We need all of the puzzle pieces

Luigi over at Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog brought up a really great point in a recent post, the Bourne Ultimatum, about the National Geographic article The Global Food Crisis: The End of Plenty, a point that just begs to be repeated.Man Walking in Field With Puzzle Piece, 2007 by Josh Cornett

As is typical of Nat Geo, the journalism is excellent (although a bit jumpy in this global story), and doesn’t shy away from telling readers from the start that increasing global meat consumption means we will run out of grain soon.

The first point the author fails to address is that we wouldn’t have such a run on grain if meat consumption per capita were reduced (such as by increasing cost through reduction of subsidies or implementation of taxes), but I suppose even Nat Geo readers don’t want to hear such pragmatism.

The second point the author fails to address (and the one Luigi writes about) in the text is that we need solutions (plural), plenty of them.

Sustainable farming methods are certainly key, but we will also need marker assisted selection, genetic engineering, agricultural biodiversity, integrated pest management, local food production, grain storage, seed vaults, agricultural education and extension… there is no single solution. All of these and more are valuable pieces of of a puzzle that might just reveal food security for all. Tossing aside any of the pieces reduces the chance that we actually solve the puzzle.

This idea is described briefly in the illustration New Green Revolution – breeding (including genetic engineering), sustainable farming, and smart irrigation are all pieces. However, the main text of the illustration still poses the issue as a debate rather than as a potential collaboration. We won’t get anywhere if we let ideologues keep butting heads.

On page 12 of the article a perfect collaboration waiting to happen is ignored: one non-profit has a farmer increase yield with hybrid seed and fertilizer, another non-profit has a farmer increase yield with a legume rotation, but there is no discussion of what could happen if hybrid maize were included in a legume rotation. Why aren’t these non-profits collaborating? Instead they use the farmers as pawns in a sick battle for what tech is “best”.

Written by Anastasia Bodnar

Anastasia Bodnar is a science communicator and science policy expert with a PhD in plant genetics and sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University. Anastasia has had various risk analysis roles in US government and military service. She serves as BFI's Director of Policy and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog.

2 comments

  1. Thanks for picking up on this. The example in your final paragraph is terrific; hybrid maize with a legume rotation would be a good experiment. So would a reselected OP maize with different types of soil treatment.

  2. I do know that one of the issues preventing this kind of crossover research at universities is the funding. Not that there isn’t the money, but that the funding often stipulates what exactly the research can be conducted on, and in the case of organic agriculture – anything that doesn’t fit the rules is out of the question. It would be seen as spending the money on the wrong kind of agriculture.

    I’m in total agreement with your conclusion. People need to realize that some of the either-or dilemmas in agriculture are false dilemmas, and that some combination of the choices being given may be better than either one.

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