire agricultural cycle, from crop selection to planting techniques and marketing strategies. "The ADT's efforts as well as stopping crop eradication and increasing interdiction are all part of an important policy shift by the U.S. government," according to Richard Holbrooke. Secure food supplies and surpluses will help stabilize economic and political conditions, but many hurdles remain.

The roads used by ADTs are still vulnerable to IED attack, and Afghan participation has been limited by telecommunications infrastructure deficiencies and programmatic restrictions that require households to have an email address.

In Nigeria, there may be a bit more stability when it comes to food, but perhaps not for long. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the country balances on a razor’s edge—just minimal seasonal variation in rainfall could ravage food production and throw the region into turmoil. The problem lies in Nigeria’s vastly underdeveloped agricultural industry, which was abandoned in the 1970s when surveyors found oil off its coast. Since then, the government has invested heavily in an energy industry and turned to neighbors to supply food. But should even a minor drought set in, those neighbors may not have enough rice and wheat to export, leaving the fate of millions of Nigerians open-ended, reports NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Back in the United States, the Green, Inc. blog at The New York Times took a look at the relationship between energy, the environment, and food and concludes, quite aptly, that something like an unholy trinity is emerging, at least when inefficient biofuels like corn-based ethanol are thrown into the mix. The environment may catch a break from greenhouse gas emissions by pursuing a corn-based ethanol strategy, but only with disastrous implications for world food prices. Even so, proponents of new strains of genetically modified plants for “second-generation biofuel” usage seem to have forgotten the tumult of worldwide food riots in 2007 and 2008. Moving forward in the biofuel debate will require countries to prioritize climate change and food supply as national security concerns.