How the Loss of Property Rights Caused Zimbabwe's Economic Collapse.  From Craig Richardson,  writing at Cato Institute:    "the fertility of the land wasn’t determined just by rainfall or quality of the soil. Although communal lands tended to be in drier areas, many were directly adjacent to commercial farms or in high-rainfall areas. In addition, there were commercial farms in very arid parts of Zimbabwe. Yet in nearly all cases, the communal areas were dry and scorched, whereas the commercial lands were green and lush."

posted May 7, 2010 at 3  p.m.


Genercide.   Where are the missing 100 million girls?   asks the Economist.  

posted March 10, 2 010 at 2 p.m.


Somalia Food Aid Distribution Problems.  New York Times reports that as much as half of donated food is diverted by corruption to politically connected individuals.

posted March 10, 2 010 at 2: p.m.


Poverty in Africa.  Two recent studies indicate that economic growth in Africa has succeeded in reducing poverty.  Alwyn Young of Columbia University concludes in "The African Growth Miracle": 

Measures of real consumption based upon the ownership of durable goods, the quality of housing, the health and mortality of children, the education of youth and the allocation of female time in the household indicate that sub-Saharan living standards have, for the past two decades, been growing in excess of 3 percent per annum, i.e. more than three times the rate indicated in international data sets.

Pinkovskiy and Sala-i-Martin conclude in "African Poverty is Falling -- Much Faster than You Think" :

The conventional wisdom that Africa is not reducing poverty is wrong.... [F]or the period 1970-2006 [, w]e show that: (1) African poverty is falling and is falling rapidly; (2) if present trends continue, the poverty Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people with incomes less than one dollar a day will be achieved on time; (3) the growth spurt that began in 1995 decreased African income inequality instead of increasing it; (4) African poverty reduction is remarkably general: it cannot be explained by a large country or even by a single set of countries possessing some beneficial geographical or historical characteristic.

posted March 7, 2010 10 a.m.


Millenium Village Project.   The New York Times has been carrying a series of blog reports from Kararo, a Millenium Village Project in Ethiopia. 

The Project’s approach toward fertilizer subsidies is a good case in point. In 2005, all fertilizer was given away, leading to a significant increase in food production. Fertilizer subsidies were then progressively rolled back; by last year, only 50% of the cost was covered. For the 2009 growing season, the project tried something new: farmers were given loans for fertilizer, but they are expected to pay back the full cost plus interest when the harvest comes.  For many Koraro farmers, this is a daunting challenge. ... Many farmers... have chosen to scale back their farms, thereby requiring less fertilizer, rather than face enormous debts.

posted February 25, 2010 at 2:50 p.m.


Green Revolution in India.   Two recent articles discuss the Green Revolution in India. 


The Wall Street Journal goes with "Green Revolution in India Wilts as subsidies Backfire."    "India has been providing farmers with heavily subsidized fertilizer for more than three decades. The overuse of one type—urea—is so degrading the soil that yields on some crops are falling.  ...  The government has subsidized other fertilizers besides urea. In budget crunches, subsidies on those fertilizers have been reduced or cut, but urea's subsidy has survived. That's because urea manufacturers form a powerful lobby, and farmers are most heavily reliant on this fertilizer, making it a political hot potato to raise the price."


The New York Times Letter from India opines,  "Agriculture Left to Die at India's Peril."    "Agriculture in this area, and in much of India, is dying. The village economy is in crisis, assailed by migration to the cities, decades of ecological neglect, and the growing unsustainability of farming. ... President Pratibha Patil called for “a second green revolution” to stem spiraling food prices and declining supplies. ... It’s not clear, however, how Ms. Patil’s goal can be achieved. The forces arrayed against Indian farming are formidable; they are part of the country’s great leap toward modernity."


posted February 25, 2010, 2:15 p.m.


GM Tomatoes.  Scientists in India have genetically modified tomatoes so that they can last for 45 days after harvesting.  According to this press report,  "India, the world's second-largest tomato grower, loses 35 to 40 percent of its crop to rotting before the product hits store shelves."  The technique can also be applied to add shelf life to other fruits, including mangoes and bananas.  

posted February 24, 2010 at 8:30 a.m.


A Green Revolution in Africa?  New York Times reports on a controversy over whether or not a Gates Foundation effort to promote agricultural technology in Africa is a good idea or a bad idea.   “The tragedy here is not that Africa hasn’t had a Green Revolution but that the mistakes of the first may be repeated once more, and that one foundation has the power to make the rest of the world bend to its misguided agenda,” say opponents of the effort.  (This quoted from an article in The Nation.)   Support for GM-crops is especially controversial.  Also subsidies for commercial fertilizer, disdained by proponents of organic farming, have been successful in Malawi and other African countries.  "In the Southeast African nation of Malawi, for instance, which as recently as 2004 suffered food shortages that left much of the country near the brink of famine, large new government subsidies for chemical fertilizer have led to bumper crops of corn."

posted February 21, 2010 at 2:30 p.m.


Erlich-Symons bet,  redux.  Julian Symon famously won his bet,  but was it a matter of luck?  For many other periods,  Erlich might have won.    On the other hand,  there's a long run downward trend in commodity prices.

commodity price trend

Both of these items brought to my attention by Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution.