Thursday, October 13, 2011

World Food Prize 2 - a few short summaries

Howard Buffett keynote address:
“We cannot solve other people’s problems, no matter how much we spend.”
I like technology. It is an important solution, but it is not and cannot be the only solution.
Soil is more important than seed. You cannot correct low soil fertility by piling on chemical fertilizers. Our high-tech solutions promote monocropping, which isn’t good. None of the poorest farmers have had a soil test done, so we’re guessing at what their soils need. Dead soil has no biological activity: fertilizer is like putting oxygen mask on a deadman.
Farmers are willing to take risks on seed. They buy unmarked bags and unmarked cans because they are cheaper.

Secretaries of Agriculture panel
Ghana – fertilizer subsidies and mechanization are the future.
Mozambique – 4 pillars to increasing agricultural productivity: extension, markets and information, natural resource management, and public-private partnerships. Discussed comparative advantage of different zones of Moz and the need to support farmers in their comparative advantages. We are developing new exports, like cashews.
Q: Tanz and Moz – how are you going to avoid monocropping in your focus on corridors and comparative advantages?
A Moz: We are using crop rotation. We aren’t subsidizing other crops, but we subsidize fertilizer and encourage farmers to compost as well. “But don’t worry” we’re also building a phosphate factory.
A Tanz: Don’t only grow one crop – grow other crops in the same season as well.

Sheeran (WFP)
Farmers in many poor countries reduced production during food price crisis because input prices rose faster than food prices.
Asked a market trader how he set prices. “It’s easy. I go online every morning and find the price on the Chicago markets and give a 10% discount – we are a poor nation, after all.”
Using an analogy from IT – where you use some of your computer capacity to ensure the stability of the rest – what investments and inefficiencies do we need to make/accept in order to get the rest of our food production more stable? Ex: Could WFP reduce dependence in South Sudan down the line by buying food there, even though it is more expensive than in neighboring countries?
When leaders say “not on my watch” it is powerful. It gives accountability.

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