At a press conference in the Rose Garden a few days ago, President Bush seemed to be hip to the idea of buying local. When asked what more the United States can do to help make food more affordable around the world, the president suggested it was in our interest to continue growing corn for ethanol, even though many blame the ethanol boom in part for the crisis. He mentioned our nation would be generous with its food donations. And then he added this gem:
"One thing I think that would be I know would be very creative policy is if we is if we would buy food from local farmers as a way to help deal with scarcity, but also as a way to put in place an infrastructure so that nations can be self-sustaining and self-supporting. It's a proposal I put forth that Congress hasn't responded to yet, and I sincerely hope they do."
While we applaud creativity, there are a few critical issues that will make it difficult for everyone to just buy local.
Tony Banbury, director of the World Food Program's operations in Asia, was quoted by Canadian television as saying, "It's a purchasing power issue. When the basic necessity of life, food, has a dramatic rise in prices, people are going to suffer."
The article focuses on people in Afghanistan who make little money teachers, for example. Banbury said "They'll go to any means to make sure their children can eat," and the writer suggests that can mean dangerous consequences for the desperately poor in a place such as southern Afghanistan, where working in poppy fields or joining the Taliban are two options.
In addition, the cost of fertilizer has risen, making it difficult for many farmers to maintain their crop yields. An article in the New York Times explains that the widespread use of inexpensive chemical fertilizer in places such as Vietnam, coupled with market reforms, helped trigger an agricultural explosion. The writer explains that yields of rice and corn rose, and diets grew richer (and the children of farmers grew much taller than their parents).
But with the soaring cost of fertilizer driven, the article says, by population growth, shrinking grain stocks, and increased demand for corn and palm oil, and meat in the developing world farmers are not able to buy, and thus grow, what they need.
The Times quotes Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economist who has focused on eradicating poverty, who said, "Putting fertilizer on the ground on a one-acre plot can, in typical cases, raise an extra ton of output. Thats the difference between life and death."
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