What is hunger?

Economist Vincent Smith to discuss world hunger and the policy process at MSU provost’s lecture

By Carmen Price/for Montana Living
BOZEMAN — More people than ever are hungry around the world.

Vincent Smith

With an unprecedented number of people around the world in need of emergency food aid, the right reforms to the forthcoming 2018 farm bill could help U.S. aid reach millions more people at no additional cost to taxpayers, Vincent Smith, an agricultural economist at Montana State University, said.

“The U.S. is the world’s largest donor of humanitarian aid, accounting for one third of the global emergency food aid spending,” Smith said. “As more frequent conflict and natural disaster crises leave millions of people struggling to survive, policy reforms to enable our humanitarian assistance are as important as ever.”

Smith will discuss “Food Aid and the Farm Bill: The Role of Economics and the Policy Process” during the year’s final Provost’s Distinguished Lecturer Series on April 17 in the Museum of the Rockies’ Hager Auditorium. The lecture begins at 7 p.m. with a reception to follow at 8 p.m.

Smith, an economics professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics and co-director of MSU’s Initiative for Regulation and Applied Economics, has testified before congressional committees and serves as a consultant to the International Institute for Agricultural Risk Management, a nonprofit that supports the development of crop insurance for developing countries and provides training, planning and research capability for developed countries expanding their work in agricultural risk management.


Smith’s talk will be based in part on a book chapter he co-authored last year, “U.S. Agricultural Policy: Impacts on Domestic and International Food Security,” and a paper he co-authored based on reforming food aid cargo preference that’s under review with the journal of Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.


The United States food aid system is crucial to the global fight against hunger and famine, reaching millions of people each year, nearly half of the billions spent goes to the shipment of food rather than feeding the hungry, Smith said. 


“One of the most exciting things for an economist is to be doing work that is relevant to substantive policy issues,” said Smith, a leading expert in agricultural economics. “The goal of my work is to inform policymakers. Sometimes it seems clear where changes can and should be made from an economic efficiency and economic redistribution perspective. But other times the issues are more nuanced.”


Smith’s research—spanning 40 years, 30 spent as a faculty member at MSU—has helped to establish that while the U.S. provides between two and five times more funding to the United Nations’ World Food Program than the next largest donor, the aid’s effectiveness is hampered by decades-old rules that restrict where food aid commodities are sourced and how they are transported to recipient countries.


“Over 50 percent of the billions spent on food aid goes to the shipment of food and administration expenses,” he said. “Further, mandating almost all food sourcing in the United States and shipping it on U.S. flagged ships adds three or four months to the time the aid takes to get to its destination.”


As the 2014 farm bill is set to expire this year, new proposed legislation would eliminate food sourcing and cargo preference requirements, changes that could save the government $350 million a year or 30 percent of the total food aid budget, Smith said.


“If these reforms were to be implemented, research findings show that the food aid program could help four to 10 million more children and families across the globe annually without additional cost to taxpayers,” he said.


While the U.S. food aid program is important for humanitarian reasons, Smith noted that it’s also a key component of U.S. strategic behavior in international relations and trade negotiations.


Although food aid has been Smith’s focus for just the past five years, agricultural economics and policy issues have shaped his life’s work. His research is focused in the areas of microeconomics, agricultural policy analysis and international trade. He is the author of 10 books and edited volumes, 14 book chapters and more than 220 journal and other articles. His work has been featured and cited in publications such as The Economist, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.


Smith’s interest in economics dates back to the eighth grade, when he attended a prominent grammar school in his hometown of Leeds, England.


“A new economics course was being offered, the first of its kind in my city,” Smith said. “I was told the course would look at issues of unemployment and inflation. I was intrigued, thinking, ‘This course is going to tell me about things that matter for society.’ It was also a way to escape from a woodworking class.”


Smith said the course laid the foundation for his passion for economics.


“The excitement of seeing the world through the lens of economic analysis is hard to beat for me,” he said. “To seek answers to questions being asked about regional, national and global issues is important work.”


His research on food aid and the farm bill, he said, has been some of the most important work of his career in terms of human implication and its far-reaching impact.


“My work on food aid is important because of the impact of policy change on so many desperately poor people in crisis from around the world,” Smith said.


Before coming to MSU in 1988, Smith received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Manchester and his doctorate from North Carolina State University.


His contributions to agricultural economics and the economics of agricultural insurance have been recognized nationally through multiple awards for outstanding research and education programs. In 2008, he became a distinguished scholar of the Western Agricultural Economics Association and in 2011 he received the USDA Bruce Gardner Award for his outstanding contributions to the economic analysis of agricultural policy.


Smith, along with co-director and economics professor Wendy Stock, secured a five-year, $5.76 million grant in 2016 from the Charles Koch Foundation to expand research in the areas of regulation and policy. The Initiative for Regulation and Applied Economic Analysis, housed in the MSU Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics, provides funding and support to faculty and students from across MSU to conduct research focused on the impact of regulations and government policies on society, from agriculture and natural resources to health care and public safety.


For more information, contact the MSU Office of the Provost at 406-994-4371 or provost@montana.edu.




This story is available on the Web at: http://www.montana.edu/news/17610


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