Leaders and experts from around the world discuss food, agriculture, climate change and sustainability – World Food Prize Symposium, Des Moines, Iowa
We’re wrapping up our time here in Des Moines. Today we heard from some of the world’s leading experts and policy makers on solutions to addressing world hunger. Some of the major themes that were echoed throughout the symposium included the need for greater investments in agriculture both on the R & D side and in educating the next generation of agriculture experts; more investments in small-holder farms and infrastructure; better trade policies and regulations; improved access to markets; enhanced knowledge transfer within and between countries and increased public-private partnerships. Below are some quotes and summaries from some of the panelists.
Bill Gates (Founder, Microsoft and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation): “The global effort to help small farmers is endangered by an ideological wedge that threatens to split the movement in two. On one side is a technological approach that increases productivity. On the other side is an environmental approach that promotes sustainability. Productivity or sustainability – they say you have to choose. It’s a false choice, and it’s dangerous for the field. It blocks important advances. It breeds hostility among people who need to work together. And it makes it hard to launch a comprehensive program to help poor farmers. …we need both productivity and sustainability – and there is no reason we can’t have both…”
“The environment also benefits from higher productivity. When productivity is too low, people start farming on grazing land, cutting down forests, using any new acreage they can to grow food. When productivity is high, people can farm on less land…But some people insist on an ideal vision of the environment – divorced from people and their circumstances…Some voices are instantly hostile to any emphasis on productivity. They act as if there is no emergency – even though in the poorest, hungriest places on earth, population is growing faster than productivity, and the climate is changing…Declining yields, at a time of rising population, in a region with millions of poor people, means starvation…”
“We need to take full advantage of these emerging technologies to develop healthy new crop varieties – and we need to make the seeds available to the small farmers who need them.”
Jeffrey Sachs (Director, Earth Institute, Columbia University): Highlighted the case for prioritizing health and nutrition as part of an overall strategy for addressing world hunger. He offered a 10-point plan that included better access to healthy foods worldwide, including in our own country where it’s difficult finding healthy fast foods. His recommendations also included improving nutrition for early childhood development, better and more efficient water use and identifying a permanent venue to discuss the challenges and solutions facing the global population today vis-à-vis hunger and poverty. He suggested that the World Food Prize Foundation serve as that venue. He also added that the planet cannot feed itself with local foods and organic foods.
Hon. Tom Vilsack (Sec. Of Agriculture, USA): Shared Bill Gates sentiment that we need to find out how both productivity and sustainability can be accomplished. There are many technologies that we need to keep an open mind about and we will need to collaborate in order to understand the full suite of solutions that are before us.
H. E. Gerry Ritz (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Canada): We need to work together as part of a global trade community and we need to make sure access to the markets is improved. We also need to put more money in science and innovation and the public sector should support this so we can share our knowledge. Biotechnology is one of the solutions for feeding the world. We can produce enough food and fuel for the world.
H.E. Amin Abaza (Minister of Agriculture, Egypt): Egypt has serious environment and natural resource challenges and these will become greater with climate change. Egypt faces large problems and we will need to invest and use science and technology to meet these challenges. We need worldwide agreement on biotechnology.
Carlos Vazquez Ochoa (Minister-Counselor for Agriculture, Mexico Embassy, Washington, DC): If agriculture is to be an engine of growth, we must recognize that investment in small-scale farms is needed. Agriculture has been vastly under-utilized in development. How do we move into action in the face of climate change, global financial crisis and recession? Work together and intensify efforts to collaborate. Improve better transfer of knowledge. We will need nothing less than another technology revolution, including but not limited to biotechnology.
Kanayo Nwanze (Pres., International Fund for Agricultural Development): Agricultural production is essential for development. Farming is a business. We need to improve market access. We do not need new institutions. We need reformed institutions. Also, women make up 70% of the farmers. We need to be sensitive to the way we develop and implement policies & technologies that take into account the important role of women in development and in agriculture/farming. Africa also needs to see African leaders make a commitment to making changes to helping lift people out of poverty. It’s not just a matter of money; it’s what countries DO with the money and it must be driven by results-based programs. It’s about accountability. It’s not good enough to build hope. We must also have accountability.
This is our final day at the symposium. We’d love to hear your comments about some of the discussions. Please post your comments below.