We'll have to learn to produce as much food in the next four decades as we have since the beginning of civilization.
Gebisa Ejeta's lecture at the University of Washington's Food and Environment series this week was a sobering reminder of the hunger crisis. With only five years between the United Nation's 2015 deadline for "eradicating extreme poverty and hunger" and the current 925 million people fighting hunger daily, the task seems daunting.
With an ever expanding population added to the millions already experiencing hunger, how can individuals and governments feed everyone in the future?
Smart strategies will be the key. Ejeta, the 2009 World Food Prize Laureate and professor of Agronomy at Purdue University, offered that reconsidering our current food production systems and technological innovations will lower the hunger levels. He pointed out that currently half of the world's food goes to waste, and better distribution of food will help reduce the hunger levels dramatically.
According to the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), this waste stems from losses during harvest, the amount spent on animal feed, and losses during distribution and in homes. In fact, far more is spent on feed than is redeemed in meat and dairy products.
In particular, though, Ejeta favored improving technology that creates greater yields.
This is congruent with his research. He received the World Food Prize for his work with breeding a drought-tolerant, parasite-resistant variety of sorghum, a staple crop in parts of Africa, South Asia, and Central America.
However, Grist reporter Ashley Braun notes that he declined to give cutting-edge research in organic farming practices the attention they deserve (read her coverage of the lecture here).
Whatever the method, though, more efficient, sustainable farming practices could be a vital strategy to improving food production and distribution in areas with large hunger populations.
- Purdue's Gebisa Ejeta on the vexing task of feeding a growing population (Grist)
- We Can End Poverty 2015 (The United Nations)
- Saving Water: From Field to Fork (The Stockholm International Water Institute)
- Food: Eating Your Environment (University of Washington)
Survey Finds That GM Crops Are Not Economically Viable
The Journal of Science just published the first large scale economic analysis of genetically modified (GM) crops. According to their data, farmers who grew conventional corn earned more money over the 14-year study than farmers who grew GM corn.
The GM corn known as Bt corn is modified with a gene that fights the corn borer moth, a pest which has terrorized the midwest's corn crop since its introduction to the US from Europe in 1917. If a corn borer lays eggs on the corn, the larvae dies within two days.
It was widely believed that the GM corn would save farmers money by eliminating the pest that kills the corn, which in turn would allow for larger harvests. However, the study finds that the costs of the GM technology fees are so expensive that it is more economically viable to lose a large portion of the farmer's crop than pay the technology fee.
Other factors may be at play, as well. Since the corn borer-killing GM corn was introduced in 1996, the amount of European corn borers has significantly declined. In fact, Bt corn's resistance to corn borers and other insects is so effective that Bt corn can be found in 63% of all US corn acres.
Although this GM crop has limited the number of borers, it has also raised concerns that borers may become resistant to Bt corn. Add this to worries about the unstudied impact of GM corn on human consumption and the environment and Bt corn may not be the superhero that it seems.
For better or for worse, the market may have the last say in the GM corn debate. If Bt corn does not create a profit for farmers, it may disappear altogether from American fields.
- It pays not to cultivate GM crops, survey finds (MinnPost)
- GBenefits of Bt (University of Minnesota)
It's National School Lunch Week!
Due to rethinking the role of food in schools in the face of pressures from 'competitive foods' and a constant slew of budget cuts, the National School Lunch Program has undergone many changes over the last few years. But even with all of its ups and downs, the National School Food Program is an important part of teaching kids how to eat well and provides vital resources to underprivileged children.
To celebrate the National School Food Program's successes, the USDA is hosting a number of activities this week to promote advances and the benefits of the program.
First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative will award schools that show improvement in child wellness with cash prizes that range from $500 - $2000. It will also host a Recipes for Healthy Kids competition to develop nutritious, 'kid-approved' recipes for schools.
The USDA also celebrates the Obama Administration's inclusion of the National School Breakfast Program as "a down payment in battling hunger and food insecurity."
This week the Center for Ecoliteracy has submitted a useful guide about making improved school food programs successful. According to Marion Nestle of Food Politics, its discussion of practical matters like methods, management, staff training, and marketing makes it a good starting guide to improving school food programs.
Earth Eats has been covering the National School Lunch Program updates over the year. Click below to read some recent National School Lunch Program articles:
- Janet Poppendieck: School Food in America Today
- Senate Agriculture Committee Moves To Improve School Lunches
- The Fight For Better School Lunches Continues
Happy National School Lunch Week!
- USDA Highlights Efforts to Improve Child Nutrition During National School Lunch Week (United States Department of Agriculture)
- It's National School Lunch Week: here's how to feed kids better (Food Politics)
- School Lunch: What's On Your Tray? (School Nutrition)