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Global food crisis

Alain de Janvry
Professor of agricultural and resource economics and adjunct professor of public policy
Office: (510) 642-3348
Email: alain@are.berkeley.edu
Media Relations contact: Sarah Yang, (510) 643-7741 or scyang@berkeley.edu

Expertise: De Janvry is an authority on poverty analysis, rural development, technological innovations in agriculture and quantitative analysis of development policies. He is co-author of the fall 2007 World Development Report for the World Bank. The report says that greater investment in agriculture in developing economies is vital to the welfare of 600 million rural poor, mostly in Asia. De Janvry warns that the global demand for food is expected to double within the next 50 years, while the natural resources that sustain agriculture will become increasingly scarce, degraded and vulnerable to the impact of climatic changes.

Raj Patel
Visiting scholar at the Center for African Studies
Contact: The best way to reach Patel is through publisher Valerie Merians at vm@mhpbooks.com, (718) 722-9204 (office) or (917) 208-3924 (cell).
Media Relations contact: Yasmin Anwar, (510) 643-7944 or yanwar@berkeley.edu

Expertise: Patel is the author of the just-released book, "Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System." He says that the current food crisis is deeper than it appears to be and "is a perfect storm of events" to which high oil prices, increased meat consumption, biofuels, bad harvests and financial speculation have all contributed. Patel has served as a policy analyst with Food First and worked for the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations.

In the short term, he says, it's important to boost the purchasing power of the world's poor. A bit further out, agriculture needs to be more sustainable, diverse and robust, Patel says. "The way to do this, as an international panel of over 400 experts recently found, is through sustainable, sophisticated agro-ecological kinds of technology," he says. "We need to be embracing these technologies and social and economic policies that provide a food system that's more resilient, varied and sustainable than the one that currently is starving over 800 million people."

Michael Pollan
Knight Professor of Journalism at the Graduate School of Journalism
Media Relations contact: Kathleen Maclay, (510) 643-5651 or kmaclay@berkeley.edu

Expertise: Pollan, author of "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" (2008) and "The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Search for a Perfect Meal in a Fast Food World" (2006), is credited with heightening awareness in the United States and elsewhere about the many facets of food production.  He will teach a course, "Following the Food Chain," in fall 2008.

In a commentary for Newsweek magazine (May 19, 2008), Pollan wrote: "The worldwide crisis over food prices is the direct result of the decision, made by the Bush Administration in 2006, to begin feeding large quantities of American corn to American automobiles, in the form of ethanol. This fateful decision led to a run-up in corn prices, which in turn led farmers to plant more corn and less soy and wheat — leading to the surge in the price for all grains." Pollan says that the world's agricultural lands comprise a precious and finite resource that should be used to grow food for people, not for cars or cattle.

Brian Wright
Professor of agricultural and resource economics
Phone: (510) 642-9213
Email: wright@are.berkeley.edu
Media Relations contact: Sarah Yang, (510) 643-7741 or scyang@berkeley.edu

Expertise: Wright's research interests include the economics of markets for storable commodities, such as grains and petroleum, as well as speculation and its impact on commodity market stabilization and agricultural policy. "The jump in food prices worldwide is not surprising given the lack of attention by international funding organizations to the necessary long-term investment in research to increase yields of agricultural crops," says Wright. "At the same time, governments have paid less attention to managing emergency food stocks to counteract critical shortages in agricultural production. We should be thinking about strategic grain reserves for less developed countries the way we now think about strategic petroleum reserves."

Wright adds that with the increased demand for biofuels putting added pressure on crops, governments should reconsider subsidies for corn ethanol during times of concern for food security.

David Zilberman
George W. and Elsie M. Robinson Chair in Food and Agricultural Resources Economics
Phone: (510) 642-6570
Cell: (510) 290-9515
Email: zilber@are.berkeley.edu
Media Relations contact: Sarah Yang, (510) 643-7741 or scyang@berkeley.edu

Expertise: Zilberman's research interests are agricultural and nutritional policy, economics of technological change, economics of natural resources and micro-economic theory. He says the current food crisis is a classic example of supply and demand. He notes that the productivity of crops has not been able to keep pace with the growing demand for food, especially in China and India where per capita income has increased, as well as with the increased demand for biofuels.

Zilberman says the use of genetically modified crops could result in a 5 to 10 percent increase in yield for wheat and rice and should be explored more fully. "We have wonderful technologies sitting on the shelf or not getting developed because of excessive caution over the use of genetically modified crops," he says. 

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