In advance of the third presidential debate, Freeman Spogli Institute center directors thought about key international policy issues that need addressing by presidential candidates Barak Obama and Mitt Romney. FSE center director Rosamond L. Naylor posed the question below among a list of other suggested FSI foreign policy questions to debate:
Should our government help American farmers cope with climate impacts on food production, and should this assistance be extended to other countries – particularly poor countries – whose food production is also threatened by climate variability and climate change?
What to listen for: Most representatives in Congress would like to eliminate government handouts, and many would also like to turn away from any discussion of climate change. Yet this year, U.S. taxpayers are set to pay up to $20 billion to farmers for crop insurance after extreme drought and heat conditions damaged yields in the Midwest.
With the 2012 farm bill stalled in Congress, the candidates need to be clear about whether they support government subsidized crop insurance for American farmers. They should also articulate their views on climate threats to food production in the U.S. and abroad.
Without a substantial crop insurance program, American farmers will face serious risks of income losses and loan defaults. And without foreign assistance for climate adaptation, the number of people going hungry could well exceed 15 percent of the world's population.
~Rosamond L. Naylor, director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment
Inspired by the spirit of debate, FSE fellows took the opportunity to pose a few additional questions for the candidates.
Questions from FSE deputy director Walter P. Falcon:
The US now uses more that 40% of its corn crop for biofuel. While some argue this contributes to long-term energy independence, others note that ethanol mandates, along with unfavorable weather, can contribute to higher and more volatile food prices like those seen in recent years. Do you regard the US policy emphasis on biofuels, especially corn-based ethanol, as being a successful program to date? Have the benefits from biofuels outweighed the negative impacts on higher food costs around the world, and do you believe that mandates continue to be the most appropriate policy going forward?
One of the largest agricultural programs in the US is in the form of food stamps to poor consumers. Would you prefer to cap, perhaps even eliminate, the food stamp (SNAP) program? Would you prefer to replace it with a direct cash transfer system? Whom do you think generally should qualify either for food stamps or cash transfers?
Questions from FSE associate director David Lobell:
A major initiative of the Obama Administration has been Feed the Future, which aims at improving food security in other countries. Is the U.S. focused sufficiently on hunger in other parts of the world? Have actions matched rhetoric? Is a $3 billion expenditure on this initiative the right sum in an era of large fiscal deficits in the U.S.?
Question from research scholar Bill Burke:
The United States is viewed by many as a world leader, but its role in foreign assistance is contentious. In dollar terms, the United States consistently gives more foreign assistance than any other donor nation. In 2012, for example, the U.S. provided nearly 34 billion dollars, or more than twice as much as any other country. On the other hand, many criticize the U.S. for contributing relatively little in comparison to other countries when donations are measured as a share of GDP. Some also point out that much of what is labeled foreign assistance is actually military or security assistance, and does not contribute directly towards economic development. Does the U.S. spend too little or too much on foreign assistance, and should a greater proportion of U.S. funding go directly towards poverty reduction and food security?