Mar 21, 2011

No need for panic on the food production front

The world is almost at the edge. With each passing day, global warming is taking the world closer to a tripping point. There is a looming crisis of sustainability, and equally importantly crisis of feeding the world. So whenever I start reading an article on the emerging food crisis I look forward to something stimulating and sensible enough. I search for some sensible solutions or at least some pointers to take the discussion forward in a meaningful way. But more often than not, I end up utterly disappointed.

Half-way through the article "How we engineered the food crisis" (The Guardian, March 20, 2011), I felt upset. Henry Miller goes on to rant and chant about the virtues of GM crops saying that GM technology provides a tool in the hands of plant breeders to make crops do spectacular new things. I thought he would probably end there, but no he goes to the extent of quoting the GM lobbyist Nina Fedoroff who is now the advisor to Hillary Clinton on GM crops. In essence, the article makes a strong plea to do everything wrong the world can do when it comes to agriculture.

I moved on to the comments section. I was overwhelmed by strong reactions to the article. Reader after reader felt outraged, and came down heavily on the writer. It is there that I learnt that Henry Miller is an employee of the Hoover Institute, which is funded among others by ADM. One letter (with a pseudo name) that caught my eye, and which I would like to share with you, says it all and so correctly:

"Any article talking about food, and whether there is enough grown, or population size, and how many people is too much, that does not mention how much food is grown right now (in the world), how many calories per person of food is grown in the world how much food is projected to be grown over the next few years, is useless and disingenuous. It is notable that the people who argue for more growth of food, or less population, NEVER ever want to address this basic issue."

Yes, that is the catch. There is no shortage of food in the world. We already produce food for 11.5 billion people. In 2050, the world is only expected to have 9 billion people. Which means there is nothing to panic. Even with our present production levels, we can still feed the population by the turn of this century. In terms of calories, although the FAO underestimates global hunger by deliberately lowering the per capita calories consumption norms to 1770 kcal, what is available today is enough to meet the per capita requirement of 4600 kcal.

Panic is in reality being created by the GM industry. They need to sell their unwanted and risky technology, and there are a whole lot of food experts/writers who are willing to oblige these companies. Ministers, bureaucrats, economists and agricultural scientists willingly join the chorus. But you as a reader do not have to fall in the trap. You need to know the facts. You can stand up and question.

Don't forget. The challenge today is how to equitably distribute the abundant food that the world produces. For a population of 6.7 billion on this planet, what we produce is enough to feed double this population. The problem is that one part of the world eats more and the other half is left hungry. No one wants to bridge this gap between the over-fed and the under-fed. Your voice can make the difference.

If you still feel like reading Henry Miller's article, here it is:


Anonymous said...

Sir, you mention that "There is no shortage of food in the world. We already produce food for 11.5 billion people."
My doubt/question is, how much of this food produced today is based on the GM technology? And if we take a step back to the traditional methods, will there still be enough food production as you mention to match the population growth?
Another alarming factor being the depleting number of the traditional farming community, especially in India.
Can things still be considered under control?

killing Mother said...

Most cultures historically have done pretty well feeding themselves with traditional, local agricultural practices. As you note, there is plenty of food in the world. It is just not getting to the places that need it. Why? As people are dislocated from their lands, as is currently happening in places like India when corporate agriculture moves in and takes over, they lose the ability to fend for themselves. The WTO sees this as progress. Someone who once lived happily on a subsistence farm didn't make much money but had enough to eat. As a slum-dweller he might make more $, but is probably malnourished and not having a very high quality of life. We don't need to feed the world. The world can feed itself if we would just leave it alone.

Devinder Sharma said...

GM crops cover only 3 % of the cultivable area across the globe. It is not even a drop in the ocean. As you rightly mentioned what we need is to encourage traditional, natural and holistic farming methods to bring some sanity to the global environment.