Who Eats Rice, Anyway?

In a story that should really be more surprising than it is, the New York Times tells us that agricultural research budgets across the world have declined dramatically in the last few decades—bottoming out in time for this year’s food crisis. Over the last 25 years, donations from the world’s wealthier countries have been halved; until recently, key loans from the World Bank had been cut by roughly three-quarters. In the 1980s, the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, for example, had “five entomologists, or insect experts, overseeing a staff of 200. Now it has one entomologist with a staff of eight.”

Luckily, you know, no one eats rice, so it hardly matters.

Apparently, agriculture scientists have warned of the drop-off in funding for years. But government officials were cocky about the world’s ability to feed itself. Even now the importance of these programs, which breed seeds that tolerate or even excel in local conditions or that fight off sudden infestations, seems unrecognized. As the Times reports, “the United States is in the midst of slashing, by as much as 75 percent, its $59.5 million annual support for a global research network that focuses on improving crops vital to agriculture in poor countries. That network includes the rice institute.”

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