World Food Prize Day

Today was the World Food Prize Symposium, where policy makers from around the world meet to discuss world food problems. The prize was started by Norman Borlaug. His took the idea of hybrids from corn production in Iowa (where he grew up), applied them to rice, and effectively ended hunger in Asia. The main topic today was recreating his “Green Revolution” of the 60s in an “Evergreen Revolution” today, with the goal of creating sustainable agriculture in Africa and eliminating hunger in our lifetimes.
Dr. Swaminathan from India spoke about organic farming. In sumary, the ideas of organic farming are good, but they are non-sustainable and will not feed the world. The idea of green farming is to use crop lines that have been responsibly modified in a farm setting with Integrated Pest Management (using biological methods over chemicals, but chemicals when absolutely necessary), and responsible fertilization and crop rotation to avoid depleting the soil. To me, this approach is ideal. Mixing traditional farming methods with state-of-the-art technology is the only way we can feed the world
A great statement made this morning by Sir Gordon Conway was that the greatest accomplishments of our time were achieved by non-violent methods. This worked to stop racism in America and apartheid in South Africa. Why can’t it work for Iraq? Or North Korea? If we poured money into agriculture, self-sustainment, and education (instead of war) then maybe something positive would actually happen! I truly believe in the power of agriculture to empower people in a positive way. Happy people don’t wage wars.
Other people seem to be seeing this idea in the same light, such as Bill and Melinda Gates. Dr. Shaw is their representative on agricultural initiatives, working towards the same goals as the World Food Prize people. Hearing him talk was amazing. Bill Gates may not be perfect, but his organization may singlehandedly eliminate malaria, and is working to do other great things too.
I had to leave right after Dr. Shaw’s talk, drive back to Ames, and run to a talk by Dr. Kathy Swords of Simplot. This company is working on a lot of awesome things that boils down to making genetically modified crops with no foreign DNA. In other words, instead of a gene from a fish in your tomato, it will be a gene from another type of tomato or from a related plant. It’s much less likely to cause allergic reactions in people, and results in no new novel proteins. The result of the modification could be achieved naturally, but it would take decades of breeding instead of a few years of development. The company voluntarily tests all of their crops, making sure that there are no differences from a naturally bred crop. It sounds like they have much more responsible business practices than Monsanto, with less objectionable results. One frustrating part is that I’ve been talking about this idea for at least a year now. I can be satisfied knowing that someone’s doing it.