Greg Vincent drolly compares the Indian response to the food crisis as a sandbox fight between children. To be fair, he enlarges on the simile in the original article in the NYT. However, I would offer a different perspective, trying to see the issue from closer to the point of view of 1.1 billion Indian citizens.
First, as I noted below in the comments, for some bizarre reason, biofuel proponents have seized on the emerging consensus view that diversion of land from food/feed crops to fuel is only ONE of the the reasons for skyrocketing food prices to absolve all blame. Bluntly put, they translate "not the only reason" to read "not a reason at all".
Compounding the confusion, most statements I have read simply stop smugly at that conclusion, implying that multiple causes means we cannot and should not do anything about any of them. I suspect ethanol defenders will even demand equal treatment for causes, in itself reminiscent of childhood: "if you can't lower oil prices, you shouldn't stop shifting acres to biofuels".
And [since the links to the original NYT article don't work] you couldn't read this curious coincidence further down which I found important:
Some economists argue that blaming India’s growth is not only unfair, but makes little sense.Hmmm. What new supply/demand factor could have exploded in 2007-8?
Food prices have not been rising continually as developing nations grew, said Ramgopal Agarwala, a former World Bank economist and senior adviser at RIS, a research institute in New Delhi. “They were static until 2006, then in 2007 and 2008 there was a sudden spark,” he said. But India has been growing for the last decade. This is “not last year’s phenomena,” he said. [More]
I have watched as a farm community 300+ times larger than ours struggles with their farm bill while we were loading up ours. The big issue: farm debt relief for millions of producers and whether to cap them for big farmers. It sound familiar until you realize the cap is 5 acres and the amount around $130.
India is working as diligently as its famously bloated and inefficient bureaucracy can to narrow the widening gap between educated workers benefiting from globalization and wretchedly poor farmers laboring to make the transition to modern agriculture. While this occurs, and due to our traditional indifference to this particular part of the world, it is easy to characterize Indian voices as the language of a childhood quarrel.
Except that for those of us with Indian doctors, who depend on Indian graduate students to power our biotech research, and or who have done the math on the the economic power of this emerging giant, the child metaphor falls flat.
Not do I think the CEO of one of our largest HFCS customers would find it amusing. Nor the CEO of the largest US bank. Or even one of ethanol's biggest investors.
The cheapest shot was the trivialization of the food crisis as "kink". It may be a kink where wheat is simply AN ingredient, but I bet it looks a whole lot more serious than a kink when wheat is THE ingredient in your diet.
The first would akin to 19th century Ireland, with poor people primarily eating wheat, and we can get odd effects. We could get such behaviour today with the really poor. In 1985, I happened to be an honoured guest at a hamlet in Western Maharashtra. The lunch they served me was: flat bread made of coarse grain. That's it. There was nothing else, just powdered red chili for flavour. [More from a superb article I linked earlier]A good friend of mine has a son who served in the Peace Corps in a desperately poor country. When he returned home, his son never got over the transition to food in abundance here, and it angered him deeply. My friend tried to understand the enduring resentment his son felt. Most of us simply cannot being to comprehend the effect of profound hunger on lives, and we'd better try to learn.
But my objection does not arise solely from a wishy-washy humanitarian sympathy, although that should suffice. Just as we ignored and condescended to China for decades only to face a future where the Chinese influence touches us often and powerfully, I think India will have a similar effect - and agriculture in the US will not be immune.
Here's a solid example of a reverse "kink" courtesy of those hungry farmers in India: potash prices.
Exports to China by Canpotex and Belarusian Potash will resume in June after a three-month stoppage due to price negotiations. India signed a contract with the two trading companies, which market more than half the world's potash, last month at a record $625 a ton, including freight costs. [More]And if you think gas prices are high now, wait until Tata's $2500 car hits the streets in India.
If we had a few hundred million citizens who face hunger daily, a farmer suicide problem, and one of the fastest growing populations, we might also be upset when global wheat supplies shrink due to corn displacing wheat acres - regardless of the economic reasoning. And if our traditional supplier told us, "It's your own fault for economic progress," I think I would remember that response for a long time. Even if our biofuel argument were sound (which I dispute), respect for the plight of Indian citizens and refraining from unhelpful metaphors cost us little, even when attacked unjustly (in our opinion).
People are power. I am more convinced of this every day. So despite any economic and social prejudices, I suggest discretion in our language - something we superpower citizens may have to brush up on.