World food security. Climate change. Bioenergy. Oil prices.
There are some weighty issues on agriculture’s table right now. Will we be up to the challenge — and to the responsibility?
Last week, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization Conference met in Rome. High level diplomats from around the world debated the issues surrounding food security worldwide.
The United States didn’t go empty-handed. Our nation pledged $5 billion over the next two years for immediate relief efforts. That’s a lot of money, but the people of the United States have always stepped up to the plate when needed. In fact, the U.S. provides more than one-half of all the food disaster relief around the world, and has for years.
The immediate needs are real, but so are the long-term needs. Speaking from Rome June 5, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer told reporters “there’s a long-term effort here to increase productivity, to increase yields.”
The world’s population continues to increase, Schafer continued, and they’re eating more food.
“And if we are going to meet that demand for food in the future, we in the United States have to teach the rest of the world how to increase yields, how to manage fertilizer, how to do water management,” Schafer said.
Because, he added, “unless the rest of the world starts matching the United States’ yield increases, people are going to go hungry.”
World food security goes far beyond the farm. Many countries have poor or no refrigeration or distribution systems. Roads are impassible much of the year. Storage is nonexistent. In other words, infrastructure development is as critical as agricultural progress. Aid should point in that direction, too.
But go back to Schafer’s words about increasing world yields, or production. Biotechnology is a tool — along with agronomy and crop nutrient education, integrated pest management and a host of other tools — that can make a difference.
Will leaders reconsider their resistance to biotechnology in the face of a starving people? Perhaps it’s time.
Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the U.N., declared food output needs to increase by 50 percent by 2030. To meet that goal, we need a new Green Revolution. We need greater commitments — by all countries — to funding agricultural research.
Agriculture’s share of development aid has fallen from nearly 20 percent in the 1970s to just 3.5 percent in 2004, according to the World Bank. Aid to agriculture is not a glamorous investment, but it is a vital one.
The differences of each country, the corruption in various regimes, the trade barriers that hinder progress make the task ahead seem insurmountable. But it is not.
Necessity is the mother of all invention.