U.S. grain exports up – but so is world hunger

By John Michaelson, Minnesota News Connection

Agribusiness leaders have been pushing for years to expand the lock and dam system on the Upper Mississippi River, and one of their arguments has been the need to ship more food to the world’s hungry.

Julia Olmstead, senior program associate with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) says in a new report that it’s an honorable goal, but her research indicates that expanding the lock-and-dam system won’t make that happen.

“The idea that U.S. grain farmers, and thereby the grains that are exported down the Mississippi River, contribute to alleviating hunger. … It’s telling us that that is a myth, that that argument doesn’t hold water when you look at the data.”

Olmstead says since her group’s first report in 1999, food production globally has risen to an all-time high, but so has the number of hungry people around the world.

“It’s been 12 years since we looked at this for the first time, and I think it’s remarkable that that myth is still being perpetuated and that the statistics have not changed very much. And you know, I just think it’s time to think critically about how we’re going to address the big issues of global hunger.”

While increased spending on the Upper Mississippi navigational system won’t help feed the malnourished, Olmstead adds that there are other approaches that would be effective.

“Trying to tackle poverty in the rest of the world, knowing that no matter how much grain you put on the market, if you don’t have money to buy it, you’re just not going to get that grain. Also, trying to help people in the rest of the world develop agriculture systems that are sustainable, so that they’re not dependent on imports from other parts of the world.”

Olmstead says the research shows that U.S. grain exports go almost exclusively to wealthy countries, not those struggling with hunger, as was also the case when her group compiled similar data 12 years ago.

See the report, “Feeding the World? Twelve Years Later U.S. Grain Exports Are Up, So Too Is Hunger,” at www.iatp.org.

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