World’s food needs are central to health, poverty efforts

You can’t get very far trying to improve people’s health, reduce poverty or empower the poor without food.

This week in Des Moines, Iowa, about 1,000 people, including many former heads of state and top agricultural policy folk, are gathered together to talk about food — or more accurately, how to feed the planet’s growing population.

This is the week-long World Food Prize symposium and Borlaug Dialogue.

The latter part of the event title (no, it’s not a science fiction plot) is named after the late Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientist who spearheaded the so-called Green Revolution which dramatically increased agricultural productivity in many parts of the world during the mid-to-late 20th Century.

There’s a push today for another such effort especially targeting Africa, which did not see much benefit from Borlaug’s revolution. It’s led by an organization called the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which was launched largely thanks to support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Many are critical of this new proposed Green Revolution for Africa, such as one Seattle-based organization known as AGRA Watch. There are too many issues to describe it adequately, but in a nutshell AGRA Watch sees the Gates-backed project as mostly favoring the interests of large international agricultural corporations like ADM, Cargill or Monsanto rather than the poor.

Many were, and are, critical of Borlaug’s original project as well. While the first Green Revolution did increase overall productivity, many contend it did so using industrialized farming techniques (mono-cultures, heavy fertilizer use) that may have improved yields but often did so at the expense of small, community-based farmers and the natural environment.

It’s way too big an issue to cover in this post. Here are few stories coming out of, or related to, the meeting this week:

Inter Press: Biofuels, market speculators driving up food prices

AP: Howard Buffett says no simple solution to global food crisis

Ames Tribune: Global food security key to national security, US Agri Chief says

Guardian: Agricultural policy hurting farmers in poor countries

Reuters: DR Congo is ranked worst on global hunger index

ONE Campaign: World Food Prize kick off

Below is a map featuring the findings of the 2010 Global Hunger Index

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.

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