Several conclusions follow from the foregoing analysis:
• Poverty and the high population growth that attends it are inimical to food security and environmental protection. The favorable news is that the rather simple, straightforward standard model offers a proven economic policy prescription for any country to have the means to be food secure while addressing environmental problems such as global warming. The unfavorable news is that seemingly intractable political, institutional, and cultural barriers have precluded implementation of that model in poor countries.
• Exuberance that standard model policies raise income is dampened by the fact that environmental Kuznets curves show that carbon emissions and other environmental "bads" increase up to $15,000 to $20,000 of per capita income. Higher per capita income levels are then associated with an improved environment. Technology is reducing that turnaround income threshold, and policies to develop and adopt improved technology such as cleaner, affordable energy will continue to lower that threshold.
• Poor countries cannot afford to subsidize farmers to build organic matter. Hence, it will be important to find or to develop complementarities between crop and livestock profitability on the one hand, and environmental and food security on the other hand. Opportunities for such complementarities need to be exploited, as in the case of no tillage in Ohio.
• The Ohio study suggests that some practices used to sequester carbon forego no farm income and hence are "free." However, the scope to profitably store carbon in cropland is limited. Beyond no tillage, farming practices to sequester carbon are expensive in that they sacrifice considerable farm profits. Sequestration in forests, energy conservation through carbon taxes, and other measures offer more promise.
• High-yield agriculture contributes to the environment by concentrating crop production on "safe" land, and leaving environmentally sensitive land to trees and grasses that sequester more carbon while providing recreation, wildlife protection, and biodiversity.
• Although research results from this study revealed that little to no policy intervention is needed to induce farmers to sequester modest amounts of carbon in northern Ohio, the sequestration process can be quickened at low public and private cost through technology development and diffusion programs. Greater public outlays for such efforts promise high payoff. Massive carbon sequestration in cropland appears to be prohibitively expensive. However, modest sequestration is free with no tillage and many farmers operate close to the margin. Thus, small payments could tip the scale of profitability from conventional to no-tillage or other carbon-sequestering practices. Conservation compliance policies currently are in disarray, but the public has much latent potential to obtain more conservation tillage and other environmental protection in return for the billions of dollars distributed to support farm income each year in the United States and European Union.
• Research is critical to enhance now-limiting complementarities among crop yields, profits, and carbon sequestration. Research to increase crop yields so that more land can be freed for carbon-sequestering forests and grazing rather than crops will be financed largely by countries that have prospered by following the standard model.
Was this article helpful?