Seeking ways to feed a hungry world
Posted: October 28th, 2009 - 11:05am
Source: New York Times
Several letters to the editor in response to, “Experts Worry About Feeding the World as Its Population Grows” (news article, Oct. 22):
Nicole Summers of Evanston, Ill., who recently conducted independent malnutrition policy research in Nicaragua on a Fulbright grant, writes, The international community’s response to the global hunger crisis — to promote increased food production through agricultural innovation — is blind to the political realities that shape the global food security situation. Many countries around the world are able to produce much more food than is necessary to feed their populations, yet their citizens go hungry.
Among many reasons for this, two are particularly pertinent.
First, subsidies of corn and other basic food products in the United States and other developed countries drive down their prices, thereby discouraging production and devastating many agriculture-based economies in the developing world.
Second, the prevalence of foreign ownership of land in developing countries often means that land is used to produce food for export, rather than to feed the local population. Amid agricultural riches, the majority lives as peasants, unable to produce or buy their own food.
This is a political problem that demands a political solution.
Karen Hardee, Vice President for Research, Population Action International, Washington, writes your article cites a population projection that reflects an optimistic assumption about declining fertility. It says that agricultural experts are trying to increase food production to “feed a population expected to grow to 9.1 billion in 40 years.” This population projection assumes that fertility rates will decline in those countries facing food shortages. Yet today, fertility decline in many African countries has stalled and, in some cases, fertility rates have actually increased.
Ensuring access to contraception would reduce the demand for food, while meeting broader development goals and empowering women.
But 200 million women around the world still need contraception but don’t have access, while American funding for international family planning has declined by one third over the last 15 years.
Brian Halweil and Danielle Nierenberg, Senior Researchers, Worldwatch Institute, Washington, write that we agree that more agricultural investment is needed to help the billion people on the planet who are hungry. But solving hunger, particularly in Africa, is not an either-or scenario — either focus on seed breeding, artificial fertilizers and genetically modified crops to feed the world or rely on organic farming practices.
There is overwhelming evidence that a combination of approaches is more effective in terms of productivity, income generation and resilience than any one approach, including using conventional practices paired with agro-ecological approaches.
On heavily depleted soils across Africa, for instance, farmers often use some chemical fertilizer in the short term to take full advantage of composting, nitrogen-fixing crops and other agro-ecological approaches that boost yields over the long term.
Yes, more investment is needed from the international donor community to reduce the number of hungry, but we also need to break out of old ways of thinking that haven’t eliminated hunger in the past.