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Against the backdrop of Ukraine's counteroffensive and the Kremlin's efforts to illegally annex additional territory, a delegation of members from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly arrived at Stanford to meet with experts and weigh considerations about the ongoing conflict. First on their circuit was a panel hosted by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) chaired by FSI Director Michael McFaul, with Marshall Burke, Francis Fukuyama, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Scott Sagan, and Kathryn Stoner participating.

The delegates represented thirteen of NATO's thirty member nations, including Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Top of mind were questions about the possibility of nuclear escalation from the Kremlin, and appropriate repsonses from the alliance, as well as questions about the longevity of Putin's regime, the nature of international authoritarian alliances, and the future of Ukraine as a European nation.

Drawing from their expertise on state-building, democracy, security issues, nuclear enterprise, and political transitions, the FSI scholars offered a broad analysis of the many factors currently playing out on the geopolitical stage. Abbreviated versions of their responses are given below.

Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Marshall Burke, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Michael McFaul present at a panel given to memebers of the NATO Parlimentary Assembly.
Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Marshall Burke, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Michael McFaul present at a panel given to memebers of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on September 26, 2022. Melissa Morgan

The following commentary has been edited for clarity and length, and does not represent the full extent of the panel’s discussion.

Rethinking Assumptions about Russia and Putin

Kathryn Stoner

Right now, Putin is the most vulnerable he's ever been in 22 years in power. But I don’t believe he's under so much pressure at this point that he is about to leave office anytime soon. Autocracies do not usually die by popular mobilization, unfortunately. More often they end through an elite coup or turnover. And since the end of WWII, the research has shown that about 75% of the time autocracies are typically replaced by another autocracy, or the perpetuation of the same autocracy, just with a different leader. So, if Putin were replaced, you might get a milder form of autocracy in Russia, but I don't think you are suddenly going to create a liberal democracy.

This means that we in the West, and particularly in the U.S., need to think very hard about our strategies and how we are going to manage our relationships with Putin and his allies. This time last year, the U.S. broadcast that we basically wanted Russia to calm down so we could pivot to China. That’s an invitation to not calm down, and I think it was a mistake to transmit that as policy.

We need to pay attention to what Russia has been doing. They are the second biggest purveyor of weapons globally after the United States. They will sell to anyone. They’ve been forgiving loans throughout Sub Saharan Africa from the Soviet period and using that as a way of bargaining for access to natural resources. They’re marketing oil, selling infrastructure, and building railroads. Wherever there is a vacuum, someone will fill it, and that includes Russia every bit as much as China. We need to realize that we are in competition with both Russia and China, and develop our policies and outreach accordingly.


Kathryn Stoner

Mosbacher Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law
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Confronting Autocracy at Home and Abroad

Anna Grzymala-Busse

Why is Putin in Ukraine? Because the fact that there is a democratic country right next door to Russia is an affront to him. Putin doesn’t care that much about NATO. The fact that nothing happened when Sweden joined is some evidence of this. That’s something to keep in mind as people are debating NATO and Ukraine and Ukraine’s possible future as a member.

NATO membership and EU membership are both wonderful things. But more fundamental that that, this war has to be won first. That’s why I think it’s necessary in the next six months to speed up the support for Ukraine by ensuring there’s a steady stream of armaments, training personnel, and providing other military support.

There’s been incredible unity on Ukraine over the last seven months across the EU, NATO, and amongst our allies. But our recent history with President Trump reminds us how fragile these international commitments can be. In foreign policy, it used to be understood that America stands for liberal democracy. But we had a president of the United States who was more than happy to sidle up to some of the worst autocrats in the world. That’s why we can’t afford to leave rising populism around the world unaddressed and fail to engage with voters. When we do that, we allow far right parties to grab those votes and go unopposed. Whatever happens domestically impacts what happens internationally.

Anna Grzymała-Busse

Anna Grzymala-Busse

Director of The Europe Center
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The Consequences of Nuclear Sabre-Rattling

Scott Sagan

We have to very clear-eyed when we’re talking about the threat, however improbable, of the use of a nuclear weapon. When it comes to the deployment of a tactical nuclear weapon, its kinetic effects depend on both the size of the weapon, the yield, and the target. Tactical weapons range in yield from very low — 5-10% of what was in the Hiroshima bomb — to as large as what was used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If that kind of weapon was used on an urban target, it would produce widescale effects. In a battlefield or rural area, it would have a relatively small impact.

