Agriculture and Rural Development
Drug trafficking is nothing new. But with the current levels of violence we are seeing, its effects on society and economic activity are staggering. From the suffering of victims, to increasing levels of corruption and the weakening of institutions, drug trafficking is not only a criminal problem—it is an urgent development issue which needs to be tackled.
The drug business is particularly insidious.
The volatility in commodity prices continues. Sure, they have come down in the last few days on Eurozone crisis fears but, all in all, they remain volatile, and in the case of food, very high. One of the reasons for this is that world commodity markets–particularly those for agricultural commodities—have become highly distorted.
“So what?” you may ask. Well, distorted price levels and excess price volatility are detrimental to producers and consumers alike.
Food prices are finally coming down after a year of spikes and high volatility. But we must remain vigilant. Prices of certain foods remain very high, and millions of people around the world are still at risk of suffering from malnutrition and hunger.
Let’s get to the numbers first.
Global food prices remain high and volatile, affecting the poorest countries the most. Global prices might not be at their 2008 record high, but they are still well above their levels a year ago. For millions who are already vulnerable, events like the droughts in the Horn of Africa add to their hardships while continued market turmoil increases uncertainty in the global economy.
Groundbreaking events are adding to the list of things pushing up food prices. Erratic weather in key grain exporting countries, the increasing crop use for biofuel production, export restrictions, and low global stocks, have been key contributors to the spike. Now, it is also linked to surging fuel prices connected to events in the Middle East and North Africa.
2008 is so last decade. And yet, the recent hike in food prices is bringing food costs near the dangerous levels of that year, creating enormous vulnerabilities in developing countries.
Do you remember The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier’s 2007 book which became a classic? If you do, you will certainly like his latest work, The Plundered Planet. He came to launch his new book to the Bank this week, and I found it both fascinating and provocative. Let me give some examples of why.
Professor Collier, now the Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University, declares a two-front war on economists and environmentalists at the same time. He is against what he calls “utilitarian economists,” because if left on their own, they would end up plundering the planet. But Collier also takes on “romantic environmentalists,” who would be unable to eradicate hunger in case they’re given the chance to rule the world. So as you can see, the book’s premises don’t really fit into the script of the blockbuster, Oscar-winning movie Avatar.
For Collier, who also worked as the Bank’s Research Director some years ago, Nature is the lifeline for the countries of the bottom billion – and thus cannot remain untouched. With a strong faith in the power of well-informed ordinary citizens, Collier proposes a series of international standards that would help poor countries rich in natural assets better manage those resources. Technology, which enlarges the capacity of ordinary citizens, is also necessary to turn Nature into assets. But of course, in order to be effective and benefit the bottom billion instead of just the few at the top, regulation, which requires governance, is another seminal element of the equation to create prosperity. If you leave regulation out of the equation, as some Libertarians do, the result is nature plundered. But if you end up with too much regulation – curbing the use of Nature – and thus preventing technology, then the result is hunger. And I’m certainly not one of those radical, romantic environmentalists who can imagine a bottom billion who is hungry but happy.