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Nov 10, 2009

Reuters - The Fight Over the Future of Food

Dr. Bino Teme studies sorghum in Mali
Photo courtesy of "Face of the Green
Revolution" AGRA
On 10 November 2009 Reuters published an article comparing European farming methods such as those of an Italian farmer that rejects modern farming techniques and modern agricultural techniques including gene modified (GM) seeds from companies such as Monsanto. 

The article notes, "[e]verybody wants to end hunger, but just how to do so is a divisive question that pits environmentalists against anti-poverty campaigners, big business against consumers and rich countries against poor."

"The food fight takes place at a time when experts on both sides agree on one thing -- the number of empty bellies around the world will only grow unless there is major intervention now."

The article includes a review of phase one of the Green Revolution.
"The last time the world faced such dire predictions of famine was before the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, when countries like India and China transformed their agricultural systems to become self-sufficient in food. They did so by harnessing plant-breeding technology to raise yields on rice, wheat and other staple crops.

To be sure, the Green Revolution had its downsides -- environmental damage, to name one. In India, for example, water tables are drying up and the soil has been degraded by pesticide and fertilizers. The movement also contributed to the rise of big commercial farms at the expense of small holders, fueling resentment from its early days at what critics see as the "corporatization" of food.

But millions of people were saved from starvation, and the movement's architect, Norman Borlaug, received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize."
The article also addresses concerns about climate change and how this will impact future food security.
"IFPRI, part of a global network of agricultural research centers, said last month lower yields due to climate change would cut "calorie availability" for the average consumer in a developing country in 2050 by 7 percent, compared with 2000.

Higher temperatures reduce crop yields while encouraging pests and plant diseases. For almost all crops, South Asia would experience the largest declines in yields. IFPRI said rice output in the region would be 14 percent lower than if there were no climate change."
The article also notes that a second green revolution will face a strong counterinsurgency

  • India, which benefited so profoundly from the first Green Revolution is wary of pesticides and more fertilizers that deplete the soil.
  • Mexico, home of the first Green Revolution faces the dilemma of balancing consumer fears with the need to grow more food.
  • Opposition to genetic modification of seeds has long been strongest in Europe. Tabloids called GM food "Frakenfood."
  • Opposition by environmentalists is growing in the United States
  • Africa presents the greatest challenge to feed the hungry and to increase productivity
Lastly the article addresses the issue of funding.  Where is the money for the $83 billion that the FAO states is needed to feed a global population of 9.1 billion in 2050?
  • Public funds for agriculture have "plunged 58 percent in real terms from 1980 to 2005, dropping from 17 percent of total aid to 3.8 percent over that period."  The FAO estimates it is currently at 5 percent.
  •  The food crisis of 2008 led the G8 to "promise to spend $20 billion over three years to help small, subsistence farmers improve their productivity."  Part of these funds come from U.S. President Barack Obama $3.5 billion hunger and food security initiative.
 For more see: Parsons, Claudia, Russell Blinch and Svetlana Kovalyova.  "The Fight Over the Future of Food," Reuters, 10 November 2009.

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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