But in the bigger picture, what any use of a weapon like this does is break a 70+ year tradition of non-use. Those seventy years have been dicey and fragile, but they have held so far. A tradition that is broken creates a precedent, and once there’s a precedent, it makes it much easier for someone to transgress the tradition again. So even if a decision was made to use a tactical weapon with little kinetic importance for strategic effect, I think we still need to be worried about it.

Personalistic dictators surround themselves with yes men. They make lonely decisions by themselves, often filled with vengeance and delusion because no one can tell them otherwise. They don't have the checks and balances. But I want to make one point about a potential coup or overthrow. Putin has done a lot to protect himself against that. But improbable events happen all the time, especially when leaders make really, really bad decisions. That’s not something we should be calling for as official U.S. policy, but it should be our hope.

Headshot of Scott Sagan

Scott Sagan

FSI Senior Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation
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Cycles of Conflict, Climate Change, and Food Insecurity

Marshall Burke

The estimates right now project that there are 350 million people around the world facing acute food insecurity. That means 350 million people who literally don’t have enough to eat. That’s roughly double what it was pre-COVID. The factors driving that are things like supply chain disruptions from the pandemic and climate shocks, but also because of ongoing conflict happening around the world, Ukraine included.

There was an early concern that the war in Ukraine would be a huge threat to global food security. That largely has not been the case so far, at least directly. Opening the grain corridors through the Black Sea has been crucial to this, and it’s critical that we keep those open and keep the wheat flowing out. Research shows that unrest increases when food prices spike, so it’s important for security everywhere to keep wheat prices down.

What I’m worried about now is natural gas prices. With high global natural gas prices, that means making fertilizer is also very expensive and prices have increased up to 300% relative to a few years ago. If they stay that high, this is going to be a long-term problem we will have to find a way of reckoning with on top of the other effects from climate change already impacting global crop production and the global economy.

Marshall Burke

Marshall Burke

Deputy Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment
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Ukraine After the War

Francis Fukuyama

I've been more optimistic about the prospects for Ukraine taking back territory for more of this war, just because of the vast difference in motivation between the two sides and the supply of modern weapons that Ukraine has been getting. But I don’t know what the conditions on the ground will look like when the decision to negotiate comes. Will Russia still be sitting on occupied territory? Are they kicked out entirely? Or are the frontlines close to where they are now?

As I’ve observed, Ukraine's demands have shifted depending on how they perceive the war going on. There was a point earlier this summer where they hinted that a return to the February 23 borderlines would be acceptable. But now with their recent successes, they're saying they want everything back to the 2014 lines. What actually happens will depend on what the military situation looks like next spring, by my guess.

However the war does end, I think Ukraine actually has a big opportunity ahead of them. Putin has unwittingly become the father of a new Ukrainian nation. The stresses of the war have created a very strong sense of national identity in Ukraine that didn’t exist previously. It’s accurate that Ukraine had significant problems with corruption and defective institutions before, but I think there’s going to be a great push to rout that out. Even things like the Azov steel factory being bombed out of existence is probably a good thing in the long run, because Ukraine was far too dependent on 20th-century coal, steel, and heavy industry. Now they have an opportunity to make a break from all of that.

There are going to be challenges, obviously. We’ll have to watch very carefully what Zelenskyy chooses to do with the commanding position he has at the moment, and whether the government will be able to release power back to the people and restore its institutions. But Europe and the West and our allies are going to have a really big role in the reconstruction of Ukraine, and that should be regarded by everyone as a tremendous opportunity.


Francis Fukuyama

Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at FSI
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Victory in Ukraine, Victory for Democracy

Michael McFaul

Nobody likes a loser, and right now, Putin is losing strategically, tactically, and morally. Now, he doesn’t really care about what Biden or NATO or the West think about him. But he does care about what the autocrats think about him, especially Xi Jinping. And with reports coming out of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that Xi has “concerns” about what’s happening in Ukraine, Putin is feeling that pressure. I think that's why he has decided he needs to double down, not to negotiate, but to try and “win” in some way as defined by him.

