NEW YORK, February 20, 2009 – The global food crisis continues to be one of the most imperative issues facing not only developing economies in Africa and Asia, but across all nations. Food security instability threatens the livelihood of over a billion people worldwide, and the search for durable solutions to this problem has led many to look toward another "Green Revolution" in agriculture production for answers. In a conversation moderated by Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, a diverse panel of experts presented several sides of this ongoing debate.
The primary point of contention among the panel centered on the role of technological innovation and genetically modified crops to increase crop yields, in contrast to conventional methods of production. Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist, Food & Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), was a strong proponent of agro-ecological approaches, conventional methods, and organic farming, lauding "low external input approaches that are already being shown to be very productive."
Both Robert Zeigler, director general, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Vice President and Public Policy and Sustainability Lead at Monsanto Kevin Eblen argued that technology can also make invaluable contributions to productivity. Zeigler did point out that IRRI has taken on a more integrated approach involving both sides, however, stating, "Certainly we have to keep sustainability in mind, but we can’t just dismiss productivity…we’ve got to be extremely creative in applying the tools of science and technology to the problems."
Significant issues were raised regarding the implications of decreased public investment in agriculture production, and the importance of finding the right balance between the interests of the public and private sectors. Pricing and access of agricultural inputs and intellectual property, and the implications the privatization of these inputs may have for farmers, were viewed as cause for concern, with one fear being that the intellectual property issues surrounding new findings could potentially stifle growth in public sector efforts.
On the issues of climate change and deforestation in relation to future agricultural expansion, the panel agreed on the importance of "freezing our footprint," though opinions varied on the best way to achieve those goals. Members of the audience brought up the significance of women in the food crisis debate, as well as improved communication and education of farmers in order to maintain sustainability of any of the proposed solutions. The panel was in agreement that food scarcity worldwide is a multifaceted problem that will only be solved with a multifaceted approach.
Reported by Kyle Carroll