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Senior Contributor

World Food Prize starts today: What's it mean to you?

Most of our staff here at Agriculture.com's got our hands full here the next few days, with the World Food Prize in town. It's a whale of an event -- brings folks to town from all around the world. There's a lot going on this year, too, especially with the folks who are getting this year's Prize, 3 folks from agribusiness who pioneered some of the seed genetics we all use today. 

 

It's really unlike any event we cover here, which makes it a fascinating deal, at least for me. If I could sit at a table and have dinner with 3 or 4 figures from throughout history, Norman Borlaug would be first on my list of folks I'd want to include at that table. 

 

When it all comes down to it, we all are in the food business. So, what's the World Food Prize mean to you? 

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Advisor

Re: World Food Prize starts today: What's it mean to you?

Recognition that food and increasing food production is a vitally important endeavor. It is a matter of global importance that we continue this noble profession that strives to end hunger.
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Senior Advisor

Re: World Food Prize starts today: What's it mean to you?

I guess I'm getting old and cynical, but any of these big events seem to me to be in furtherance of some agenda that doesn't necessarily agree with mine.  To me, food security is achieved when farmers respond to the market place and produce what the people are willing to pay for.  Hopefully that is what they need.

Food security to others may mean the people will not starve and riot, or the country next door can't invade them.  So some it may mean that they can get anything they want any time they want it at the local grocery store, while others believe it means they have enough stored away to make it till next harvest.

Many of us grew up when farm families put up most of their own food.  You could look in the cellar in November and have a pretty good idea if y ou had food secruity.  No more.  Most of us farmers are as much hand to mouth as an African peasant in a market place.  About 2-3 days and we'd be hungry.  Would both of us be food insecure?

The emphasis on the World Food Prize seems to be on growing a lot of food.  One notes that reports show a huge amount of food, maybe 1/3 is wasted, spoiled, damaged or otherwise not consumed.  That involves governments, education, infrastructure and the willingness of people to invest in food safety and security.  Starving mouths on TV are often there because of a thug with an AK-47 or a corrupt plitician afraid that if he doesn't feather his own nest he will be overtaken by a rival.

The World Food Prize as a focus for growing more food is laudable but it points out that it may be easier, more rightous and "feel good" to grow more food than it is to permit equitable distribution and knowledgeable use of what is already being grown.  Inside is a banquet table larded with a cornucopia of ediblers.  Outside are the Four Horsemen Of The Apocolypse.

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Honored Advisor

Re: World Food Prize starts today: What's it mean to you?

Jeff, i am afraid food security means much the same to me as most of what Jim has posted. A lot of times, I feel the poor and hungry are exploited as poster child images, to stimulate spending that may or may not ever benefit them, as much as some multinational conglomerate.

Much of food insecurity in this country could be resolved with teaching food prep and nutrition in schools. Money goes much further when you have a few skills.

Waste isn't just what's thrown out unused, it is what we pay someone else to do that we could do for ourselves. A $9 fast-food combo can be built at home for $1 or so, as can many more healthful meals. If a snack bag of chips is $1 and a big, juicy apple is $1, how does the value decision stack up for you?

Most people would starve if they had to cook for themselves now. A generation ago, I would have said " if they had to raise what they eat". The distance between production and consumption grows constantly.

Here is one more abstraction for you :Real food security comes not as much from the vulnerable monoculture of the Green Revolution, as it does from preservation of genetic diversity and embracing why certain strains of grains and other staples evolved in certain climates. If all of a given crop or species of livestock are too closely related, the world could be royally screwed.

We are suffering through the effects of a novel virus in the US swine herd right now, a situation that points out every flaw of planning and execution of the centralized ( some would say industrialized) food supply. There is no telling how bad it will get, and when we will get a handle on it.

I think we desire conformity in foodstuffs - we know what a Pizza Hut pizza will look and taste like, every time, don't we? That craving for predictability may be the biggest bugaboo in world food security.


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Senior Advisor

Re: World Food Prize starts today: What's it mean to you?

