(May 21, 2010) - The United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) just released the May/June issue of their magazine, Agricultural Research. The focus of this issue was announced on the cover, "Fighting World Hunger with Genetics," and includes articles on rice, beans, wheat, corn, and potatoes.
Rice "is the main staple for more than half the world's population," the first article noted, and is subject to a number of diseases that ARS researchers are tackling. The article specifically identified two of the diseases ARS researchers are investigating-sheath blight, a fungal disease that kills plant cells reducing grain yield and quality; and rice blast, another fungal disease.
In both cases, the researchers are looking beyond the application of fungicides to identify genetic materials that confer resistance to these diseases. In conducting this research they look at a wide selection of varieties worldwide to find those that show resistance to the diseases and then work to identify the genetic material responsible for the resistance with the goal of breeding that genetic material into common rice varieties.
(April 30, 2010) - The US Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, and Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, coauthored an April 22, 2010 Wall Street Journal opinion piece announcing the "launching [of] the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program."
The goal of the "new fund [is] to help the world's poorest farmers grow more food and earn more than they do now so they can lift themselves out of hunger and poverty." According to the World Bank, small-holder farm families make up three-quarters of the world's population that is extremely impoverished.
While the goal of eliminating hunger and poverty around the world is decades old, the means that Geithner and Gates suggest for achieving that goal stands in contrast to much of the conventional wisdom of the last decade.
During the debates over the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha trade round, it was argued that an export-oriented agriculture in poor countries would allow the farmers in these countries to capitalize on their comparative advantage by producing export crops for developing countries-flowers, fruits, vegetables, cotton, and other specialty crops. It was then asserted that the earned revenue could then be used to purchase low cost grains and seeds from industrialized farmers in developed countries.
(April 2, 2010) - For some time now, we have focused our attention on the twin issues of production and exports of major crops as a way of examining the export oriented policies that began in the US in the mid-1980s when US exports began to fall after nearly a decade of constant increases. Beginning with the 1972 crop, increasing exports began to create the expectation of an era of export-led prosperity for US farmers. US farmers began to believe that they had a responsibility to increase production and exports so that the hungry of the world could be fed.
At the time of the World Food Conference in 1974, over 800 million people out of a world population of 4.2 billion people were classified as chronically hungry. The participants of the World Food Conference pledged to eradicate hunger within a decade.
Over 20 years later, the 1996 World Food Summit pledged to reduce the number of hungry by half by 2015. At the time the number of hungry still exceeded 800 million out of a world population of 5.8 billion people.
Today the world population is 6.8 billion people and the number classified as chronically hungry has risen to over 1.1 billion and 2015 is just five years away. The effort to reduce the number of hungry has gone backwards. Once again, there are efforts to significantly reduce this number.