Today’s High-Yield Farming and Improved Seeds Can Defeat World Hunger–If We Have The Will

This article was written by Senators George McGovern and Rudy Boschwitz

WASHINGTON, DC—Our only hope of staving off a global pandemic of starvation and wildlands destruction in the first half of this new century is to revive the Green Revolution that saved an estimated one billion lives in Asia, Africa and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s.

Thanks to breathtaking advances in high-yield farming, soil conservation and genetically enhanced seeds, the world has the right weapons in its humanitarian arsenal. The only question remaining is, does it have the will?

The Green Revolution led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug not only saved hundred of million of lives, it also brought markedly higher yields that spared an estimated 12 million square miles of wilderness from conversion to farmland. That’s equal to the total land area of the United States, Europe and South America.

That land was saved because American and Third World researchers showed poor farmers in countries like India and Mexico and Pakistan how to increase yields rather than bringing additional acreage under cultivation.

Leading demographers around the globe are virtually unanimous in their prediction that the world’s population will increase nearly 50 percent—from 6.2 billion to more than 9 billion people—before declining birth rates in developing nations stabilize the population by mid-century.

Bear in mind also that while parents in affluent nations today are having fewer children, they are demanding higher-quality diets for their children and, in many cases, even their pets.

Getting from an era marked by starvation, hunger and malnutrition to one of relative plenty will be difficult, but it can be done.

Higher-yield research in biology, ecology, chemistry and the relatively new field of biotechnology is the only way to pull the world’s downtrodden masses—the two billion who go to bed hungry every night—back from the brink and onto the path toward a better life.

Those people and their yet-unborn sons and daughters will require far more meat, fruits, vegetables, dairy products and grains than the world currently produces. Many without hope will embrace terrorism.

We’re proud to be part of a new coalition working to end world hunger before it ends the world. Our members include Dr. Borlaug and another Nobel Peace Price winner, former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, who won the award in 1986 for his valiant efforts to bring peace to war-ravaged Central America.

Our coalition believes we must nearly triple world food and forest product harvests over the next five decades without destroying more of our wildlands and losing the Earth’s vital biodiversity. Forests are a very important part of the equation. We’re already farming 37 percent of the earth’s land area, and forests are the only arable areas not being farmed.

Unfortunately, as President Arias points out, some two billion of the Earth’s poor live in or near the huge forests that are home to three-fourths of the world’s wildlife species. Without a new Green Revolution, the only way they can feed their families is to burn down more forests to cultivate farmland and to hunt more wild animals for needed proteins.

America’s current farm surpluses won’t come close to feeding all of the hungry in the world today, and increased crop yield from biotech agriculture will be needed to prevent malnutrition in the bigger world population of 2050. Bio-food is also the most efficient way of delivering daily doses of key nutrients and vitamins not found in the diets of millions of malnourished children and adults scattered throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America.

For instance, the development of a new strain of rice rich in Vitamin A—the so-called “golden rice”—will prevent the deaths of as many as two million children a year as well as 500,000 cases of blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency.

High-yield farming and biotechnology can work hand-in-hand to help fend off repeats of Rwanda, where the plague of inadequate farmland sparked ethnic hatreds that resulted in an outbreak of genocide that brutally slaughtered more that 1 million people.

The question is not whether we can afford to make this investment—the real question is whether we can afford not to?

The United States and its allies in the affluent, industrialized world must accept this challenge now. Time—literally—is running out. A world without hunger is the only really secure world.

George McGovern is a former Democratic Senator from South Dakota and his party’s presidential candidate in 1972. He directed the U.S. Food for Peace Program, and is now the UN’s “ambassador to the hungry”.

Rudy Boschwitz is a former Republican Senator from Minnesota, and chairs the advisory board for the Center for Global Food Issues. Readers may write them at the Center for Global Food Issues, Post Office Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421

This article was published by Knight Ridder Tribune

Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, Va., and is director of global food issues for the Hudson Institute of Indianapolis.

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