Kaye  - Brought some interesting points here   -  Quick  and  convenient  seemed to dominate the mindset for a few decades which seems to be on " reset "  --- have an acquaintance  previously employed with a major fast food chain  ( gold arches) advertising and upper management -always interesting to hear the itinerary of the 5.95 days per week and 16 hour /day work load plus extensive travel all for a $1 happy meal commodity of food security ---

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Senior Contributor

Re: World Food Prize starts today: What's it mean to you?

I've been wandering around all morning and it's really been fascinating. Spoke with a couple folks from India, then a couple folks from Tanzania. One of the gentlemen from India operates his own seed company and is working to get germplasm into parts of Africa and South America. He was really an interesting guy. He made the point that in India -- where there will be 1.5 billion people very soon -- food is available. It's nutrition that's not. He said he's working to bring along conventionally bred seed that has more iron in the seed, for example. Sort of the continuation of the "yellow rice" development. 

 

While this gentleman's words were fascinating, it was more his enthusiasm that was beyond infectious. He was grinning the whole time he was talking. His final point was that you can take a $100 bill, put it in the ground, and it does nothing. But, you can take a single seed, put it in the ground, and it will grow food. Money is needed to make it all happen, sure, but doing the right things with that money is more important. Yeah, that's a pretty cliched point, I'm sure, but in the context of all of the conversations going on at WFP this week, it's pretty cool. 

 

It's a pretty good thing to get a little larger frame of reference like this once in a while. There are an awful lot of interesting folks in the world...

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Honored Advisor

Re: World Food Prize starts today: What's it mean to you?

Jeff, FWIW, I have several acquaintances from India, and they all have very smiley, pleasant personalities. I don't know why...perhaps it is a cultural thing.

The statement you wrote -food is available, but nutrition is not -sounds strikingly familiar, in a nation where people are notoriously overfed, but undernourished...speaking of the good old USA!
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Re: World Food Prize starts today: What's it mean to you?

Your experience highlights one of the facets of reality of food security. This is reflected through a cultural context.   India may have available food, but they also have a caste system where there is a wide chasem between the incredibly rich and the incredibly poor.  Yes, the average Indian is becoming wealthier, but that's not solving the food inequality and access to nutritional food for everyone.  The sabotage of the golden rice trials speaks to that inequality.  A native of India is culturally desensitized to the starving masses at their own doorstep.  It's their Karma, so I (wealthier Indian) need not care about it.  They deserved it somehow.  But a cause like the anti-GMO campaign that denies access, merely because it "might" harm their nutritional and personal health is worth the sacrifice of millions of other low income people. 

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Re: World Food Prize starts today: What's it mean to you?

I see for us in the U.S., food security is not how much we have in our cellar, but how well the infrastructure and the production system works together, separately as businesses, but together as suppliers, farmers, processors, grocers, responding to the market signals that gives them incentives to produce or to change their focus on what food is in more demand.  Empty shelves indicates a serious problem.  Well stocked shelves and a steady stream of available food in the pipeline is our "cellar". 

 

Threat of the apocalypse will always be with us.  Look around.  Egypt was once a stable buyer of US wheat.  Now, they can't buy anything as the civil war threatens to bring down what little economy is left.  And that can only mean one thing.  Food will become increasingly difficult to find.  Syria is another example.

 

The World Food Prize is a focus on the big picture.  Borhlag was the savior of the world in many countries that faced immense poverty and poor nutrition.  The challenge now is to find new and better ways to achieve food security for as many people as we can. 

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Honored Advisor

Re: World Food Prize starts today: What's it mean to you?

Maybe it is not a nice thing to say, but isn't the problem really too many people?  Carrying capacity is carrying capacity.  Water is a bigger and even more problematic issue than food, actually, and not just potable water for human consumption.  

 

Water to produce food crops is often lacking ( see China).  No amount of improvement of seed is going to  overcome the fact that grass (and, it follows,  cereal grains) is a function of rainfall (per Kit Pharo). 

 

What we really need to do is modify the notion that the Earth can support unlimited human population.  One more hybridization, however it is achieved, is just, as you guys say, kicking the can down the road a ways. 

 

Period. 

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