In a recent study published in the March 2015 edition of The Journal of Economic History, Jason Beddow and Philip Pardey (University of Minnesota, InSTePP) challenge some long-standing notions about the past and future evolution of crop production by taking explicit account of agriculture’s geographically-shifting footprint.
When analyzing crop yields, economists have long emphasized commercially-marketed and managed inputs, such as fertilizer, machinery, irrigation, and crop genetics, without giving as much consideration to spatially-explicit policy, biological and environmental conditions such as soil type, sunlight, rainfall, temperature, pests, and diseases. By so doing, they risk misattributing sources of growth (to inputs) and overestimating the effects of technological advances and climate change.
Beddow and Pardey’s new insight was that common economic indexes could be adapted to assess the output consequences of shifting the location of crop production. They applied these spatial indexes to analyze US corn production data for 1879 to 2007, a 128 year period during which there was a notable north-westerly movement in where corn was produced—the average corn plant in 2007 was grown over 400 kilometers northwest of its 1879 ancestor. Strikingly, some 16-21 percent of the increased corn output over the period is attributable to that movement, and, implicitly, the corresponding changes in biology, technology, weather, and economics faced by corn farmers.
InSTePP researchers are now investigating whether similar patterns of movement are evident for other crops and regions. Preliminary results reported by Beddow and Pardey find that more recent movements in the location of sub-Saharan African corn production may have had the opposite effect: decreasing crop output. Notwithstanding, the study raises prospects for future changes in where crops are grown to increase global crop production and mitigate impacts of global climate change.
The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.
The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.
Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days
Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank
Bread Blog, Bread for the World
Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact
Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide
Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute
End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank
Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development
The Global Food Banking Network
Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative
The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development
International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT
ONE Blog, ONE Campaign
One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund
Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute
Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America
Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute
Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability
WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA
There are rumors that U.S. food aid programs could see major changes in the next budget, including converting some of the Food for Peace program into straight cash grants instead of in-kind food assistance.