Thursday, May 21, 2009

A wrap-up of the World Agriculture Forum

The World Agricultural Forum took place in St. Louis, Missouri this week. The topics at the forum had a lot to do with Africa, ranging from famine deaths, to the amount of agricultural aid to biotech seeds.

From this Reuters article that we found at Vision, author Christine Stebbins tells us how the forum addressed the need for political stability in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Investment is not going to flow into unstable areas. It is not going to flow into poorly governed areas no matter what the natural resource space is -- it's just not going to happen," J.B. Penn, chief economist with equipment maker John Deere and former USDA economist, told a round-table at the World Agricultural Forum here this week.

"First and foremost, we've got to get the political system right. Then investment will follow. With the investment comes the technology," Penn said.

Africa, as it has for decades in the post-World War Two independence era, continues to be the leading destination for world food aid shipments but also for deaths from famine.

Political chaos in Zimbabwe that turned the nation from a grain exporter to a hunger crisis is often cited by investors.

"Particularly at risk of widespread famine are over a dozen so-called "left-behind" countries, almost all in sub-Saharan Africa, that feature severe and increasing natural resources constraints coupled with high population growth and limited nonagricultural income possibilities," the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said on May 4.

With the recession in rich countries, there are few fresh infusions of investment capital flowing into Africa, with much of the recent investment coming from private foundations funded by Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett and the Rockefellers, experts say.

Gary Blumenthal, chief executive of agricultural consultancy World Perspectives, told the forum: "Only 10 percent of all foreign direct investment around the world went into the food category. If you look at agricultural production, it was 0.006 percent."

Investment to transport grains and livestock and improve water and irrigation are key to Africa progress, experts said.

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