Ecochondria Retards Progress in Reducing Hunger

Keith Bradsher and Andrew Martin outline in Sunday’s New York Times the extent to which the world’s aid agencies starved the budgets of international agricultural research institutions that worked on increasing agricultural productivity in the developing world:

Donors increasingly directed the money toward worthwhile but ancillary projects like environmental research. Spending fell on the laborious plant-breeding programs needed to improve crop productivity…. As these trends played out, the stage was being set for a food emergency… From 1970 to 1990, the peak Green Revolution years, the food supply grew faster than the world population. But after 1990, food’s growth rate fell below population growth, according to a report by Ronald Trostle, a researcher at the Agriculture Department…

Adjusting for inflation and exchange rates, the wealthy countries, as a group, cut … donations [to agriculture in poor countries from the governments of wealthy countries] roughly in half from 1980 to 2006, to $2.8 billion a year from $6 billion. The United States cut its support for agriculture in poor countries to $624 million from $2.3 billion in that period… The World Bank cut its agricultural lending to $2 billion in 2004 from $7.7 billion in 1980.

John Tierney ties all this together in Greens and Hunger reminding us how environmental groups succeeded in demonizing (my word) the green revolution and prevailed upon Western “aid” agencies, multilateral agencies (such as the World Bank) and philanthropies, specifically the Rockefeller and the Ford Foundations, to reduce funding to improve crop productivity in Africa.

Looking at other explanations for today’s high food prices, the Washington Post’s Colum Lynch – a perfect name for a muckraking journalist – notes in a report titled, World Aid Agencies Faulted in Food Crisis: Failure to Support Agriculture Cited:

European governments, meanwhile, have clung to an import ban on high-yielding, genetically modified crops – thus dissuading African nations from using a technology that could increase production. “The two biggest follies are biofuels in America and the ban on genetically modified crops in Europe,” said Paul Collier, a professor of economics at Oxford University.

Notably, all three explanations have a common denominator, namely, “well fed Westerners,” to use Tierney’s phrase, putting the environment ahead of humans in developing countries.

Without their ecochondria, the green revolution would be seen for what it is – a major advance in human well being, the lobby for subsidizing ethanol would be much less powerful, and misanthropic bans on genetically modified crops would not be respectable in a world that claims to cherish both human lives and minimization of human suffering.