A Gujjar child rests against her favourite buffalo on a trek in the Himalayan foothills; the Muslim transhumant Gujjar of northern India as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan are among the estimated one billion people worldwide who depend on livestock for their livelihoods (photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan).
Both the Minnesota Post and Minnesota Public Radio News ran stories last week about global food security–and how to achieve it in the face of an increasing population, expected not to plateau for another 4 decades or so. The event that sparked this media were talks by leaders of three international food research organizations from three continents.
The Minnesota Public Radio News reported on the ‘huge’ global food challenge.
‘The three researchers–Carlos Seré, who leads the International Livestock Research Institute, based in Nairobi, Kenya; Shenggen Fan, of the International Food Policy Research Institute, based in Washington, D;C., and Ruben Echeverria, of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, based in Cali, Colombia–painted the picture pretty simply:
‘In 40 years, when the world’s population is expected to plateau, there will be 9 billion mouths in the world. Given that more than a billion people are considered hungry right now, the assumption is that we’ll need to produce more food, maybe 70 percent more.
‘Making the problem harder are a variety of challenges–water shortages, global warming, rising standards of living in developing countries that will raise demand for food.
‘What came clear from all three of the research directors was that much of the answer will depend on small producers.
‘The world’s food producers are, by and large, small landholders, and they will be the keys to solving hunger shortages, through using better seed and finding better practices. . . .’
The Minnesota Post focused on the need to strengthen the cadre of young people choosing careers in international agricultural development, where they can boost stewardship of global food security, an increasingly complex issue to address.
‘Hang around the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus for some time and you get the feeling you are attending a session of the United Nations’ General Assembly.
‘Over the years, students from almost every country on Earth have joined the “farm” campus’s [University of Minnesota’s] fight against hunger and malnutrition. Like seeds on a global field, those students scattered around the world to squeeze ever more food from the planet’s finite resources. Most prominent was the late Norman Borlaug who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his Green Revolution breakthroughs. But there were legions of others who helped farmers coax more potatoes from Andean fields, rice from Malaysian paddies and milk from Ethiopian goats. Now, though, the university is challenged to fill a vacuum. A generation of distinguished teachers and scientists have retired or died. Meanwhile, farmers will be pressed to feed 2 to 3 billion more people by 2050 with roughly the same amount of land and less water for irrigation.
‘ ”Don’t drop the ball,” Ruben Echeverria pleaded at a food-security symposium on the St. Paul campus Monday. Echeverria, from Uruguay, is a prime example of the university’s reach. During the 1980s, he earned a Ph.D. in agriculture and applied economics on the St. Paul campus. Since then, he has worked on agricultural research policy issues in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Currently, he is director general of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Cali, Colombia. . . .
‘”The innovation needed now is more complex than ever before”, said Carlos Seré, another lecturer at the symposium. He is director general of the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya.
‘Take animal farming. It’s easy to say humans should eat more plants and less animal fat in order to curb greenhouse gases and obesity. But 600 million people around the world count on animal products for their livelihoods — from milk to meat to leather. Most of them are very poor, small-scale farmers,” Seré said.
‘”Nobody has all of the answers,” he said.
‘Here’s the encouraging development: Today’s students embrace the complexity. “They’re not as intensely focused on crops and livestock as were their predecessors on campus”, said Allen Levine, dean of the U of M’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences. Now the interests have spread to related issues , such as the environment and nutrition.
‘”Our student body is switching toward an interest in full-food systems, not just in traditional agricultural practices — in everything from pre-harvest to post-harvest to processing foods,” Levine said. ’The university recently has launched several initiatives in a bid to keep its food-security traditions alive while also tailoring them for the needs of the next generation. . . .
‘There’s no question about the urgency. ’In 2000, world leaders set a goal of cutting in half by 2015 the proportion of people who had suffered from hunger in 1990.
‘The world is nowhere near being on pace to meet that goal, and 29 countries still suffer from “alarming levels of hunger,” said Shenggen Fan, a third speaker at the symposium. He is director general of IFPRI.
‘Meanwhile, new threats never seem to end. Millions more people could go hungry in the next few months because of drought in Russia’s wheat fields, flooding in Pakistan and food-price inflation in China and India, he said.
‘What’s needed is “business as unusual,” Fan said—smart, effective innovation like the world has never seen before.’
Read the whole articles at Minnesota National Public Radio News: Local food, global hunger, 18 October 2010,
Minnesota Post: University of Minnesota launches initiatives that will keep its food-security traditions alive, 20 October 2010.