Paul Collier, author of "The Bottom Billion," challenged participants in the World Agricultural Forum to help defeat three areas of dysfunctional romantic populism standing in the way of feeding the world's hungry people – the ban on genetically modified (GM) crops, U.S. subsidies on biofuels and the mistaken idea that organic peasant farming is a viable way forward.

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Paul Collier speaking at the World Agricultural Forum

Speaking today in St. Louis, Professor Collier said the GM ban started in Europe as ag protectionism and then became aligned with the health labeling concerns and romantic traditionalists there who want to see a return to an organic peasant lifestyle. Anti-American sentiments also played a role, he said.

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Calling Europe's stance "shameful," Professor Collier said Europe's opposition to GM crops was adopted by African nations that feared they would be unable to export to Europe if they did not follow suit.

He also lambasted U.S. biofuels subsidies, which he said are distorting economic decision-making and which are another form of ag protectionism  He suggested that the way forward is a compromise where the U.S. drops biofuels subsidies and the Europeans drop their opposition to GM crops.

Collier said there is a growing role for large commercial organizations in Africa to help feed the hungry. He suggested the model used in Brazilian agriculture as a viable response to the needs. Micro-financing and other small-scale approaches won’t be able to meet the huge needs in the developing countries, he said.