New Research Training Group “Sustainable Food Systems” approved
The German Research Foundation (DFG) recently approved the new Research Training Group (RTG) “Sustainable Food Systems” at the University of Göttingen for funding. The first Program phase of four-and-a-half years will start in 2021 and will be funded with 5 million Euros. The overall goal of the new RTG is to combine excellent interdisciplinary research and graduate training related to the sustainability of food systems. Director of the new program is Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim from the Göttingen Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development (more details).
Sustainable palm oil? How environmental protection and poverty reduction can be reconciled
Palm oil is often associated with tropical deforestation above all else. However, this is only one side of the story, as Matin Qaim and colleagues from the University of Göttingen and the IPB University Bogor (Indonesia) show in a new review article. The rapid expansion of oil palm has also contributed considerably to economic growth and poverty reduction in local communities, particularly in Asia. The article was published in the Annual Review of Resource Economics. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-resource-110119-024922
New Study on Supermarkets and Child Nutrition in Africa
Undernutrition remains a widespread problem in Africa. At the same time, overweight, obesity, and related chronic diseases are also on the rise. Recent research suggested that the growth of supermarkets contributes to obesity in Africa, because supermarkets tend to sell more processed foods than traditional markets. But previous studies only looked at adults. In a new study, Bethelhem Legesse Debela and coauthors from the University of Goettingen used data from children in Kenya to analyze effects of supermarkets on nutrition. They show that supermarkets are not linked to obesity in children, but that supermarkets instead help reduce child undernutrition and contribute to gains in child height. The positive nutrition effects are channeled through improvements in food variety and dietary diversity. The results were recently published in Global Food Security. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2019.100341
Fairtrade benefits rural workers in Africa, but not the poorest of the poor
A new study from our team has analyzed the effects of Fairtrade certification on poor rural workers in Africa. The results show that Fairtrade improves the situation of employees in agricultural cooperatives, but not of workers in the smallholder farm sector, who are often particularly disadvantaged. The study was published in Nature Sustainability. When consumers of cocoa, coffee and other tropical goods, decide to purchase products with the Fairtrade label, they pay a certain premium, expecting to help improve the socioeconomic conditions in developing countries. We wanted to know whether Fairtrade really benefits poor rural workers in Africa. For the study, we collected representative data from 1000 cocoa farmers and workers in 50 different cooperatives in Cote d’Ivoire. Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa is the largest cocoa producer and exporter worldwide. Previous studies had analyzed the effects of Fairtrade on smallholder farmers, ignoring that these farmers also employ agricultural workers for crop cultivation and harvesting. Workers in the small farm sector constitute a large group. They are often neglected by development initiatives, although they typically belong to the poorest of the poor. Fairtrade requires minimum wages and fair labor conditions for workers and employees in certified value chains. These conditions are met for the employees in cocoa cooperatives. At the cooperative level, Fairtrade requirements are regularly monitored. However, our data show no effects on the livelihoods of farmworkers, even though the farmers themselves benefit from Fairtrade certification. Monitoring the wages and labor conditions on thousands of small farms is costly and therefore rarely done. But it doesn’t work without monitoring. Better solutions have to be found in order to implement the fairness model more comprehensively. (Meemken, E.M., Sellare, J., Kouame, C., Qaim, M., 2019. Effects of Fairtrade on the livelihoods of poor rural workers. Nature Sustainability, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0311-5)
Science Article: New Plant Breeding Technologies for Food Security
In a perspective article published recently in Science, Matin Qaim and an international team of co-authors argue that new plant breeding technologies – such as genome editing – can contribute significantly to food security and sustainable development. Also in the past, plant breeding and other agricultural technologies played an important role for food security, but the resulting high intensity in the use of agrochemicals has caused serious environmental problems as well. Future technologies need to reduce the environmental footprint and make agriculture more resilient to climate stress. Predictions suggest that small farms in Africa and Asia will suffer especially from the effects of climate change. Genome editing can be used to make crop plants more resistant to pests and diseases and more tolerant to drought and heat. This can help to reduce crop losses and chemical pesticide sprays. Methods such as CRISPR/Cas can be used to make precise point mutations without introducing foreign genes. Due to their low costs, these methods can also be employed in previously neglected crops, such as pulses and local vegetables. In the article, the authors show which concrete genome-edited crops could become available within the next five years. But they stress that international cooperation, public support, and efficient science-based regulation will be important to ensure that the poorest countries and the poorest farmers can also benefit.
Matin Qaim honored as AAEA Fellow
Matin Qaim was recently elected Fellow of the American Agricultural & Applied Economics Association (AAEA). This is AAEA’s most prestigious honor for outstanding scientific achievements and continuous contributions to the profession. Qaim is the first German agricultural economist to become AAEA Fellow. He is honored for his seminal work on issues of global food security and sustainable agricultural development, especially his influential research on the economics of genetically modified crops and on agriculture-nutrition linkages. AAEA also recognizes Qaim’s manifold and fruitful international collaborations and his support for young scientists from all over the world. The Fellow recognition will take place during an award ceremony at AAEA’s Annual Meetings in July 2019 in Atlanta, USA (https://www.aaea.org).
