The so–called Global Food Crisis: Misconceptions & Facts

In the free market, truly free, competitive system, the entrepreneur will put his/her money where he/she can make the most efficient use of it.

In the free market, truly free, competitive system, the entrepreneur will put his/her money where he/she can make the most efficient use of it.

Efficient use in the medium term benefits the society at large because scarce resources are put to the most rewarding use. Not where the personal biases of Mr. Agbodza determine.

The costs of solving our rice (and food) import problem will include long-term (50-100 years) strategic planning, development of irrigation systems, funding agricultural research institutions, development of pragmatic and goal-oriented agricultural practices and a deep interest in citizens of Ghana.

A lot of long phrases, but the sentiment is clear enough. In the absence of a pro-forma national budget that will determine the sources of funding for the initiatives listed above (assuming of course that those areas have been neglected and are being neglected in Ghana) and the opportunity costs for implementing these as opposed to building, say, more vocational schools, one can hardly debate the merits of such suggestions. We can attack it on principle though. A hundred year plan is misguided. Mr Agbodza proves by this suggestion that he is a consummate statist, central plan - loving technocrat. Sadly the pace of technological change and the turbulence of politics and socio-economic transformation means that even were you to assemble all Nobel Laureates, dead and alive, in all fields, to this task, you are likely to get it wrong than right. Knowledge is simply too scarce to be treated so inefficiently. As justification for our position, consider that, of the many pundits in the mid-century futurism industry, none predicted the growth of the internet. Then consider how the online distribution model has reshaped global economics. The typical leftist position of: "let the experts tell us all how to live" has proved damaging to economic growth wherever it has been tried.

Until a country such as Ghana is sufficient in food production, scarce agricultural land should never be used for the production of non-food crops.

As arguments against free markets go, Mr. Agbodza’s usually tend to belong to the category that was in fashion 2 decades ago. Self-sufficiency in the production of any good or service of national importance can not be a virtue in and of itself. Even the most vociferous statistics concede that trade has a part to play in the self-sufficiency quest. Otherwise, why, one might as well argue for self-sufficiency at the homestead level. After all, one does not know when an apocalyptic eruption will force us all to lock our doors behind us and bunker in for years on end. Operation feed yourself, then! The truth though is that in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, and increasingly the Middle East, trade has proved sufficient in allowing citizens to maintain sound food security. Who is to determine what "scarce" agricultural land is? Mr. Agbodza? Another committee of experts paid with World Bank money? The free market has proved more skilled and farsighted in determining when land is scarce and when it is plentiful than any assembly of experts ever convened by any standing committee of any centralized state.

This is the anti-free market food policy that will ensure our strategic food security. If implemented, it will be sound economic governance.

But tons of data and mountains of evidence disprove that claim. According to reports produced by the UNDP (definitely not a bastion of free market economics) between 1997 and 2003, world poverty has fallen more in the past 50 years than it did during the preceding 500. In just under thirty years, poverty in Asia has fallen from 60% of the population to less than 20% today. According to the FAO (also not a bastion of the free market), malnourishment in the developing world has declined from nearly 40% to less than 20% today (even with significant population growth) in the past 30 years. Since 1980, food prices have dropped by more than 30% even after accommodating recent price rises. The green revolution has seen grain production increase by almost 50% across the developing world. There isn’t a single shred of evidence that those parts of the world that have gained the most have done so by progressively centralizing the state and undermining free markets. Indeed, throughout Asia, the contrary is true. Even Maoist China is deregulating its land tenure system. Nor is there any proof, whatsoever, that African countries, that have gained the least, have suffered as a result of a historic tendency to liberate their markets. Indeed, again, the contrary is true. It is barely two decades that Ghana begun its market reform program, and even then only grudgingly and at the instance of external forces.

As Mr. Agbodza has so blatantly shown, the problem in Ghana and Africa is not an excess of free market enthusiasm, but a dearth of it, particularly amongst the intellectual classes. We dare hope that this is a situation that will change rapidly; else another wave of global progress will pass us by, once again.

Bright B. Simons is Associate Editor of and Director of Development of IMANI: Centre for Education & Policy

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