Stories tagged: R&D

Vatican Endorses Use of Biotech for African Farmers

1916676488_c4a0b5427eA recent story from the Catholic News Service discusses how the Vatican has endorsed the idea of African farmers using biotechnology as a means of bringing themselves out of poverty.

Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, former secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that new technologies “that can stimulate and sustain African farmers” must be prioritised as research imperatives.

Father Gonzalo Miranda, professor of bioethics at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University said:

[I]f the data shows that biotechnology can offer great advantages in the development of Africa, it is a moral obligation to permit these countries to do their own experimentation.

In African media, there is also talk of the the potential advantages of using biotechnology in crops. In the Nigerian newspaper Champion, a story was published that endorsed its use:

It is also practically impossible to achieve food security if we insist on remaining on the old conventional pathway of planting and waiting endlessly for harvest yields. Key observers believe that the best way out is in the effective deployment and utilization of gene technology also known as biotechnology.

According to The Daily Telegraph, the number of malnourished people in Africa could treble to 600 million as the world’s population grows by more than one third over the coming decades.

G20 Leaders Warn of Funding and Investment Gaps in Ensuring Long-term Food Security

At the conclusion of their recent summit in Pittsburgh last week, world leaders warned that “sustained funding and targeted investments are urgently needed to improve long-term food security.’

Their final statement includes a series of recommendations related to food security and sustainable farming.  Here are some quotes from the statement itself:

We called on the World Bank to play a leading role in responding to problems whose nature requires globally coordinated action, such as climate change and food security… (#21)

Over four billion people remain undereducated, ill-equipped with capital and technology, and insufficiently integrated into the global economy…. we call on the World Bank to develop a new trust fund to support the new Food Security Initiative for low-income countries announced last summer… (#23)

The World Bank and other multilateral development banks are also critical to our ability to act together to address challenges, such as climate change and food security, which are global in nature and require globally coordinated action… (#24)

The World Bank, working with the regional development banks and other international organizations, should strengthen its focus on food security through enhancements in agricultural productivity and access to technology, and improving access to food… (#24)

The poorest countries have little economic cushion to protect vulnerable populations from calamity, particularly as the financial crisis followed close on the heels of a global spike in food prices… (#34)

Even before the crisis, too many still suffered from hunger and poverty and even more people lack access to energy and finance. Recognizing that the crisis has exacerbated this situation, we pledge cooperation to improve access to food, fuel, and finance for the poor… (#38)

Sustained funding and targeted investments are urgently needed to improve long-term food security. (#39)

Book Review: “Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty”


Two veteran Wall Street Journal reporters, Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, have teamed up to write a book addressing one of the most pressing questions of the 21st-century: global hunger.

The authors ask why hunger persists when the technology and tools already exist to feed the world:

Since the time of the Green Revolution, the world has known how to end famine and tame chronic hunger.  We have the information and tools.  But we haven’t done it.  We explored the heavens.  We wired the world for the Internet…. Yet somehow we haven’t eliminated the most primitive scourge of all.

In the opening chapters, Kilman and Thurow introduce the work of Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Prize-winning plant scientist who died on Saturday at the age of 95.  Back in the 1940s, Borlaug was assigned to a newly launched research centre in Mexico to train Mexican scientists how to boost farm productivity through plant breeding experiments.

Over the next two decades, Borlaug’s research helped boost wheat yields in the research areas almost seven-fold, from 11 bushels per acre in the early 1940s to as much as seventy-five bushels per acre in 1960.  Borlaug then travelled elsewhere in the Americas and across to Asia to demonstrate the potential yields which these new varieties could produce and to convince policymakers and farmers to adopt them to feed their growing populations.  (Apparently, the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ripped up her flower garden to plant the new wheat varieties.)

And thus, the Green Revolution was born.  Demographic projections of mass famine and a population implosion were prevented, and the global supply of food exploded.

