On February 16th, the Food Studies M.A. students had the opportunity of engaging in conversation with Dr. Jean Balié, the current Director General of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Dr. Balié reported on his extensive experience at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. as a policy analyst in support of member countries. Earlier, he worked as Senior Officer in the Department of International Relations of the French Ministry of Agriculture when he was involved in trade negotiations between France and Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific region.
In his discussion with the students, Dr. Jean Balié urged them to recognize the conceptual shift from agriculture policy to food policy and from increased yields to other metrics that will benefit the livelihoods of farmers and consumers in a sustainability perspective. He emphasized that when approaching policy analysis, it is essential to quantify the dimensions and think of solutions outside the box. Dr. Balié underlined the importance of considering externalities, trade-offs and opportunity costs in policy analysis and illustrated these concepts with the work of IRRI on rice production, pricing of water, reducing methane emissions by improving water efficiency measures and alternative methods of growing. Dr. Balié also explained that new approaches are available to transfer the innovation from research centers (like IRRI) to farmers, for example through internet. In this context, the digitalization of agriculture has the potential of being of great benefits to farmers; at the same time, the question will be how to avoid further accentuation the “digital divide”. He concluded his presentation by stressing the state of the current failed food system and posing the question: how will we change it, who will be affected and who will bear the costs?
Emily A. Solomon