Search the Site

Tyler Cowen on Wal-Mart and World Hunger

Arabic Knowledge@Wharton interviews Tyler Cowen about food and economics.  Here’s a particularly interesting bit about why Wal-Mart’s presence in places like Africa might actually make it easier for the poor people to buy food there:

Cowen: If you look at wheat and rice, there have been price spikes over the last five years and they’ve made food a lot harder for poor people to afford. The so-called “Green Revolution” has somewhat slowed down. This is an unreported story. Crop yields are stagnant. It isn’t a problem we can solve overnight but it’s really one of the biggest problems in the world. It hardly gets any publicity. But for poor people in India, the Middle East and parts of Africa, it really matters.

Some of the problems are we don’t have enough trade. It could be either legal barriers or just costly to transport or trade things. If there could be a shortage of rice in one place, it actually not that easy to ship a lot of rice in there because of bad roads and so on.

Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: So if countries worked on improving the transportation infrastructure, that would lower food prices in some parts of the world?

Cowen: Exactly, that would do a lot to feed people. Again, it sounds much more mundane but it’s more important than what people in the food world usually talk about.

Arabic Knowledge@Wharton: So when companies like Wal-Mart bring their logistics ability to Africa, it actually could be a good thing for the poor people of Africa?

Cowen: It’s exactly what we need more of. Yes.

Stay tuned: Cowen will be answering your questions this week.