In my view, that’s what’s behind the seizure of these four regions. If he feels like he can unequivocally claim them as part of Russia, then maybe he will sue for peace. And that’s exactly what President Zelenskyy fears. Why? Because that’s exactly what happened in 2014. Putin took Crimea, then turned around to the countries of the world and said, “Aren’t we all tired of war? Can’t we just have peace? I’m ready to end the war, as long as you recognize the new borders.” And, let’s be honest, we did.

We keep hearing politicians say we should put pressure for peace negotiations. I challenge any of them to explain their strategy for getting Putin to talk about peace. There is no doubt in my mind that President Zelenskyy would sit down tomorrow to negotiate if there was a real prospect for peace negotiations. But there's also no doubt in my mind right now that Putin has zero interest in peace talks.

Like Dr. Fukuyama, I don’t know how this war will end. But there's nobody inside or outside of Russia that thinks it’s going well. I personally know a lot of people that believe in democracy in Russia. They believe in democracy just as much as you or I. I’ve no doubt of their convictions. But they’re in jail, or in exile today.

If we want to help Russia in the post-Putin world, we have to think about democracy. There’s not a lot we can do to directly help democracy in Russia right now. But we should be doing everything to help democracy in Ukraine.  It didn’t happen in 1991. It didn’t happen in 2004. It didn’t happen in 2014. They had those breakthroughs and those revolutionary moments, but we as the democratic world collectively didn’t get it right. This is our moment to get it right, both as a way of helping Ukraine secure its future, and to give inspiration to “small-d” democrats fighting for rights across the world.

Michael McFaul, FSI Director

Michael McFaul

Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
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FSI Director Michael McFaul, Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Marshall Burke answered questions from the parliamentarians on the conflict and its implications for the future of Ukraine, Russia, and the global community.

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The world’s leading economic policymakers are “on the right track” to ensure a global financial upturn, the chief of the International Monetary Fund told a Stanford audience on Tuesday.

But she warned the recovery will be derailed without the creation of more jobs, better education systems and a way to shrink the gap between rich and poor. And she cautioned against the potential pitfalls of untested exchanges and digital currencies such as Bitcoin.

“We are on the right track, but we need to ask – the right track to where? And the right track to what growth?” said Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s managing director. “Will it be solid, sustainable, and balanced – or will it be fragile, erratic, and unbalanced? To answer this question, we need to look at the patterns of economic activity in the years ahead, and especially the role of technology and innovation in driving us forward.”

Lagarde’s visit to Stanford was co-sponsored by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. In addition to delivering public remarks at FSI’s Bechtel Conference Center, Lagarde met privately with faculty and students during the day.

Just returning from the G-20 summit in Sydney, Lagarde said she is optimistic that the world’s economic leaders are committed to taking the steps that will guard against another large-scale financial collapse. She said the G-20 members agreed to complete a set of financial reforms by the end of this year, a move that will make the “financial sector safer and less likely to cause crisis.”

She said the member countries and their central banks have also agreed to better cooperate and be more transparent in their policymaking.

But she’s worried that unless more sustainable jobs are created, economic disparities will increase. And that, she said, will “harm the pace and sustainability of growth over the long term.”

As technology has helped create a more interconnected world, it is playing an increasing role in the economic landscape. Machines have made our lives easier. Artificial intelligence has led to cars that can drive themselves, robots that can do things in place of humans and smartphones that are more powerful than the first supercomputers.

But so far, there’s been no measure of how new technology has increased productivity.

“We certainly need to keep an eye on this,” she said. “One of the biggest worries is how this technological innovation affects jobs. Put simply: will machines leave workers behind?”

She said technology creates “huge rewards for the extraordinary visionaries at the top, and huge anxieties for workers at the bottom.”

Lagarde said it is up to educators to better prepare the next generation of workers.

“Educational systems are not keeping pace with changing technology and the ever-evolving world of work,” she said. “We need to change what people learn, how people learn, when people learn, and even why people learn. We must go beyond the traditional model of students sitting in classrooms, following instructions and memorizing material. Computers can do that.”

Instead, humans must “outclass computers” in cognitive, interpersonal and sophisticated coding skills, she said.

“Think of creative jobs, caring jobs, jobs that entail great craftsmanship – imagination,” she said. “And given the rate and pace of change, we will need the ability to constantly adapt and change through lifelong learning.”

She called on institutions such as Stanford to play a key role in the process.

