Turning the Tables

Global trends in public agricultural investments

The 20th century witnessed unprecedented growth in agricultural productivity spurred by technological change and predicated on the commitments of governments to invest in agricultural research and development (R&D) and supporting sectors. In developing agricultural areas, spectacular growth occurred most visibly in the locus of the rice- and wheat-based "Green Revolutions" of Asia. Such growth contributed in recent years to a public complacency about the world food supply; in development circles, it was common to hear experts emphasize entitlements to food over constraints to food production. The public was lulled by the fact that "at the end of the 20th century, crop prices were at their lowest point in all recorded history." Even the extraordinarily sharp price hike of 1973 was followed by a downward trend in real prices of bulk commodities. This trend flattened from the late 1980s, and some observers suggested that the long-term decline had ended. It was not until the food price crisis of 2008, however, that public complacency also came to end.

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