Crop research and the world's poor

Tom Milstein
This article from Sunday's New York Times is poorly written and poorly edited, like most Times articles these days, but important nonetheless, for it describes the unnoticed decline of funding for crop research programs.

What a boring topic, you might say.  Quite so, except that 20 or 30 years ago, it wasn't boring at all. Indeed, crop research was celebrated for having wrought the "Green Revolution," a breakthrough in agricultural production of basic foodstuff crops like rice, wheat, and barley, that revolutionized the economies of many of the world's poorest and most populous nations, and brought freedom from famine and endemic malnutrition to millions who previously had endured these horrors as inevitable facts of their lives.

Two passages, in the coyest and most pussyfooting terms, hint at where the missing funds that formerly supported crop research have gone: into the sexy cause of environmentalism.

Additional factors prompted wealthy countries to shift their donations away from agriculture. For instance, advocacy groups criticized some of the environmental problems arising from intensive farming, weakening support for the Green Revolution. [....]
As the world lost its focus on crops, the budgets of some of the centers were cut. At others, the budgets stayed level or even rose, but donors increasingly directed the money toward worthwhile but ancillary projects like environmental research.
Of course, in logic there is no necessary contradiction between sustaining the Green Revolution, and the cause of the environment. But we do not inhabit a world of logic. We inhabit a world of politics. And in this political world, it is an undeniable fact that for many of the environmental/ecology zealots who have managed to elevate their cause to premier status among the world's goody-goodies, the human race is an unfortunate parasitic infection of pristine nature. Big population reductions due to famine a la Malthus, to these people, would not be such a bad thing. Even for the non-zealots, who would never admit to harboring such dark thoughts, it is a difficult thing to sustain equal levels of concern for faceless masses in Asia, Africa, and South America, and the loveable little frogs and fronds of the rain forest.

We've already had a recent taste of what strange "side effects" environmentalism can have, in the ethanol debacle, which has turned much of the world's most productive agricultural land into government-subsidized petrochemical factories, with corresponding giant rises in the wholesale prices of sugar, corn and wheat. Thanks, Al Gore! It appears that the world's poor will soon be experiencing even direr consequences. Does anyone doubt that the world's Al Gores will sashay away from these horrendous scenes of agony --"humanity has brought this upon itself with its gluttonous appetites" - with the same insouciant denial of responsibility that they evince now regarding ethanol's effects?
This article from Sunday's New York Times is poorly written and poorly edited, like most Times articles these days, but important nonetheless, for it describes the unnoticed decline of funding for crop research programs.

What a boring topic, you might say.  Quite so, except that 20 or 30 years ago, it wasn't boring at all. Indeed, crop research was celebrated for having wrought the "Green Revolution," a breakthrough in agricultural production of basic foodstuff crops like rice, wheat, and barley, that revolutionized the economies of many of the world's poorest and most populous nations, and brought freedom from famine and endemic malnutrition to millions who previously had endured these horrors as inevitable facts of their lives.

Two passages, in the coyest and most pussyfooting terms, hint at where the missing funds that formerly supported crop research have gone: into the sexy cause of environmentalism.

Additional factors prompted wealthy countries to shift their donations away from agriculture. For instance, advocacy groups criticized some of the environmental problems arising from intensive farming, weakening support for the Green Revolution. [....]
As the world lost its focus on crops, the budgets of some of the centers were cut. At others, the budgets stayed level or even rose, but donors increasingly directed the money toward worthwhile but ancillary projects like environmental research.
Of course, in logic there is no necessary contradiction between sustaining the Green Revolution, and the cause of the environment. But we do not inhabit a world of logic. We inhabit a world of politics. And in this political world, it is an undeniable fact that for many of the environmental/ecology zealots who have managed to elevate their cause to premier status among the world's goody-goodies, the human race is an unfortunate parasitic infection of pristine nature. Big population reductions due to famine a la Malthus, to these people, would not be such a bad thing. Even for the non-zealots, who would never admit to harboring such dark thoughts, it is a difficult thing to sustain equal levels of concern for faceless masses in Asia, Africa, and South America, and the loveable little frogs and fronds of the rain forest.

We've already had a recent taste of what strange "side effects" environmentalism can have, in the ethanol debacle, which has turned much of the world's most productive agricultural land into government-subsidized petrochemical factories, with corresponding giant rises in the wholesale prices of sugar, corn and wheat. Thanks, Al Gore! It appears that the world's poor will soon be experiencing even direr consequences. Does anyone doubt that the world's Al Gores will sashay away from these horrendous scenes of agony --"humanity has brought this upon itself with its gluttonous appetites" - with the same insouciant denial of responsibility that they evince now regarding ethanol's effects?