Thursday, March 3, 2011

9 Billion Mouths to Feed

The Economist has a special report looking at how ready are we to deal with feeding the 9 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2050.  It's a big agriculture versus traditional farming methods article focusing on how to mass produce food. It touches on a lot of issues, but because it is such a short piece doesn't go into the environmental devastation and cost of industrial agriculture or really even looks at what the alternatives might be.  The author John Parker's mind is made up from the start.  Admittedly it's a very complicated issue so even though I'm not convinced that the forgone conclusion is GMO seeds, pesticides and large factory farms are the only way to go, it is not surprising that a business magazine is siding with business on an article such as this. Nonetheless I found it to be an interesting read.

Here are a few interesting bits:

For years some of the most popular television programmes in English-speaking countries have been cooking shows. That may point to a healthy interest in food, but then again it may not. The historian Livy thought the Roman empire started to decay when cooks acquired celebrity status.

Food is probably the biggest single influence on people’s health, though in radically different ways in poor countries and in rich ones, where the big problem now is obesity. Food is also one of the few pleasures available to the poorest. In the favelas (slums) of São Paulo, the largest city in South America, takeaway pizza parlours are proliferating because many families, who often do not have proper kitchens, now order a pizza at home to celebrate special occasions. 


and the predictable conclusion:


This special report concentrates on the problems of feeding the 9 billion. It therefore gives greater weight to the first group. It argues that many of their claims are justified: feeding the world in 2050 will be hard, and business as usual will not do it. The report looks at ways to boost yields of the main crops, considers the constraints of land and water and the use of fertiliser and pesticide, assesses biofuel policies, explains why technology matters so much and examines the impact of recent price rises. It points out that although the concerns of the critics of modern agriculture may be understandable, the reaction against intensive farming is a luxury of the rich. Traditional and organic farming could feed Europeans and Americans well. It cannot feed the world.

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