Student - March 6, 2008

Veerman: food prices will stay high

‘My farming sons are very happy,’ said Professor Cees Veerman, referring to the current high food prices during a lecture organised by the Agricultural Economics and Rural Policy group, on Tuesday 4 March in Forum. According to the former minister of agriculture and president of Wageningen UR, the world can expect food prices to remain high.

High prices are good for farmers, ‘and that’s why there’s also no justification for EU compensation for farmers to make up for low prices,’ said the former minister. Veerman is now Professor of Sustainable rural development in European perspective at the Agricultural Economics and Rural Policy group. His opinion differs from that of his colleague Dr Niek Koning who, like other Wageningen experts, argued in Resource 17 that current high food prices are only temporary.

Veerman spoke about the increased demand for food, climate change, water shortages and the energy crisis. These all influence the price of food, which as a result remains high, he argued. Demand for meat and milk is rising as a result of increased prosperity, as is demand for biofuels. ‘A US president can only be elected if he or she can guarantee Americans’ mobility. Thirty percent of the maize harvest there already goes towards biofuels.’ Climate change is putting pressure on agricultural production, through drought, land shortage and the increase in pests and disease. The productivity of African agriculture will have declined by fifteen percent in 2080.

After presenting a series of figures, the former minister concluded that crucial steps must be taken in the next five years if demand for food is to be met in the future. In the longer term, Veerman is setting his sights on new technologies, ‘but in the short term, food for Africans is going to go towards biofuels’. Veerman’s most important recommendation – and it was not the first time he made it – is to invest in research and education, especially in basic agricultural science. And he continued his tradition of praise of Wageningen UR: ‘Cruyff and Wageningen, that’s what people abroad know from the Netherlands.’

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