Yet around the same time, shifts in global agricultural policy began to shift.  Starting in the early 1980s, newly independent former colonies in Africa and Asia started to see a reversal in the foreign assistance being given to agricultural development (inputs, infrastructure, extension training, and research support).  In addition, the money being targeted at the alleviation of hunger came in the food of foreign-grown food aid shipped into areas of need.

A generation later, in the summer of 2008, the world went through a global food crisis where prices doubled and tripled for many staple foods and global reserve stocks of grain were reduced to dangerously low levels.  Kilman and Thurow argue that the time is right for a broad reinvestment into agriculture, similar to how the United States rallied to support the Marshall Plan for Europe in the aftermath of World War II.

The authors argue that public sentiment is in favour of increased support to feed the hungry, and social and political stability are increasingly under threat from those without sufficient resources to subsist.  They present a range of options, from investment in infrastruture and new seed technologies to policy reforms relating to how national budgets are allocated and how trade regulations are drawn up.

Africa is a particular target as it is seen as “the world’s final frontier of agriculture” where yields are still low and modern agricutural practices are often non-existent.  Coupled with a rapidly increasingly population, African farmers will be expected to double their production by 2030 in order to simply meet their own people’s food demands.  This will be no small feat, and it would require a coordinated, collaborative approach to see it through successfully.

Growing Food for a Growing Population: Part of the “Future of Food” Debate


Andrew Revkin, Environment Reporter at the New York Times, discusses the challenges of increasing future food production, as part of an online debate on the “Future of Food” hosted by Spiked.

Revkin notes the need for another green revolution, the first of which was inspired by the recently deceased Norman Borlaug in the 1950s and 1960s.  Revkin urges readers to pursue a range of possible solutions for advancing agricultural production sustainably:

That revolution could be genetic, it could be technological, it could be energy-related. Whatever it is, the status quo won’t suffice.

The fact that different sectors within the agricultural supply chain still do not work together to deliver innovations and efficiencies is a concern that Farming First has been trying to address since its conception as a multi-disciplinary, mutli-regional coalition of agricultural organisations.  To raise the status quo, Farming First has recognised the need to create a common benchmark (which our 6-point action plan addresses) and to encourage wide collaboration (accomplished through our media outreach, blog, and Twitter account).

Many of the solutions needed to improve global agricultural productivity already exist; they just need to be disseminated down to those who need it most: the world’s farmers.  Revkin sums it up nicely in his article:

many of the problems the world faces in terms of feeding itself are not really questions of science and technology. The circumstances that turn a drought into a famine are often political, economic and infrastructural, so those are the key questions we need to deal with.

Final Adopted Text from CSD-17 Published on the UN Website

An advanced, unedited text of the final recommendations of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development is now available on its website.

Gerda Verburg, Chairperson of the Commission and the Netherlands’ Minister of Agriculture, Nature, and Food Quality, said of the outcome:

Nothing less is needed than a revolution in ideas and a revolution in technologies, supported by a revolution in trade policies and market access and the financial means to implement.

The final plan stressed the central importance of farmers – particularly women farmers and rural communities – to deliver such a paradigmatic shift in the agricultural sector.

According to the final press release issued on the CSD-17  final text, This could be done by

employing science-based approaches and local indigenous knowledge; expanding investment incentives, in particular for small farmers; and encouraging and supporting safge integrated pest management.

Green Rice: Climate-Friendly Rice Strains in Thailand

As a response to methane emission from rice production being flagged as part of the global climate debate, Thailand’s agricultural ministry, as reported in the Bangkok Post, has prioritised its research efforts towards developing climate-friendly rice strains.

Prasert Gosalvitra, Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives’ Rice Department said:

We are developing a number of modern rice strains that will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are generated during rice production.

Traditional rice production practices generate large quantities of methane; a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide.  The Thai ministry is developing strains of rice with smaller food conducting tissues which will assist in reducing greenhouse gas emissions during the photosynthesis process. Additionally, the ministry is researching strains to reduce carbon dioxide during the harvesting process.

Gosalvitra commented that in the future he hopes that this innovation in ‘green-rice’ will help Thai farmers gain access to markets with climate-conscious consumers, notably in the EU.