Monday, December 5, 2011

Report Calls into Question One Motivation for Expanding Mississippi River Locks and Dams

In November, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) revisited the findings of its 1999 report entitled "Feeding the World? The Upper Mississippi River Navigation Project."*  That new report (like its 1999 predecessor) calls into question "agribusiness’ and the Mississippi River navigation industry’s claim that U.S. grain exports 'feed the world.'"  IATP's November report, entitled "Feeding the World? Twelve Years Later, U.S. Grain Exports Are Up, So Too Is Hunger," includes an analysis of changes to the food production-availability dynamic in the twelve years since the original "Feeding the World" report was released, explores how and whether increases in U.S. grain exports during that period have played a role in alleviating world hunger, and assesses what that means for calls to expand the nation's (and Mississippi River Basin's) navigation system.  In particular, the IATP report looks to assess whether increasing the export capacity of the Mississippi River might have significant benefits for global food security, and whether such investments are cost-effective and sustainable from the global perspective.

IATP concludes in the five-page redux that "On the whole, the connection between increased U.S. grain exports and decreased global hunger is just as dubious today as it was in 1999," and that although the mandate for the U.S. to "feed the world" is used as a rationale to promote a variety of initiatives (including the expansion of the Mississippi River Basin navigation lock and dam system), such investments "would be better spent helping small-scale farming flourish around the world" (and, IATP goes on to argue, improving access to food by the world's poor).

Calls for increased investments to upgrade and expand the nation's inland waterway's navigation system also face ever-mounting arguments of an economic nature in today's increasingly-tight fiscal climate.  In fact, the shortfall of funding available to simply maintain, let alone expand upon, the Mississippi River basin's (and nation's) system of locks and dams is becoming progressively more problematic (see the American Society of Civil Engineers' 2009 Inland Waterway's Infrastructure "Report Card" and the sections on infrastructure maintenance and costs in this 2010 Inland Waterways Users Board report to Congress, for example).

You can download and read the entire 2011 "Feeding the World" report here (PDF file).
*Muller, Mark and Levins, Richard. December 1999. Feeding the World? The Upper Mississippi River Navigation Project (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy).  16 pages. (PDF file available here).


  1. Mark, I am writing a book called Going Home With A Cat And A Ghost. It is a fiction in which I have a drug dealer and the main chacter living in Springfield Illinois.
    I came up with the idea that the drug dealer could transport the drugs or stolen cars on barges from New Orleans to, is it Lock and Dam #12 near Hannibal?
    Did you know that Abraham Lincoln navigated a flatboat from New Orleans to New Salem via theMissippi, Missouri and Sangamon Rivers?
    My one question, although I have many, is could that be done, logistically? Has it been done? Is it only grain or are all kinds of commodities transported on the barges?
    I am definetly going to visit the area this summer but I have a publishing goal set before I will get the chance to visit. Thank god for the internet. For that reason I was hoping you could help me with some statistics or float (steer) me in the right direction?
    Thanks. Judy Howard

  2. Hi Judy. That's a good question. The short answer is "yes," all sorts of cargo go down the Mississippi River by barge, and cars could be included in that list. If you just look, for example, at a listing of the cargo types and tonnages that passed through the harbor at Saint Louis, Missouri in these 2009 statistics (Sheet 62 here you can see that the list is quite ubiquitous, and includes (among the long list of products) "Vehicles and Parts." Best of luck with your novel.