Global Agriculture and the American Farmer

Reviewing Global Agriculture and the American Farmer: Opportunities for U.S. Leadership

Global Agriculture and the American Farmer is a must-read for anyone interested in American agriculture and its global reach. It highlights the central problem of American agriculture policy: where subsidies and other forms of support to the American farmer are – in most instances – in opposition to the development and foreign aid objectives of the American government, which serve to promote long-run agricultural transformation in poor countries.

As the U.S. Congress starts discussions on a new Farm Bill next year, it is important for all those who care about budget deficits, domestic food security and a world free of poverty to consider the analysis and recommendations provided here.

The author, Kim Elliott, is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and is a recognized expert on agriculture and trade policies. In this book, Ms. Elliott builds on her previous work, Delivering on Doha: Farm Trade and the Poor, and uses a more comprehensive lens that goes beyond discussions around trade and agriculture.

The book begins with an overview of the new development agenda, followed by an overview of trade and biofuel policies, farm subsidies, and even adds a unique element of antibiotic use in the livestock sector and its impact on health.

By using Europe as a comparison case, the book provides a comparative perspective on U.S. policies in terms of relative improvement or lack thereof: for instance, while American farmers receive less protection and subsidies compared to European farmers, E.U. policy has been steadier in its more ‘market’ oriented reform direction, while various U.S. Farm Bills have been responsive to special interests and there has been a much more volatile orientation toward subsidy reform.

The importance of emerging markets, particularly China and Brazil/Indonesia, when it comes to international impact of domestic policy in areas like farm subsidies (for China) and biofuels (for Brazil and Indonesia) shows that international rules designed for a bygone era need to be reformed and new players need to be engaged proactively where they are responsible stakeholders. With populism on the rise in the West, as embodied in the Brexit results and the U.S. Presidential elections, progress on this front, even incremental, would be remarkable.

We found the chapter on antibiotic use and the livestock sector, and its impact on human health, and the annex on how biofuel policy led to an increase in palm oil demand, and the potential for greater carbon emissions and climate change, refreshing additions. These are topics not otherwise addressed elsewhere in similar analyses, at least insofar as we are aware and this book definitely opens opportunities for new directions of cross-sectoral research.

The final section has some bold recommendations on how one can improve the various dimensions of American agriculture policy. Even if these recommendations cannot be implemented in full, they serve as a good starting point for policy reform discussions, particularly in the new Farm Bill debates.

Ms. Elliott could have provided a more detailed discussion around food aid reform and the general long-term agricultural development efforts of the U.S. government and their international impact. In her defense, she does address these topics briefly, particularly food aid reform building on the work of Barrett and others, including Vincent Smith at the American Enterprise Institute. We believe the time is ripe for reform of American food aid, which will likely be less controversial than some other aspects of a new Farm Bill – say subsidy reform or changes to the SNAP program – and there is an emerging influential, bipartisan consensus on the issue, backed by evidence. The International Affair Forum is engaged in this activity already and hopes others will take up the cause, bearing in mind lessons of past reform efforts around food aid reform, and more generally U.S. Farm Bill advocacy.

The Center for Global Development has spearheaded work on the quality of foreign aid (Quality of Official Development Assistance, QuODA) with the Brookings Institution, and Ms. Ellliott pioneered the application of that approach in the agriculture sector. We believe this book may have benefited from a discussion on how long-term U.S. aid to the agriculture sector could be delivered in a more effective way.

All in all, as we began, Global Agriculture and the American Farmer is a definite must-read and is a timely contribution, given the imminent Farm Bill debates. We hope that legislators will take the steps to seize the opportunities of U.S. leadership identified in the book and its recommendations.

Additional links:

Congressional Research Service, ‘What is the Farm Bill?’: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22131.pdf

Elliott et al, ‘Assessing the Quality of Agricultural ODA’: https://www.cgdev.org/publication/assessing-quality-aid-agriculture

Foreign Affairs, ‘U.S. Food Aid’s Costly Problem’: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-11-01/us-food-aids-costly-problem

This post is authored by M Patel and cross-linked here and at the International Affairs Forum: www.ia-forum.org

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