Sunday, September 14, 2014

Food Is Weird: Understanding Agriculture in the Developing World

In which John Green flies in a helicopter with Bill Gates in Ethiopia, investigates a new form of cursing, and discusses agricultural reform--specifically, how the UN's World Food Program is trying to improve maize yields in Ethiopia. If you can break the vicious cycle of low incomes leading to low harvests, agricultural productivity per hectare (NOT HECTACRE) can increase dramatically, as we've seen in China and Brazil. It seems boring, I know, but this is a big reason hundreds of millions of people have emerged from poverty in the past 30 years. So hopefully it will happen in Ethiopia! But, as usual, the truth resists simplicity.
This guy talks fast, and simplifies, but I think he is right about the fundamentals. Helping farmers earn more by growing more food that will reduce hunger is a very good thing to do, and it is basic to the social and economic development of poor countries. Since the poorer the country the greater the portion of its population is involved in low productivity agriculture, helping the poorest farmers to do better is a great tool to reducing extreme poverty.

One thing that the video does not mention is that it takes research and development to create the better seeds that John Green is talking about. It also involves technology to produce the fertilizer that farmers need. And there is technology needed to detect and deal with the pests and diseases that so frequently destroy crops in developing countries.

Behind every great man there is a good woman, and behind every successful farmer there is a good technology.

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