If the world produces enough calories to feed everyone, why are so many hungry? That’s one of the questions students explored in Professor Amy Damon’s course, Economics of Global Food Problems, where they apply economics to real-world problems. Says Damon, “It’s about global hunger and food insecurity in both developing and developed countries.”
Damon brings deep on-the-ground experience to the course. She has done extensive agricultural development research in Central America and, more recently, won with colleagues a $3 million grant to identify beneficial development policies in the Serengeti. While earning her PhD, she consulted with both the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“We talk about food markets, how we produce food, and how that’s distributed across the world,” says Adam Bauer ’14 (Auburndale, Wis.), who grew up on his family’s farm. “We discuss food sovereignty and how people who don’t have it gain access to food.” The class also met jointly for three weeks with another economics class, Economics of Poverty in the U.S., taught by Professor Karine Moe.
The Global Food course incorporates multiple perspectives. Cross-listed with both environmental and international studies, it considers food problems in a variety of countries and students hear from outside speakers such as economic development consultant Mihir Desai ’90 and genetically modified seed expert Adam Kokotovich, a University of Minnesota graduate student. Macalester’s 2012 International Roundtable, “Feeding the World: Globalization, Food, and Agriculture in the 21st Century,” brought additional experts to campus, including best-selling author Raj Patel and executives from General Mills and biotech firm Syngenta.
“I come from three generations of farmers in Jamaica. My mother is highly invested in the agriculture sector but has problems getting credit, so I was interested in microfinance.”
“It was great to bring what we got from the class to the roundtable and take back from the roundtable things to discuss in class,” says Alexa Simpson ’12. “I come from three generations of farmers in Jamaica. My mother is highly invested in the agriculture sector but has problems getting credit, so I was interested in microfinance.” Simpson, who majored in economics and applied mathematics and statistics, hopes to use research to influence agricultural policy.
Global food students choose a country, study its food problems and explore possible solutions. Bauer chose to study India and “how inefficiencies in the food system create a problem with food sovereignty.” With majors in economics and educational studies, he’s aiming for a job in an agribusiness such as Cargill or Land O’ Lakes. Simpson chose to study Peru and the effectiveness of its agricultural insurance program in helping poor farmers.