On the Crisis at the Horn of Africa

Very interesting op-ed written by a friend of mine and former mentor, Bill Moseley, on the famine at the Horn of Africa.

Since I agree with his general assessment that in this particular case, the political economy and local geography is key in order to understand why we are seeing this tragedy take place, I’d like to offer an additional point of view regarding the agricultural technologies:

First, the traditional technologies he references should not be confused with limiting oneself to methods that only existed prior to the arrival of Europeans amongst that specific ethnic group and locale. Rather, it often contains so-termed traditional method that were tested and ‘imported’ from the outside, including Europe (especially in the case of organic or low-input ag). Although these often times can work, the adoption of them is often times anything but automatic and take a long period of time if they are to provide a relief from the occurrences of famines.

Second, and closely related, the development of another ‘outside-technology’ – drought tolerant varieties – could actually have had a positive impact on yields in these exact situations. As Bill said in a personal communication, the question regarding the positive impact remain in terms of ‘for whom?’ and ‘at what cost?’. I agree that these are key questions to ask, but would stress that the exclusion a priori of technology due to its genetically modified basis is unfortunate and should be reevaluated.

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