David is currently Director of the Trade and Markets Division at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome where he leads work on trade and development issues as well as food and agricultural trade policy. David has previously taught Agricultural Economics at the University of Reading and has published numerous works on agricultural commodity markets, trade and development and was the Editor of the Journal of Agricultural Economics. He has also been a regular consultant for the OECD, World Bank governments and the private sector on international food markets and policy. Supportive of ECON+’s work, David has kindly taken the time to answer some of our questions.
1. What do you find attractive about ECON+?
I see ECON+ as a young professionals’ think-tank that provides young economists with a unique discussion forum to exchange ideas on their work and current economic issues and to stimulate new research and thinking. Personally, I think it is a great initiative and one that the more senior professionals should encourage and support. It shows a lot of commitment and organization on the part of these young people and all can benefit from the fresh thinking and new ideas they can contribute.
2. What do you think are the key economic issues of today? and…
In my own area of concern – food and agriculture – I think that the basic issue is pretty well-known. There are still between 800 and 900 million people in the world hungry and that food production needs to increase by 60-70 percent to feed an expected 9 billion people in 2050. However that needs to be done against increasingly binding resource constraints, especially for water, and climate change so productivity increases have got to be achieved sustainably.
3. In your opinion, what needs to be done to address these?
These are global as well as national issues so there is a need for global as well as national solutions. Getting those productivity increases is also not just about shifting the technology frontier outwards through more R&D, it’s about encouraging the millions of small farmers in developing countries up towards the efficiency frontier by adopting better technology and that in turn requires creating an enabling environment including a supportive policy framework. Agricultural growth based on productivity-enhancing investments and the integration of smallholders into markets not only improves food security but also improves incomes and creates jobs in farming and through strong multiplier effects in the rural sector and in the broader context of structural transformation can be a foundation for growth and development more generally.
4. What role do you think there are for young people in this?
The simple demographics mean that the situation of young people is a key element in the necessary agricultural transformation. In many developing countries rural unemployment rates for young people are unacceptably high and human resource development needs to be a priority to open up opportunities for decent work. It is encouraging to see that one focus of ECON+ is youth employment issues. More generally, improving food security needs innovative solutions and young people can be best placed to contribute fresh thinking and new ideas. However they need to get their ideas into the mainstream so it is important for ECON+ to engage and be recognized in the mainstream policy discussions.
5. What advice would you give to someone in our network wanting to carry our policy work?
Keep a focus on real policy problems, recognize the political as well as the economic aspects of policy debates, and get actively engaged in the policy fora whether at international or national or local level.