As I was driving to work this morning, I heard an interesting story on National Public Radio. It was about how the global food crisis is affecting Afghanistan, and it started predicatably enough with statistics and stories explaining how horrible things are. The price of flour has tripled in the past year and 2.5 million Afghans have been pushed into food insecurity. Afghanistan does not produce enough food to feed its population, and many are now relying on international food aid.
I just had time to think, “Interesting that they don’t produce enough food. They certainly have arable land. After all, they grow lots of poppies!” when the reporter addressed that very point. And here was the first shred of good news I’ve heard in relation to the food crisis. The Afghan Commerce Minister explained that in several provinces, farmers have begun replacing poppy crops with wheat crops. With higher prices and less competition from imports, Afghan farmers can now make a profit from wheat. What’s more, growing poppies is illegal and dangerous, so given a viable alternative, some farmers are happy to make the switch.
My train of thought went on to the broader implications. If higher prices and fewer imports are making wheat farming profitable in Afghanistan, what other countries might experience the same effect? For years developing countries have been unable to compete with cheap commodity crops exported from the United States. In the long term, will the food crisis help that situation? And if more countries grow more staple grains, will it improve global food security? None of this musing is meant to minimize the current crisis. It’s ridiculous that it takes starving people to bring attention and change to the way the world feeds itself, and it doesn’t mean necessary policy changes will be made. But it’s also nice to think that some good might come of the current suffering. So today I’m choosing to dwell on the bits of hope.