Archives for agriculture



The Case for Biofortification

Modern consumers enjoy something that humans throughout history never have: we can walk into a grocery store and, if we choose wisely, leave with food that maximizes our health. Much maligned as the industrial food system has been, it’s made accessible a broad diversity of beneficial foods that, consumed regularly, prevent disease and enhance the quality of life. The fact that one is able to eat a cornucopia of “superfoods”–blueberries, bananas, kale, lentils, quinoa, and avocados–on a daily basis is an under-appreciated wonder of globalization and world trade.

But the vast majority of the developing world lacks access to this abundance. In fact, billions of people living in developing countries are dependent on a single staple crop for their sustenance. In sub-Saharan Africa, 250 million people eat cassava as their primary food source; over half the world depends on rice for 80% of their calories; wheat accounts for 20% of the world’s food energy intake. This narrow dependence might meet baseline caloric needs, but it’s a nutritional disaster.

How to bridge the gap between the nutritional haves and have-nots is a hotly contested issue. Some support the development of small-scale but modernized organic systems serving regional markets. Others promote replacing traditional peasant agriculture with the industrialized approach of agribusiness. Yet others would like to see local farmers empowered to practice indigenous methods. Whichever schemes ultimately prevail (hopefully a combination of all), there’s one solution that must be included irrespective of agricultural scale or scope: crops must be biofortified. That is, we need to plant seeds that have been bred to enhance nutritional value. Read More »



Greenwashing the Groceries

The news that In.Gredients, a “package free, zero-waste” grocery store, will debut in Austin, Texas is certainly cause for optimism. The store, which will be located on the rapidly gentrifying east side of town, is bound to find an eager market of young, progressive consumers raised on a steady diet of environmental ethics, especially the unmitigated horrors of plastic. In addition to its quest to eliminate waste, the store, according to its press release, also promises to promote local and organic food, thereby achieving a trifecta of green grocer bona fides. It should do well.

That said, I think the brains behind In.Gredients vastly underestimate the environmental implications of their bold idea. The tawdry rhetorical appeal to reduced packing, local production, and organic food might resonate with an audience accustomed to associating these traits with eco-correctness. But the carbon-footprint complex isn’t so simple. Fortunately, in this case (and somewhat coincidentally), it happens to be far more consistent with the store’s purported mission. Read More »



Did Gender Inequality Start With the Plow?

From a pair of Harvard economists, Alberto Alesina and Nathan Nunn, and a UCLA business school professor, Paola Giuliano, comes this working paper (Abstract here and below; full version here) that tests the hypothesis that current gender role differences can be traced to shifting methods of agriculture, particularly the introduction of the plow, which required significant upper body strength, grip strength, and burst of power that favored men over women. Read More »



GMOs and Mother Nature? Closer Than You Think

When it comes to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), one criticism stands above the others: it’s unnatural. The idea that (unlike conventional genetic exchange within a species) genes from one species can be transferred to another fuels this perception of unnaturalness. Read More »



Unscrambling the Egg Disaster

If there’s a winner in the recent recall of 550 million eggs potentially infected with salmonella enteritidis, it’s your local egg farmer. Under the assumption that eggs sourced from small, organic, free-range farms are less likely to be contaminated with salmonella, consumers are flocking to farmers’ markets and backyard coops in a panicked quest to avoid industrially produced eggs. According to one newspaper account, shoppers are increasingly willing to pay up to $3.50 for a dozen eggs in order to have “a direct link to their food.” But I wonder: does this make any sense? Read More »



Because We Haven't Brought You Enough News on Canadian Agriculture Lately …

Here are two interesting items. Read More »



Fair Trade and the Food Movement

Can the Food Movement scale up? Read More »



Toward an Ethical Economics of Food Policy

A speech by William Masters. Read More »