Monday, March 14, 2011

Five Second: Economist on the new food regime; Part 1

The Feb 24 edition of The Economist contained a special insert on the global food situation since the global food price crisis of 07/08. Here are some of the highlights:

On the potential for improving agricultural productivity in Africa: “Given the same technology, European and American farmers get the same results.”

On obesity they aren't quite right: “Food is probably the biggest single influence on people’s health, though in radically different ways in poor countries and in rich ones, where the big problem now is obesity. … In the favelas (slums) of São Paulo, the largest city in South America, takeaway pizza parlours are proliferating because many families, who often do not have proper kitchens, now order a pizza at home to celebrate special occasions.” Obesity has been and is growing rapidly in developing countries where sometimes within the same family you can find both hunger and obesity.
On nutrition vs. calories: “Feeding the world is not just about calories but nutrients, too; and it is not about scattering them far and wide but pinpointing the groups who can and will eat them.”
“In Tanzania, children whose mothers were given iodine capsules when pregnant stayed at school for four months longer than their siblings born when the mother did not get those capsules.” “Half of those over 75 in hospital are reckoned to be nutrient-deficient, as are many obese people.”

Fortification: “Better nutrition, in short, is not a matter of handing out diet sheets and expecting everyone to eat happily ever after. Rather, you have to try a range of things: education; supplements; fortifying processed foods with extra vitamins; breeding crops with extra nutrients in them. But the nutrients have to be in things people want to eat. Kraft, an American food manufacturer, made Biskuat, an “energy biscuit” with lots of extra vitamins and minerals, into a bestseller in Indonesia by charging the equivalent of just 5 cents a packet. It also did well in Latin America with Tang, a sweet powdered drink with added nutrients, marketing it to children for the taste and mothers for its nutritional value.”

Biofortification: “It is also possible to breed plants that contain more nutrients. An organisation called HarvestPlus recently introduced an orange sweet potato, containing more vitamin A than the native sort, in Uganda and Mozambique. It caught on and now commands a 10% price premium over the ordinary white variety. The local population’s vitamin intake has soared.”

If we produce enough calories to feed the world now, “why worry about producing more food? Part of the answer is prices. If output falls below demand, prices will tend to rise, even if “excess” calories are being produced. … Pushing up supplies may be easier than solving the distribution problems.”
The downside of Zero Tillage: “weeds. They like to grow in the mat as much as crops do.”

1 comment:

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