Professor Qaim elected member of the National Academy of Sciences (“Leopoldina”)
Professor Matin Qaim was recently elected member of the German National Academy of Sciences “Leopoldina”. The Leopoldina is one of the oldest academies of science in the world. The Academy addresses key issues of particular significance for the future of society from a scientific perspective and independently of economic or political interests. It shares its findings with policymakers and the public at national and international levels. Academy membership is an award for scientists with outstanding academic performance and reputation. Qaim is one of the first agricultural economists ever to become member of the Leopoldina. He is being recognized for his research in the areas of food security and sustainable agricultural and rural development.
Meta-analysis of the association between farm production diversity and nutrition
Undernutrition and low dietary diversity remain big problems in many developing countries. A large proportion of the people affected are smallholder farmers. Hence, it is often assumed that further diversifying small-farm production would be a good strategy to improve nutrition. But the evidence is mixed. In a new paper published in Food Policy, Kibrom Sibhatu and Matin Qaim provide a meta-analysis of available studies. The average effect of farm production diversity on dietary diversity is positive but small. The mean effect of 0.062 implies that farms would have to produce 16 additional crop or livestock species to increase dietary diversity by one food group. The mean effect is somewhat larger in Sub-Saharan Africa than in other regions, but even in Africa farms would have to produce around 9 additional species to increase dietary diversity by one food group. While results may look differently under very specific conditions, there is little evidence to support the assumption that increasing farm production diversity is a highly effective strategy to improve smallholder diets and nutrition in most or all situations. (link to open access article)
Can organic agriculture sustainably feed the world?
Organic agriculture is often perceived as more sustainable than conventional farming. In a recent article published in the Annual Review of Resource Economics, Eva-Marie Meemken and Matin Qaim reviewed the literature from a global perspective. In terms of environmental and climate change effects, the researchers show that organic farming is less polluting than conventional farming when measured per unit of land but not when measured per unit of output. Organic farming, which currently accounts for only1% of global agricultural land, is lower yielding on average. Due to higher knowledge requirements, observed yield gaps might further increase if a larger number of farmers would switch to organic practices. Widespread upscaling of organic agriculture would cause additional loss of natural habitats and also entail output price increases, making food less affordable for poor consumers in developing countries. Meemken and Qaim conclude that organic farming is not the paradigm for sustainable agriculture and food security. But they also suggest that smart combinations of organic and conventional methods could contribute toward sustainable productivity increases in global agriculture.
Eradicating hunger in all its forms
Eradicating hunger in all its forms, including chronic hunger (calorie deficiencies) and hidden hunger (micronutrient deficiencies), requires good understanding of the problem’s magnitude, trends, and determinants. Existing studies measure “hunger” through different proxies that all have their shortcomings. In a new study published in (Golbal Food Security), Theda Gödecke, Alexander Stein, and Matin Qaim have used a more comprehensive metric, Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs), to quantify the burden of hunger and to analyze related trends. While the burden of chronic hunger more than halved since 1990, it remains larger than the burden of hidden hunger. Based on cross-country regressions, the authors show that economic growth was a major determinant of reducing the hunger burden. However, the analysis also reveals that growth and other country-level determinants have larger effects on the burden of chronic hunger than on the burden of hidden hunger. Hence, in addition to general development efforts, targeted micro-level interventions are required to end hunger in all its forms. (link to open access article)
InnoPlanta Science Prize for Klümper and Qaim
Göttingen agricultural economists Dr. Wilhelm Klümper and Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim received the InnoPlanta Science Prize 2015 for their work on the economics of genetically modified crops. The Prize is annually awarded by InnoPlanta for objective and publicly visible research work in the wider area of plant biotechnology. In particular, Klümper and Qaim received the prize for their paper 'A meta-analysis of the impacts of genetically modified crops' that was published in the journal 'PLOS ONE' in 2014. The paper had received international mass media attention. The Prize was awarded on 17 November in Berlin during the InnoPlanta-Forum.
Meta-analysis of the impacts of GM crops
Wilhelm Klümper and Matin Qaim have carried out a meta-analysis of the agronomic and economic impacts of GM crops, covering 147 original studies that were carried out internationally over the last 20 years. On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries. The meta-analysis reveals robust evidence of GM crop benefits. Such evidence may help to gradually increase public trust in this technology. The results were recently published in PLOS ONE. Several large newspapers reported about the results, including The Economist, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and several others.
Genetically Modified Crops and Food Security
Matin Qaim and Shahzad Kouser from the University of Goettingen have shown in a new study that the introduction of genetically modified (GM) cotton has improved the nutrition situation in India, the country with the largest number of undernourished people worldwide. The researchers have used data from over 500 randomly selected small-farm households, which they had surveyed regularly over a 7-year period. The adoption of GM cotton has increased yields and incomes, enabling farm families to afford more and better food. Calorie consumption and dietary quality have improved significantly. By now, more than 90% of all cotton farms in India have switched to GM technology. As a result, food insecurity was reduced by 15-20% among cotton-growing households. The study was published recently in the academic journal “PLOS ONE” (click here for full text open access).
