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Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Shocking Short-Sightedness"

This probably isn't the best time for the administration to be proposing reduced support for agricultural research:

Stem Rust Never Sleeps, by Norman E. Borlaug, Commentary, NY Times: With food prices soaring ... and shortages threatening hunger and political chaos, the time could not be worse for an epidemic of stem rust in the world’s wheat crops. Yet millions of wheat farmers, small and large, face this spreading and deadly crop infection.

The looming catastrophe can be avoided if the world’s wheat scientists pull together to develop a new generation of stem-rust-resistant varieties of wheat. ... This will require a commitment from many nations, especially the United States, which has lately neglected its role as a leader in agricultural science.

Stem rust, the most feared of all wheat diseases, can turn a healthy crop of wheat into a tangled mass of stems that produce little or no grain. The fungus .... has caused major famines since the beginning of history. ...

During the 1950s, I and other scientists ... developed high-yielding wheat varieties that were resistant to stem rust and other diseases. ... Indeed, with this work, global food supplies rapidly increased and prices dropped. ... Today, wheat provides about 20 percent of the food calories for the world’s people. ...

The new strains of stem rust, called Ug99 because they were discovered in Uganda in 1999, are much more dangerous than those that, 50 years ago, destroyed as much as 20 percent of the American wheat crop. ...

The Bush administration was initially quick to grasp Ug99’s threat to American wheat production. ... But more recently, the administration has begun reversing direction. The State Department is recommending ending American support for the international agricultural research centers that helped start the Green Revolution, including all money for wheat research. And significant financial cuts have been proposed for important research centers, including the Department of Agriculture’s essential rust research laboratory in St. Paul.

This shocking short-sightedness goes against the interests not only of American wheat farmers and consumers but of all humanity. It is tantamount to the United States abandoning its pledge to help halve world hunger by 2015.

If millions of small-scale farmers see their wheat crops wiped out for want of new disease-resistant varieties, the problem will not be confined to any one country. Rust spores move long distances in the jet streams and know no political boundaries. Widespread failures in global wheat production will push the prices of all foods higher, causing new misery for the world’s poor. ...

Before it is too late, America must rebuild, not destroy, the collaborative systems of international agricultural research that were so effective in starting the Green Revolution.

    Posted by on Saturday, April 26, 2008 at 01:07 AM in Economics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (18)


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