Boost Food Supply, Not Protectionism - U.S.
CASABLANCA, April 21 (Reuters) - Governments
should avoid imposing export embargoes to
protect local consumers from soaring food prices
and instead invest in boosting supplies, a top
U.S. food official said on Monday.
Growing costs of basic foodstuffs have led to
angry protests in Asian and African countries
that are feeling the pinch more than their
wealthier counterparts, many of which protect
their farming sectors with subsidies.
Climate change and the increased cultivation
of biofuels are blamed for reducing food stocks,
while speculative buying in commodity markets is
accused of making prices more volatile.
Michael Yost, administrator of the U.S.
government's Foreign Agricultural Service, said
discouraging exports was not the right answer.
"There are two wrongs there," he told Reuters
during a visit to Morocco by a delegation of
U.S. farm industry officials.
"Firstly it is restricting trade and tends to
make people think of hoarding. Secondly,
domestic producers are sending the wrong signal
-- don't produce, don't invest in new
technology, additional fertilisers or new
The run-up in food prices has led some
policymakers to question the accepted wisdom
that liberalising food trade in developing
countries brings more benefits than costs.
Such liberalisation can hurt attempts to
alleviate poverty and damage the environment, a
report from a United Nations and World Bank
sponsored group said last week.
But Yost said wrong decisions were now being
made by countries such as Argentina, which
raised wheat export taxes, and Vietnam and
Thailand which stopped exporting rice.
"I understand why they are doing it," he
said. "But we went through the embargo routine
in the United States and it was the wrong thing
to do, both in 1973 and 1979-80... The key now
is improving supply."
In India, for example, estimated post-harvest
losses were running at somewhere between 35 to
60 percent. "If we can concentrate on that
alone, then we can increase supplies of the food
we have," Yost said.
The time was right for countries to invest in
improved production practices, better genetics,
updated seed technology and wider use of drip
irrigation, he said.
"I've been to a lot of countries ... where we
can do a lot to improve supply, but things
haven't happened -- we haven't got serious about
it," said Yost. "Now is the opportunity as the
challenge is there." (Reporting by Tom Pfeiffer,
editing by David Evans)