06 May 2011

Meetings at Whole Foods, CNFA and IFPRI at Washington DC

Our day started with a meeting at Whole Food's Market that provides a niche market for natural and organic foods. They make constant endeavours in maintaining high standards of quality, satisfying customers, creating wealth, caring for community and environment, facilitating suppliers, promote healthy eating. One wonders whether such an initiative can be taken up by the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) (to being with, it should be in a small scale but it can expand later) in Andhra Pradesh.

The days second meeting was with CNFA (an acronym for which I did not get the full form). This elusiveness was also evident in my understanding of what they are doing. Their interventions are among poorer regions of Africa, Central Asia and South Asia to increase productivity and give a higher income to farmers. But, it gave me an impression that they are using technologies that have been developed elsewhere and have not been locally grounded. One only hopes that their concerns of global hunger and food security has some good initiatives and it is a laudable. Nevertheless, concerns on immediate benefits and long term ramifications remain. The irony is that the immediate benefit will be shared by many but adverse consequences will only be limited to the local communities.

Outside our itinerary, the participants decided to go to a conference by USDA's 'The Economic Research Service: Celebrating 50 Years' and attended their session 3 'Leading the Study of the Food System'. There were four panelists. David Zorn, 'Understanding the Economics of Food Safety', talked about new technologies and the need for new regulatory systems and research so that consumers can make informed choice. More importantly food safety research has to go beyond presence/absence of germs. Discussions on other aspects of nutrition (sodium, fat, calories among others are equally relevant).

Elise Galon's 'Exploring the Determinants of Food Choice' discussed about What, Where, Why and How of Food and indicated about the affordability of food because of the prices. She touched upon the fact that there is a price variability across regions, but the value of food coupons given to the vulnerable is the same. There is also a need to understand food demand from the perspective of behaviourial economics. In a survey where people were told that the wine is from 'North Dakota' then they sipped and said it is not good. The same wine was given to them and they were told that it is from 'California' then the said that it is very good. These have implication that suggest that the choice the consumer has is 'subjective'.

Steve Carlson's 'Measuring Domestic Food Security' acknowledged the developments in measurement of food security but said that the main picture of hunger is missing in the analysis. What is more, the discussion of numbers misses the richness of information that one can gather from peoples experience and the socio-economic milieu.

Neel Convelin's 'Assessing Global Food Security' raised the global concerns of hunger. When it comes to households the question of distribution cannot be ignored. At the national level policies on trade and development become relevant and at the global level the growth of population should be kept in mind.

One of the questions, which was also in my mind, is that some of the discussions and views expressed here are missing in the policy on global hunger and food security. Are concerns of food safety not relevant there?

The last meeting of the day was at IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute). Guillaue Gruere has been working on South Asia with a focus on technology and has recently written a paper on farmer suicides and Bt cotton. This has reference to some of my earlier work. Kamiljon Akramov was working on development strategy and governance with a focus on Central Asia.

Later in the evening we went to Ford's theatre to see 'Liberty Smith'. It was an enthralling performance. 

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