“Stanford’s model of education was innovative from the very first day—co-educational, non-denominational, and always practical, focusing on the formation of cultured and useful citizens,” she said. “Stanford was ahead of its time back then. I know that it will continue to be ahead of its time as we venture into the exciting period ahead.”

But that exciting period carries with it uncertainty and risk.

Asked about the role that emerging digital currencies such as Bitcoin could have on the evolving economy, Lagarde was skeptical, calling it a “shaky and wobbly” system.

The currency’s trading website went offline this week, spooking investors and calling into question Bitcoin’s future.

“It’s a glamorous, sexy attractive new system,” she said. “But a monetary system is a public good. It has to be supervised and sufficiently regulated so it is accountable. At this point in time, I think Bitcoin is outside that perimeter of both supervision and regulation.”

Lagarde is the 11th managing director of the IMF, and the first woman to lead the 188-country organization. Since she took over the organization in 2011, she has played a role in the world’s most pressing financial matters, working on solutions to a sluggish global economy and the debt crises in Europe.

The IMF gives both policy advice and financing to countries in difficult economic situations. It also helps developing countries reduce poverty and become more economically stable. 

The organization is now poised to assist Ukraine, which is at risk of running out of money to pay its bills in the midst of a political crisis. The country is struggling to cobble together a temporary government in the wake of President Viktor Yanukovych leaving Kiev and being removed from power.

But until a provisional government is formed, the country cannot technically ask for help. When it does, Lagarde said the IMF will send “technical assistance.”

“We are ready to engage,” she said.

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Ashley Dean
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February 10th marked the launch of the Program on Food Security and the Environment's Global Food Policy and Food Security Symposium Series. Setting the stage for the two-year series were Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Greg Page, CEO and Chairman of Cargill Inc. As CEOs from the largest foundation and the largest agricultural firm in the world they provided important perspectives on global food security in these particularly volatile times. Full video and clips of the event are now available - Improving Food Security in the 21st Century: What are the Roles for Firms and Foundations.

Jeff Raikes: A Perspective from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Catalytic philanthropy

The Gates Foundation, through its Agricultural Development Initiative, has been a leader in addressing global food security issues. The Foundation allocates 25% of its resources to global development and to addressing the needs of the 1 billion people who live in extreme poverty ($1/day). 70-75% of those people live in rural areas and are dependent on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods.

The Gates Foundation is driven by the principle: how can it invest its resources in ways that can leverage performance and address market failures? Its approach embodies a novel concept driven by both private sector motives and public responsibilities. Raikes describes this as catalytic philanthropy.

"The Foundation identifies where its investments can create an innovation, a new intervention that can really raise the quality of lives for people," said Raikes. "If successful, it can be scaled up and sustained by the private sector if we can show that there is a profit opportunity or the public sector if we can show that this is a better way to improve the overall quality of society through investment in public dollars."


Photo credit: Michael Prince

In the realm of agriculture, allocating resources across the agricultural value chain has proven to be the most effective approach. As an example of this strategy, Raikes talked about a farmer-owned, Gates-supported dairy chilling plant in Kenya. The cooling facility provided the storage necessary to provide a predictable price at which to sell farmers' milk. This price knowledge and market access gave farmers the confidence to invest in better technology and better dairy cattle. The plant also provided artificial insemination services and extension services to teach farmers how to get greater amounts of milk from the cattle.

"I love the concept. I also love the numbers," said Raikes. "In just two or three years there were now 3,000 farmers in a 25 kilometer radius that were able to access this dairy chilling plant and able to sell their milk."

In addition to improving incomes, Raikes remarked that very consistently what he hears is when farmers are able to improve their incomes the first thing they do with the money is invest in the education of their children.

Upcoming challenges to food security

During the next 40 years or so, global food production must double to accommodate a growing and richer population. Climate change and water scarcity contribute to this challenge. The places that will suffer the most severe weather are also the places where the poorest farmers live. 95% of sub-Saharan agriculture is rain fed with very little irrigation.

"If we are going to be able to feed the world we are going to have to figure out how to achieve more crop per drop," cautioned Raikes. "This includes trying to breed crop varieties that will better withstand water shortages. Early results show that you can get as much as a 20% increase in yield or more under stressed conditions when you have varieties that are bred for that need."