Agricultural Economists on Bt Cotton Impacts in India
The controversy about Bt cotton impacts in India continues. Recently, India’s Committee on Agriculture released a report stating that Bt cotton would not benefit poor farmers. As a reaction, 65 independent agricultural economists and political scientists prepared a statement in which they criticize the Committee’s report as biased and ignorant of the large scientific evidence on Bt cotton benefits for farmers in India. Supporters of this statement include eminent Indian and international scholars in the field of agricultural development and technology evaluation. The statement was sent to the Indian Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture.
The statement can be downloaded here
Josef G. Knoll Science Prize for Elisabeth Fischer
Elisabeth Fischer receives the Josef G. Knoll Science Prize 2012 for her doctoral dissertation titled “Determinants and impacts of smallholder collective action in Kenya”, which she recently completed under the guidance of Prof. Matin Qaim. Using primary data and econometric analyses, Fischer showed in her research that farmer groups can improve access to markets and new technologies, thus contributing to higher household incomes. Yet, she also finds that group structure and other institutional details influence outcomes and gender implications significantly. The Josef G. Knoll Science Prize is awarded every two years by the Fiat Panis Foundation for outstanding research related to hunger and poverty reduction.
Jonas Kathage and Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim publish new paper on GM crop impacts in India
Genetically modified (GM) crops are often criticized, but a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds that at least one such crop—cotton engineered to resist a common insect pest— has significantly raised the living standards of smallholder farm households in India. Jonas Kathage and Matin Qaim from the University of Goettingen conducted surveys between 2002 and 2008 of 533 households in four principal cotton-producing Indian states. The sample included farmers who grew the GM crop, called Bt cotton, and those who did not. The former increased cotton yields and profits by 24% and 50% respectively. The researchers attribute the increases to reduced damage from the cotton bollworm. They further determined that household living standard increased by 18% among Bt cotton farmers once the growers realized that the profit gains are sustainable. The benefits even appear to have increased over time. Since most of the farmers are relatively poor, the gains have made a substantial positive impact on their lives. The findings refute an earlier assertion that GM crop technology would harm smallholder farmers due to low and eroding economic benefits. Since Bt cotton is the only such crop that is already widely grown by smallholder farmers, the study may add to the wider public biotechnology debate.
(link to open access article)
German Development Bank awards prizes to Prof. Qaim and Dr. Rao
Professor Matin Qaim was recently awarded the Prize for Excellence in Applied Development Research 2011 by the German Development Bank (KfW) in cooperation with the German Association of Development Economists. Qaim was honored for his outstanding work on the economic impacts of genetically modified crops in developing countries. In a recent paper he showed that, under favorable conditions, such crops cannot only contribute to higher incomes in the small farm sector, but also to better child nutrition in poverty households. The award ceremony took place on 24 June 2011 in Berlin. During the same ceremony, Dr. Elizaphan James O. Rao was awarded one of the three Prizes for Young Scholars in Applied Development Research, which is also sponsored by KfW. Rao received the prize for his outstanding doctoral dissertation, which he recently completed under the guidance of Prof. Qaim. In his dissertation, Rao analyzes how smallholders in Kenya can benefit from the local expansion of supermarket chains.
Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim awarded with Grand DLG-Prize
On 15 December 2010, Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim was awarded the “Grand International DLG-Prize for Scientific Achievements” of the German Agricultural Society (Deutsche Landwirtschaftsgesellschaft – DLG). The prize was presented by the German Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, Ms. Ilse Aigner, during a ceremonial act in Berlin on the occasion of the 125. anniversary of the foundation of DLG. Professor Qaim received the prize for his outstanding and policy-relevant research contributions on global food security and technological innovation in smallholder agriculture. (Press release in German)
Funding for GlobalFood Program approved by DFG
On November 26, the German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved the Research Training Group (RTG) “GlobalFood” and associated funding for a first phase of 4.5 years. The RTG will start in April 2011. GlobalFood combines excellent research in agricultural and development economics with innovative training concepts for doctoral and postdoctoral researchers. This is a joint initiative between the University of Göttingen and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim is director and speaker of GlobalFood. (www.uni-goettingen.de/globalfood)
Prof. Qaim comments on TV Documentary “Hunger”
On 25 October 2011, the German TV channel ARD showed a documentary with the title “Hunger”, in which certain aspects were reported incorrectly. Prof. Qaim commented on this in a letter to the ARD Program Director, in which he also demands that agricultural scientists should be featured more prominently in media pieces related to the topics of hunger and the role of new agricultural technologies for food security. Qaim’s letter, which is in German language, can be downloaded
Prof. Qaim appointed to the Scientific Advisory Board for Agricultural Policy at the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection (BMELV)
Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim has recently been appointed as member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Agricultural Policy at the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection (BMELV). The Board consists of up to 15 members from different scientific disciplines, who advise the Ministry on strategic issues in the areas of agricultural policy and rural development.
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New Research Training Group “Sustainable Food Systems” approved