As we enter the holiday season, it is worth reflecting on one of the most pernicious slow-moving crises of our time: the continued presence of hunger in a world of plenty. Ending hunger by 2030 and protecting the right of everyone to have access to sufficient, safe, affordable and nutritious food is one of the targets proposed for the post-2015 agenda by the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and many others are also promoting the same message. Pope Francis is the latest entrant into this debate with his announcement of a global campaign of prayer and action to end to hunger and malnutrition, “One Human Family, Food For All”. The campaign includes encouragement for local, national or global level action against food waste and the promotion of food access and security worldwide. The Pope prompts us all to ask ourselves, what will it take to end hunger?
Agriculture and Rural Development
Economist and Nobel Prize laureate James M. Buchanan remarked to the Wall Street Journal in 1996 that "Just as no physicist would claim that "water runs uphill”, no self-respecting economist would claim that increases in the minimum wage increase employment." Of course this statement remains broadly true today, but the advent of better data, improved statistal techniques and the proliferation of country studies – have made economists far more careful about pre-judging the impact of minimum wages on employment and wages. Indeed, in a now famous study of fast food restaurants in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, David Card and Alan Krueger showed how the imposition of a minimum wage had no significant disemployment effects, and in some cases increased employment, arising out of a large enough increase in demand for the firms’ products.
The evidence for South Africa, some twenty years after the demise of apartheid, is equally compelling. In a two-part study, my co-authors and I find an intriguing set of contrasting economic outcomes, from the imposition of a series of sectoral minimum wage laws. In South Africa, the minimum wage setting body, known as the Employment Conditions Commission (ECC), advises the Minister of Labour on appropriate and feasible minimum wages for different sectors or sub-sectors in the economy. Currently, the economy has in place 11 such sectoral minimum wage laws in sectors ranging from Agriculture and Domestic Work, to Retail and Private Security.
In the lead up to the holidays, much will be written about how we, as consumers, can safely prepare food to ensure that friends and family remember a wonderful holiday meal and not the bout of food poisoning that landed a loved one in the emergency room.
But it often strikes me that other major threats to food safety – those that lie undetected in farms and factories and other vulnerable points along the food supply chain – are not part of the conversation until tainted food surfaces in grocery stores and on dinner plates, making millions sick and even killing people along the way.
As global headlines have illustrated – packaged salads in the United States, sprouts in Germany, milk and infant formula in China – food safety is a serious issue that affects all of us: individuals, nations, and businesses. No country is immune, and as global agri-food value chains become more integrated, food safety hazards that were once geographically confined can now span countries and continents with ease.
But nothing stays the same forever.
At the climate talks last month in Warsaw, Poland, negotiators again delayed discussions around agriculture. The good news is that there are steps we can take now to make agriculture part of the solution, World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte writes in a new blog post.
"Agriculture is the only sector that can not only mitigate, but also take carbon out of the atmosphere. It has the potential to substantially sequester global carbon dioxide emissions in the soils of croplands, grazing lands, and rangelands," Kyte writes. Importantly, she says, climate-smart agriculture techniques also improve crop yields, nutritional value, food security, and farmers' incomes, at the same time.
The potential is enormous, she writes. Read the full blog post.
During her recent visit to Cairo, the World Bank's Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa Region Inger Andersen reiterated the Bank's support for an inclusive economy in Egypt that enables all citizens to take part in shaping their future.
I remember a visit to Nicaragua like it was only yesterday. Three years have passed, and it is still etched in my mind. I was visiting a road construction project when I realized that the paving surface was not the typical asphalt I was used to seeing on many road projects but some form of concrete like paving blocks known as adoquines.
At the UN climate talks that ended wearily on Saturday night in Warsaw, negotiators showed little appetite for making firm climate finance commitments or promising ambitious climate action. But they did succeed, again, in keeping hope alive for a 2015 agreement.
The final outcome was a broad framework agreement that outlines a system for pledging emissions cuts and a new mechanism to tackle loss and damage. There were new pledges and payments for reducing deforestation through REDD+ and for the Adaptation Fund, however the meeting did little more than avoid creating roadblocks on the road to a Paris agreement in 2015. In one of the few new financial commitments, the United Kingdom, Norway, and the United States together contributed $280 million to building sustainable landscapes through the BioCarbon Fund set up by the World Bank Group.
At the same time, COP19 was an increasingly emotional Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The overture to this round of climate drama was provided by Typhoon Haiyan. Haiyan added, sadly, more to the mounting evidence of the costs of failure in tackling climate change. The language is inexorably moving towards one of solidarity, of justice. But for the moment, this framing is insufficient to prevent emission reduction commitments from moving backwards.
And yet again, as was the case in the climate conferences in Cancun, Durban, Doha, and now Warsaw, outside the official negotiations, there is growing pragmatic climate action driven by climate leaders from every walk of life.
The sense of urgency and opportunity is building, it just fails to translate into textual agreement.
Some observers caution that the reforms proposed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) after the Third Plenary meeting of its Central Committee may fall short of promise because of resistance from vested interests or a lack of political will. My view is that it will bring about fundamental changes in China for one simple reason - politics. First, the CCP leadership fully understands that the party has lost the trust of the people because of rising corruption and cronyism, increasingly offensive income inequality, huge question marks over food safety, and worsening pollution. Second, they realize that the current economic model cannot sustainably deliver the economic progress that citizens expect in return for their allegiance to the CCP. The CCP leaders know that fundamental changes are needed to this economic model to regain the trust of the people. Since survival demands big changes, the leadership will pull out all the stops.