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  • Q&A: Food Security with Catherine Bertini

    By USDEC Staff September 10, 2013


    One of the prerequisites is improving knowledge transfer between farmers, researchers and end-users.

    Catherine Bertini is a senior fellow at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs; professor of public administration and international affairs, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University; former executive director of the U.N. World Food Program; and recipient of the 2003 World Food Prize. In this Q&A, Bertini answers questions about global food security.

    Q: In your presentation in May at the Chicago Council Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security, you mentioned that trade helps further the cause of global food security. How so?

    CB: The bottom line is that trade opens markets. Production in any country—milk production, fine clothing production or anything else—helps strengthen economies worldwide, as long as those goods can be sold across borders.

    Q: What needs to be done to reinvigorate trade as a food security and development tool?

    CB: Various issues in U.S. trade policy need to be addressed . . . For instance, monetization of food aid should be eliminated, as the administration proposed. A variety of trade restrictions should be removed. A friend of mine is a farmer in Africa. He said he was expanding his farm. I asked him what he would be growing. Coffee? Bananas? Sugar? I went through a list of things. He said, “No. Palm oil. I’m going to grow something you—the West—will allow me to sell to you.”

    Presumably, he is competitive in his country selling [bio-diverse] crops. But if he wants to grow his farm, then he has to think about exports. If a farmer is restricted to just what he or she can sell in his/her own country, that is a big limitation to growth and opportunity.

    Q: One of the prerequisites for improving global food security is improving knowledge transfer between farmers, researchers and end users. Can you give an example of how knowledge transfer currently falls short?

    CB: As scientists continue developing different kind of seeds, no matter what the crop, those seeds have to pass at least two critical tests: 1) what will the ultimate food produced taste like, and 2) how much more or less water, firewood and time is it going to take to prepare. Funders might spend money developing a great seed that does everything they want it to do—being disease resistant, drought resistant and so on—but if the improved seed doesn’t produce food to entice the palate of the people eating it, it may not be accepted. And if a new product will take more time, water and firewood to cook, then it is also unlikely to succeed. Those are the kind of results it is absolutely critical for researchers to learn. Their most reliable sources are women—the cooks—but they are seldom in leadership positions, so they must be sought out.

    Q: How might a more food-secure world benefit U.S. milk producers and U.S. dairy manufacturers from a business standpoint?

    CB: Apart from being the right thing to do, it has a huge potential business benefit because as countries grow stronger economically, they become better trading partners, they become more stable, they become less in need of band-aid foreign intervention . . . Helping countries develop better economically is the best hedge against a host of problems and helps build a stronger world. Every major developed country in the world began as an ag-based economy: the United States, Canada, Australia, the nations of Europe. Each country started as agriculture-based and each country built on that base. That is what can happen in developing countries too.

    (This article first appeared in the September 2013 edition of Export Profile.)

    Image copyright: 123RF Stock Photo

    The U.S. Dairy Export Council is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc. through the dairy farmer checkoff that builds on collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to build global demand for U.S. dairy products.   


    Research & Data Africa Food Aid
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