Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What is Dr. Brad Setser missing? Part I: Seeds

That's the question at the end of Brad's post on issues to be watched in 2009.
Seeds, for one. Seeds?
Most of the economics discussions in 2008 seem to have paid little attention to the African continent. Food prices skyrocketed more than 95% during the credit crisis of 2008. Several countries, Ethiopia for instance, are facing a severe food crisis. There have been "food riots" during 2008 in places like Somalia and Zimbabwe.
The scientific/secular argument is that in the face of the food crisis, genetically modified seeds that provide a higher yield should be used to increase the productivity of agriculture; thereby reduce costs and prices of food; and thereby help alleviate the impact of the credit crisis on least developed countries. Many African country regimes, on the other hand, perceive genetically modified seeds as a United States foreign policy tool. Their apprehension is that the genetically modified seeds are configured to provide vastly decresing yields with every succeeding generation. What this means is that farmers always have to purchase new supplies of seeds from the foreign agri-biotech companies and effective sanctions can be implemented through restricting future sales of seeds from American firms to certain African countries.
This is the real theme of the Council on Foreign Relations 'Politics of Hunger' report, though it doesn't say so in so many words.
I'd like to report an unconfirmed speculative rumor that Merill Lynch has made a huge investment in a company called Biotor, or whatever its name is, bang in the middle or the tail end of the whole 2008 financial disaster, as it may turn out to be. Again I'm constrained to check the rest of the details of this story out and would appreciate any corrections/additional information/additions.

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