DECEMBER 13, 2013
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About the Authors:
Julian M. Alston is a Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics of the University of California at Davis, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate classes in microeconomic theory and the analysis of agricultural markets and policies. At UC-Davis, Alston is a member of the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics and serves as the Director of the Robert Mondavi Institute Center for Wine Economics and as Associate Director for Science and Technology Policy at the University of California Agricultural Issues Center. Prior to beginning in his current position in 1988, Dr. Alston served for several years as the Chief Economist in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs in Victoria, Australia. Alston’s experience in public policy analysis and advice and administration of a large scientific organization shaped his research interests in the economic analysis of agricultural markets and public policies concerning agricultural incomes, prices, trade, and agricultural research and promotion. He is a Fellow of the American Agricultural Economics Association, a Distinguished Fellow and Past President of the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society, a Distinguished Scholar of the Western Agricultural Economics Association, and a Fellow of the American Association of Wine Economists.
Philip G. Pardey is a Professor in the Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota, where he also directs the University’s International Science and Technology Practice and Policy (InSTePP) center. Prior to joining the university in 2002, he was a Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC, and previously a senior research officer at the International Service for National Agricultural Research in The Hague, Netherlands. His research deals with the finance and conduct of R&D globally and its economic consequences, the bio-economics of agricultural production and productivity worldwide, and the economic and policy (especially intellectual property) aspects of genetic resources and the biosciences. He is a Fellow of the American Agricultural Economic Association, a Distinguished Fellow and Past President of the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society, and was awarded the Siehl Prize for excellence on agriculture.
Agricultural R&D, Food Prices, Poverty and Malnutrition Redux
Beginning in the early 1970s, Per Pinstrup-Andersen conducted pioneering work into the links between agricultural R&D and its consequences for nutrition and health outcomes of the poor. In this paper we revisit those links in the context of two twenty-first century conundrums. First, while many of the world’s poor remain undernourished, paradoxically, growing numbers of people from a very broad range of income and social strata are overweight or obese. Second, rates of investment in agricultural research are slowing in many countries in spite of continuing high social rates of return to public investments in agricultural research, higher food prices, and slowing rates of farm productivity growth in many countries. Public agricultural R&D has been a crucial policy instrument for creating the era of agricultural abundance that now appears to be in jeopardy. To what extent is this abundance that has saved and improved many millions of lives also responsible for the rise of obesity and related health problems? What is the nature of the trade-offs between health and nutrition problems arising from increasing food abundance (or rising incomes) versus health and nutrition problems arising from food scarcity (or poverty)? What are the implications for policy? Should we use agricultural R&D as an instrument of public health policy or other dimensions of social policy? Some argue that agricultural R&D should be revitalized to enhance farm productivity growth and make food more abundant and cheaper, and thereby address problems of poverty and food security that are foreseen by 2050. Others suggest that R&D should emphasize other dimensions of nutrition such as developing staple foods that are richer in specific micronutrients, or that we should ramp up research on fruits and vegetables at the expense of research on cereals and livestock products as a way of improving nutritional outcomes. In this paper we explore these competing ideas. We present up-to-date evidence on the trends in agricultural research investments, productivity, and prices, connect them to patterns of human health outcomes around the world, and draw inferences for public R&D policy.
The work for this project was partly supported by the University of California; the University of Minnesota; the HarvestChoice initiative, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics. The authors gratefully acknowledge excellent research assistance provided by Connie Chan-Kang.
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