Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thinking Ahead on World Food Production

Vacation brings its rewards, like lobster rolls, but finding time to think and write when visiting family is a bit difficult.

Before I left town, I wanted to post a link to this August 12 Science Friday podcast:
There's some excellent analysis about world food prices, relative costs of food, climate change and world water supplies in relationship to agriculture ("The competition [for water] is currently taking place in the global grain market." Lester Brown) There's also a reality check about what biotech and can do. And a critique of agro-fuels.

Another interesting note: is the increase in the number of hungry people, still going up, a sign that we will not reach 9 billion humans on the planet, because infant mortality and other hunger-related deaths will go up. Pretty grim.

But I do find it discouraging that Ira Flatow's initial question was posed in terms of biotech vs. charitable donations of synthetic nitrogen, with no consideration of a third alternative, working with nature to improve yields. Notice the way he directs the conversation with Gawain Kripke from Oxfam America toward the end of the conversation, back to N inputs as the biotech alternative. One of the key low tech solutions to global food security is improving storage of staple crops in the developing world, reducing loss to insects, rodents, and damp, something Kripke slides over and Flatow doesn't pick up on. Nobody talks about this much!

This reminds me that I need to find a few papers on the promise of sustainable agriculture for increase in yields in the developing world. A backyard farmer in my congregation who does everything sustainably at home still clings to the fact that we need subsidized mono-crop production ag in the US to feed the rest of the world.

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