These challenges are compounded by the current economic crisis that is putting pressure on budgets in both donor and developing countries. In 2009, the G20 committed 22 billion dollars to agricultural development in recognition of the importance of agricultural development to food security. However, of the 22 billion promised, 224 million dollars went to five countries in the first round of grants in June. By November, when 21 additional countries submitted their proposals, just 97 million dollars were available to be dispersed and 17 countries were turned away empty handed.

High- and low-tech solutions

In an effort to alleviate some of this deficit, the Gates Foundation has committed 300 million dollars in six grants that span the value chain. These include investments in science and technology, farm management practices, farmer productivity, and market access as well as the data and policy environment to support the Foundation's work. The grants are intended to support about 5 ½ million farm families in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

"We believe innovative solutions can come from both high-tech and low-tech," said Raikes. "On the high-tech end, submergent genes are allowing rice crops to survive periods of flooding up to 15 days. In areas of rice farming prone to flooding, this can save entire crops traditionally wiped out by such weather disasters."

Photo credit IRRI/Ariel Javellana

The sub1gene seeds are now being used by 400,000 farmers and are on track to be used by 20 million rice farmers by 2017. On the low-tech end, the Gates Foundation is providing $2 triple layer bags to farmers to reduce crop loss from pests; an affordable solution that has increased average income per farmer by $150/year.

"We primarily support conventional breeding, but we also support biotechnology breeding. In some cases we think that breeders in Africa and South Asia will want to take advantage of the modern tools we use here in our country to provide better choices for their farmers," explained Raikes.

Reasons for optimism

After years of diminished support, US Agricultural Development assistance to sub-Saharan Africa has gone from about 650 million in 2005 to about 1.5 billion in 2009. In developing countries, the Comprehensive Agricultural Development Program (CADP) in Africa has challenged countries to dedicate 10% of their national budgets to agriculture with the goal of improving annual agricultural growth by 6%. 20 countries have signed on to the CADP compacts, and 10 countries are exceeding the 6% growth target. Finally, since 1990, 1.3 billion people worldwide have lifted themselves out of poverty primarily through improvements in agricultural productivity.

Raikes pointed to Ghana as a success story. Since 1990, casaba production, an important staple food for poor smallholder farmers, has increased fivefold. Tomato production increased six fold. The cocoa sector has been revived and hunger has been cut by 75%.

"The key to success in Ghana was a combination of getting the right developing country policy with the right macroeconomic reform, the right institutional reform, smart public investment, and an overall good policy environment," said Raikes.

Supporting good policy is an important part of the Foundation's food security strategy, and was a strong motivation behind its funding of FSE's Global Food Policy and Food Security Symposium series.

"We see this symposium series as an opportunity to gather policy leaders who will bring new ideas of what will be effective policy approaches and effective economic environments in the countries we care a lot about, in particular sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia," said Raikes.

Raikes concluded his remarks by reminding everyone that the key to improving food security globally is making sure women, who make up at least 70% of the farm labor population, are included in the equation.

Greg Page: Balancing the race to caloric sufficiency with rural sociology

As the largest global agricultural firm, Cargill has an influential role to play in the world of food and agriculture. Cargill is a major supplier of food and crops and a provider of farmer services, inputs, and market access.

Photo credit: Olaf Hammelburg

Together with the Gates Foundation, Cargill has reached out and trained 200,000 cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Cameroon. One tribe and one small village at a time the company has helped improve food safety, quality maintenance, and storage; benefiting the farmers, Cargill, and customers further down the supply chain. Cargill has also assisted, through financing and product purchasing, 265,000 farmers in Benin, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Can the world feed itself?

A billion people lack sufficient caloric intake on a daily basis. In sub-Saharan Africa, 38% of all children are chronically malnourished, largely the result of inadequate agricultural productivity. While nine of the ten countries that have the highest prevalence of malnourishment are in sub-Saharan Africa, the two countries with the largest absolute number of malnourished people are India and China.

"This points to the difficulty of this problem," said Page. "India exports corn and soybean protein and China has 2.5 trillion dollars of hard currency reserves. These issues aren't necessarily of ability to feed people, but a willingness and commitment to do so."

Can the world feed itself? Yes, said Page.

When you break down the number of calories needed per malnourished person per day and convert that to tons of whole grains required to extinguish that hunger you get 30 million tons; 1/6 the amount of grain we converted to fuel globally last year. In the U.S. alone, 40% of our corn goes to ethanol.

