Friday, April 4, 2008

Day 2

My day at the conference was less exciting than I thought it would be, but I attended a couple of nice presentations (will link when available). Before I go any further, I must say that there was a lot of new vocabulary, but not really a lot of new ideas. Also, I couldn't help noticing how much more elaborate the PowerPoint presentations have become, especially those of the keynote speakers who tend to be renowned scientists and researchers and who I assume have someone to help them prepare the slides. As a general rule, but I might be wrong, I found that the presentations of delegates from the developing world were less fancy (and looked less professional) than those of delegates from richer countries. But the content did not vary much.

In the regional assessment of the impact of change on food systems, the picture was gloomy: In Southern Africa, Caribbeans and in the Indo-Gangetic plains, farming is in decline, farmers are older and dying (some as in India from suicide) and countries that were net producers 20 years ago are now net importers. To the question: "Is there a future for agriculture", the answer was a very depressing: "not unless we can deal with risks through some form of insurance in order to get young people back into farming". But my question is: who will produce the food? Better still: who is producing the food right now if everybody has become a net food importer?

There was a public evening lecture at the Sheldonian by Prabhu Pingali who until recently worked for FAO and who now works for the Gates foundation as head of agriculture policy and statistics. It was a bit generic (I asked a colleague what he thought about it and he said: he has a nice voice), but he listed, in the first half of the lecture, the changes facing the world's food systems:

1. Urbanization: the world is now 50-50 urban-rural. By 2030 it will be 70-30. Who will feed the urbans? Who will bring food to them? How will we get water and sanitation services.

2. Globalization and trade: Where to buy, from the local hinterlands or from foreign markets? The balance is tilting towards imports in many DW countries as the infrastructure is lacking for effective production in the hinterlands.

3. ICT and especially cell phones, which have allowed communication and market penetration.

4. Global increase in food prices, unfortunately only captured well by OECD countries. Poorer countries, lacking in infrastructure and reluctant to invest might not be able to capture the dividends of the increases in world food prices.

5. And finally climate change. The increase in the frequency of extreme events will affect farmers much more than in the increase in temperature.

It's a good check list.

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