How Iowa farmers are helping African development

Economist has a good article about the rise of ethanol (plus better diets,and other factors) increasing the price of corn and other food throughout the world. Of course, this is a good thing.

Africa needs one thing: infrastructure. Africa needs a system of roads to transport, police to prevent crime, courts to adjudicate disputes, machinery to amplify the productivity of labor, and rules to guide economic development.

Unfortunately, Africa does not have infrastructure. And the greatest infrastructure-building effort of all time ended in failure, following the bankruptcy of the European states caused by the World Wars.

Fortunately, the increasing cost of food will naturally shift production to Africa, and interested parties will begin to provide the infrastructure Africa needs. Of course the reasons will be largely selfish: the Core needs the roads to transport the food, the police to ensure production of food, the courts to ensure the delivery of food, the machinery to harvest and perhaps mill the food, and the larger rules to make sure all these steps happen smoothly.

But unlike oil, diamonds, or other goods that impact only a small part of a country’s land and workforce, food production is a job for the whole country. The benefits — not just increased income, but increased infrastructure — are felt by half or more of the country’s population, and throughout all arable land.

Mark in Texas points out that corn will give way to other crops as a source for ethanol. Indeed, corn isn’t an end in itself. But the rise of corn-based ethanol in the United States develops the infrastructure to use ethanol: it develops the infrastructure to develop the infrastructure for Africa.

And that’s a good thing.