"It isn't an issue of caloric famine-it is an issue of economic famine," stated Page. "In other words, this is not a food supply problem, but rather the lack of purchasing power to pay for a diet. An adequate price must be assured to reward the farmer for his efforts and to provide enough money that she can do it again the following year."

Rural sociology premium

What we face is the need to keep smallholders on the farm-despite the fact that they may not be the low-cost producer of foodstuffs-in order to avoid a rural population migration that would be unsustainable. As a result, the challenge the world faces is who is going to pay that rural sociology premium? If it costs more to raise crops on small farms is that burden going to be borne by the urban poor or is there going to be an alternative funding mechanism that allows smallholders to succeed?

Photo credit: Cargill

What is the survival price for a smallholder farmer? Page explained that if you wanted a family of four on a farm in sub-Saharan Africa to receive an income commensurate with the average per capita income of the urban population, you would come up with a price near $400 a ton.

"To put this in context, the highest price for maize that has ever been reached here in the United States is about $275 a ton," said Page. "This rural sociology premium to sustain smallholders is not an insignificant amount of money. How do we achieve fairness between the revenue received by the rural smallholder and the price borne by the urban consumer?"

State of disequilibrium - complacency to crisis

Today we are experiencing incredible price volatility where commodity prices are in a continuous state of disequilibrium. Very small changes in production have outsized impacts on price. This is in contrast to the last two and a half decades when the world operated with fairly robust stocks due to crop subsidies in the United States and Western Europe.

"This period of subsidization was when the western world probably did more harm to sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia than any other period in history," said Page. "We refused to allow price to signal to western farmers to produce less. As a result, the world price of grains fell far below the ability of any smallholder to compete. We then shipped those surpluses to developing countries, which then failed to invest in their agriculture for decades."

Today we are lurching from complacency to crisis. The ability of information and market speculation to be transmitted rapidly is affecting purchasing decisions of thousands to millions of consumers. Rising fuel prices, export restrictions, increasing demand for crops for biofuels, and unpredictable weather have all contributed to higher prices. Some of the drivers of price, however, are good things, such as the increase in per capita income and the capacity of more people to have a more dense and nutritious diet.

"Interestingly, the upside of the ethanol and biofuels program is that it brought prices back to a sufficiency that reinvigorated investment in agriculture," noted Page. "On one level I think a very good argument could be made that the biofuels program brought the world further from famine than it ever had been because of the price."

Critical food security factors

Page concluded by summarizing the elements that Cargill believes are critically important to increase food security. The first is the ability to understand the tradeoffs between a fast path to caloric sufficiency and the needs of rural sociology. Second, that crops be grown in the right soil, with the right technology, and relying on free trade so we can harvest competitive advantage to its fullest.

Another critical factor is rural property rights. Smallholders must have the ability to own the land, have access to it, and transfer it to future generations if you want a farmer to reinvest in his farm, said Page.

"Smallholders in developing countries need some degree of revenue certainty and access to a reliable market if we expect them to do what their countries really need them to do, which is raise productivity," explained Page. "Today they are often forced to sell at harvest, often below the cost of production, and lack the storage capabilities and capital to provide crops sufficiently and continuously."

Open, trust-based markets also play a key role in ensuring food security. Governments need to support trade. When Russia, Ukraine, and Argentina turned to embargos as a way to protect domestic food prices open markets were jeopardized and price volatility increased. Finally, there are very important roles for the world's governments in the creation of infrastructure that is vital to provide access to markets.

"I believe fully and completely in the world's capacity to harvest photosynthesis to feed every single person and to do it at prices that can be borne by all," concluded Page.

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Marshall Burke
Marshall Burke
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The recent run-up in global food prices is wreaking well-documented havoc throughout the developing world. As prices for major food staples have doubled or tripled over the past 12–18 months, food riots have broken out in more than a dozen countries, and the president of the World Bank has suggested that the rise in food prices will push 100 million people below the poverty line, undoing decades of economic growth almost overnight. FSE’s Peter Timmer calculates that high rice prices alone could cause the premature death of 10 million people in Asia. It is difficult to imagine an issue of more pressing global importance today.

