Thursday, May 6, 2010

Modern Ag Can Feed The World

Attention Whole Foods Shoppers
Stop obsessing about arugula. Your "sustainable" mantra -- organic, local, and slow -- is no recipe for saving the world's hungry millions.
BY ROBERT PAARLBERG MAY/JUNE 2010

From Whole Foods recyclable cloth bags to Michelle Obama's organic White House garden, modern eco-foodies are full of good intentions. We want to save the planet. Help local farmers. Fight climate change -- and childhood obesity, too. But though it's certainly a good thing to be thinking about global welfare while chopping our certified organic onions, the hope that we can help others by changing our shopping and eating habits is being wildly oversold to Western consumers. Food has become an elite preoccupation in the West, ironically, just as the most effective ways to address hunger in poor countries have fallen out of fashion.

Helping the world's poor feed themselves is no longer the rallying cry it once was. Food may be today's cause célèbre, but in the pampered West, that means trendy causes like making food "sustainable" -- in other words, organic, local, and slow. Appealing as that might sound, it is the wrong recipe for helping those who need it the most. Even our understanding of the global food problem is wrong these days, driven too much by the single issue of international prices. In April 2008, when the cost of rice for export had tripled in just six months and wheat reached its highest price in 28 years, a New York Times editorial branded this a "World Food Crisis." World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned that high food prices would be particularly damaging in poor countries, where "there is no margin for survival." Now that international rice prices are down 40 percent from their peak and wheat prices have fallen by more than half, we too quickly conclude that the crisis is over. Yet 850 million people in poor countries were chronically undernourished before the 2008 price spike, and the number is even larger now, thanks in part to last year's global recession. This is the real food crisis we face.

What's so tragic about this is that we know from experience how to fix the problem. Wherever the rural poor have gained access to improved roads, modern seeds, less expensive fertilizer, electrical power, and better schools and clinics, their productivity and their income have increased. But recent efforts to deliver such essentials have been undercut by deeply misguided (if sometimes well-meaning) advocacy against agricultural modernization and foreign aid.

In Europe and the United States, a new line of thinking has emerged in elite circles that opposes bringing improved seeds and fertilizers to traditional farmers and opposes linking those farmers more closely to international markets. Influential food writers, advocates, and celebrity restaurant owners are repeating the mantra that "sustainable food" in the future must be organic, local, and slow. But guess what: Rural Africa already has such a system, and it doesn't work. Few smallholder farmers in Africa use any synthetic chemicals, so their food is de facto organic. High transportation costs force them to purchase and sell almost all of their food locally. And food preparation is painfully slow. The result is nothing to celebrate: average income levels of only $1 a day and a one-in-three chance of being malnourished.

If we are going to get serious about solving global hunger, we need to de-romanticize our view of preindustrial food and farming. And that means learning to appreciate the modern, science-intensive, and highly capitalized agricultural system we've developed in the West. Without it, our food would be more expensive and less safe. In other words, a lot like the hunger-plagued rest of the world. Read More

This article does a nice job of highlighting how modern agriculture has the ability to wipe out hunger on this planet. While most of us take our everyday meals for granted, many people on this planet have never enjoyed that luxury. They are still farming the way we did in this country 100 years ago. The scary thing is that we have several people who have made themselves famous by advocating that the best thing the US could do is go back to farming that way. We are fortunate to provide so many choices for our consumers but the mentality that eliminating our technological advances in agriculture is the only way to go will only lead to more hungry people. ~Troy

4 comments:

Jay said...

Just watched "Food Inc." for the first time and as a rancher did not like how it was presented...there is always more to the story than what is portrayed....it is thought provoking, which is what it was suppose to do...like how many people actually die in America from E-Coli in a year out of 300 hundred million? Probably not as many as get hit by a car riding their bike or falling off a ladder...and 75 gallons of oil to bring a steer to the dinner plate??Where do you get a statistic like that? Corn is not a natural food like grass for a cow??Corn is a grass and cattle do well grazing it...maybe too much grain does cause some problems just like too much pie at one time might not be good for humans,so should we throw out pie altogether?Misinformation needs to be addressed..

Mary said...

I'm all for the farmers and ranchers, I'm surrounded by them where I live in the mid-west. My husband even works for one of the biggest ranches in our area. But our support of local, organic foods is not a fist in the face of farmers, not at all. It's not safe to eat untested GM seeds. So many tests have been done on animals that have proven w/o a doubt that diets rich in gmo corn and soybeans result in infertility (which is hugely on the rise in the USA--coincidence?) among other things. I'm not saying it's the farmer's fault, but rather Monsanto and the gov't and the FDA. Third world countries will be ruined if they start using Monsantos patented seed. They can't afford it. Plus, they count on saving their seeds from year to year for the next year's crop. That's not allowed with patented seeds. So if their neighbor is using Monsanto's stuff, and it cross-pollinates with theirs, there goes their future. Another thing regarding our world hunger crisis, is that a big percentage of the corn produced in the USA is not edible for human consumption except that it feeds the animals we eat, or goes into processed foods as high fructose corn syrup.

We all need to be aware of both sides of the issue. I came here searching for thoughts on the KTWU rebuttal to Food, Inc. because I really do want to hear what the other side is thinking. What farmers need to realize, is that an organic farm can make up from 5-10,000 an acre. I know this b/c our neighbor is a CSA farmer, who only has 5 acres, and two of them are devoted to his gardens. The rest of his property raises lamb and poultry. He makes enough to support his family and pay two hired hands. Conventional farming has nowhere near that kind of payback per acre. Corn is even called a welfare crop b/c of all the gov't subsidies. So really, going back to how grandma and grandpa used to do it is sounding better and better to us.

In all due respect, b/c Monsanto isn't God and imo, they are going to kill off the population, not save it. They are behind that big seed vault in Norway...why would they be so concerned with saving heirloom seeds when they own the seed market?

Minnesota Farmer said...

Thanks for doing your part. I'm constantly amazed at how little the public knows and how they will follow around people who don't know what they are talking about. When you want the correct answer, go to the source, not an actor or author who makes money by scaring us with their conspiracy theories.

Anonymous said...

"World Hunger" has many causes, not all of which have to do with Agriculture.

Often in poor countries food is used as a way of controling the population, people are starved as a means of control.

Also, I watched a documentary about a month ago in regards to the negative impacts of "Ethanol" production. According to the documentary many growers switched to corn or sugar cane for ethanol production in South America because they could make more money than growing the normal food crops. The result was a lack of food in some areas.

Another negative impact was poor farmers cutting back rainforest to plant more crops for ethanol production.

World Hunger can be more properly addressed when the people involved decide that they want to research the real causes and come up with non-politically driven solutions.

To often politics gets in the way of doing the right things at the right times.

California Organic Farmer