Friday, April 25, 2014

Our Task

In the next 30 to 40 years, we must make significant progress toward solving one of the world’s grand challenges by providing a safe, affordable, nutritious food supply for a growing population. It is estimated the earth will have 9 billion people by the year 2050. Even today, almost 1 billion of the 7 billion inhabitants are malnourished. Global climate change could make the situation even more dire.

Specifically, food production will have to increase 60 percent to 100 percent as population grows and people in developing countries consume more meat and dairy products. (It takes a lot of acres to rear life-stock.)

It is likely that new acres won’t be as productive, so we’ll need to raise yields on the land we have. Otherwise, there won’t be very much wild habitat left for future generations.

A recent study by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) says, “As experts have been suspecting for a while, people’s diets around the world have become very similar and in the past 50 years the world has come to rely increasingly on just a few crops for most of its food supplies.”   While rice remains a top cereal, people in several countries are increasingly moving from rice to a wheat and meat-based diet due to changing lifestyles and economic growth. According to the CIAT study, many local crops that used to be important in Africa or Asia such as sorghum, millet, rye, sweet potato, cassava, and yam are being eaten less and less;the same could be said of rice as is seen in Japan, South Korea and several other Asian countries. Some major crops like soybeans and corn are mostly used for animal feed and energy production, a trend blamed on urbanization and economic development.  

Globalized food poses several health risks, but the real danger of relying upon just a few crops increases the risk of food crises. Similar to the concept of portfolio diversification in finance, a diversified agriculture is more resilient to major threats like drought, insect pests, and diseases, all expected to worsen with climate change. And can we rule out a food crisis due to war, or war due to a food crisis?

Prior to globalization, the risk was a local crop failure could endanger the lives of local people and trade was much more cumbersome and expensive.  Now, relatively speaking, many consumers have the world at their fingertips but the vulnerability of the food system has become global.  We take it for granted that we can go order a pizza because the restaurant assumes it can buy flour, and the flour mill is betting on a good wheat crop…on the other side of the world.

The socialists task is to feed the world and  protect the planet

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