Ongoing FSE research is focusing on which agricultural adaptations should be prioritized, for what crops, and in what locations.Getting prices down out of the stratosphere of course involves understanding what got them there in the first place. And while there is much disagreement over the primacy of different factors, most analysis seems to agree on three important contributors. The first is the recent expansion of biofuels production in the United States and the European Union, which has diverted corn and other grains from traditional feed and food markets into the production of fuel. Turning grain into fuel has been made increasingly profitable by the high and rising price of oil — the second factor in rising food prices — which, in addition to increasing demand for petroleum alternatives, has raised the production costs of farmers, raising transport costs and increasing the price of farm inputs like diesel and fertilizer. Finally, the agricultural and trade policies of various governments around the world have added to the problem, particularly as the nervous governments of a few key Asian rice exporters have attempted to stabilize domestic food supplies by restricting exports, helping send rice prices through the roof.

As these factors have come together in recent months, underwritten by longer-run trends of rising incomes and food demand in the developing world, many analysts have reached for the appealing metaphor of the “perfect storm,” invoking a situation in which everything that could have gone wrong did. But are things really as bad as they might have been?

Perhaps not. The recent spike in food prices saw only a half-hearted contribution from one of the main culprits in past short-run price swings: weather. A bad weather year that harms production in important producing regions often sends prices soaring. One of the best examples is an extreme el Nino event of the sort that occurs roughly once a decade, during which drought cripples rice production throughout much of Southeast Asia. Earlier work by FSE researchers showed that global rice prices can rise 50 percent or more as a result of extreme el Nino events.

The recent food price spikes were certainly not without influence from the weather. For instance, the much-cited long-run drought in Australia — traditionally a large wheat exporter — certainly has put upward pressure on global wheat prices, and there were modest weather-related declines in yield in other parts of the world (such as Russia and Ukraine). On the whole, however, supply disruptions over the past few years have been minor, and favorable weather is expected to result in record harvests for many large food- and feedproducing nations in coming months. But agricultural markets have hardly responded to this good news and prices remain at or near all time highs.

What then might a perfect storm actually look like? Add the effects of climate change to the current mix of biofuels, high oil prices, and trade restrictions, and the recent rise in food prices could be a small measure of things to come. Research is expanding rapidly in the field of climate change impacts, and researchers at FSE are at the forefront of understanding the implications of climate change for humanity’s ability to feed itself. The conventional wisdom has long been that a modest amount of climate change could actually be beneficial for global agriculture, with warming temperatures perhaps lengthening the growing season and expanding the areas in which we can grow crops. But recent work by researchers at FSE and others suggests that climate change could hurt agriculture immediately and, in some places, severely.

The rise in food prices will push 100 million people below the poverty line, undoing decades of economic growth almost overnight. High rice prices alone could cause the premature death of 10 million people in Asia.In a paper published in the January issue of the journal Science, an FSE research team led by David Lobell examined the likely effects of climate change on agriculture throughout the developing world. Combining data from a suite of climate models that simulate future changes in rainfall and precipitation with a host of historical data on climate and agricultural production, Lobell and colleagues found that by 2030 the production of staple crops in some of the poorest parts of sub- Saharan Africa could decline by 30 percent or more in the absence of adaptation, with somewhat smaller declines predicted for much of South and Southeast Asia. Production declines of this magnitude represent monumental declines in welfare for some of the poorest people on earth, the same populations currently being buffeted by high food prices.

Unfortunately, new evidence also questions the ability of higher latitude countries such as the United States to cover the production shortfalls in the developing world. Again contrary to perceived wisdom, this new work shows that climate change could immediately harm agriculture in this country and other large exporting regions, further constraining global supply. Such a climate-induced supply shock, in the context of the recent developments on the demand side for food, could give us a true perfect storm for high food prices. Recent price spikes might only pale in comparison.

Given the imminence and magnitude of the production decline possible and the attendant possibilities for rising food prices and hunger throughout the developing world, FSE researchers are turning from predicting impacts to assessing adaptation options. In particular, ongoing research is focusing on which agricultural adaptations should be prioritized, for what crops, and in what locations. To that end, FSE researchers recently received a $350,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation — one of the most important funders of agricultural research — to help the foundation prioritize agricultural investments in sub-Saharan Africa in the face of climate change. With the potentially severe impacts of climate change already on our doorstep, there is little time to lose.

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