After college I was ready to farm as one of the green revolutionaries. I was ready to feed the world and open the cornucopia to everyone. Now, 40 years later, I admit I was wrong — high-tech agriculture wasn’t the answer. There is still plenty of hunger in the world, and it looks like our daily bread could get a lot more expensive.
In 1974 Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said that by 1980 “not a single child should go to bed hungry.”
When the U.N. General Assembly opened the Second United Nations Development Decade in 1980, it set 2000 as the new deadline for eliminating hunger.
In 2000 the U.N. set 2015 as the target date for completion of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals — eight goals that respond to the world’s main development challenges. The first of these is, you guessed it, ending extreme poverty and hunger.
In 2006 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated 854 million people or 12.6 percent of the world’s population was undernourished.
An abundance of food is something we take for granted, but we have money. Collectively as a nation, food has always been there, and we could buy whatever we wanted. What if that changed? What if food became really scarce and really expensive? Could it happen? It has already started.
* Total world stocks of all grains are close to their lowest level in 30 years.
* USDA predicts wheat surpluses to be the smallest in 60 years.
* A virulent strain of wheat rust that can reduce yields to zero is spreading worldwide.
* Wheat prices have risen well over 50 percent from a year ago.
* The FAO cites 37 countries as facing a food crisis due to rising prices.
Food price is dependent on the price and availability of grain. Since 1960 the world grain harvest has tripled, and the world population has doubled. So why isn’t there more grain available at a lower price? Why have the prices jumped?
I can see what’s gone wrong from my front door. Beyond my wheat, pasture and hayfields, I see two crops, genetically engineered corn and soy — two of the most widely grown crops in the world. Government subsidies encourage planting more corn and soy while companies like Monsanto deliver their package of GE seed and herbicides. Government works in partnership with industry to establish an agricultural system that places more value on commodity crops than food crops. It’s the neo-green revolution.
Too many acres growing corn and soy for animal feed and agrofuels, too few growing wheat, rice, millet and vegetables for people. With grain stocks low, record food prices and more people slipping into poverty daily, droughts, floods or water shortages could trigger faster and more devastating shifts in world food supplies. We could, in the near future, experience food shortages and increased hunger in this country as well.
Jacques Diouf, head of the FAO, has admitted that the best way to feed poor countries is to let them grow their own food locally — food sovereignty. International agencies and governments need to revisit their agricultural policies and allow people to feed themselves by using farming practices and crops they have developed and passed on through the generations.
Monsanto’s GE seeds and chemicals have not, nor will they ever, make more food available at a lower price. The neo-green revolution is failing. We need to prioritize grain for people, not for cattle or cars. Unless we act, we will face food shortages, and our daily bread will not come cheaply.
Jim Goodman is a farmer in Wonewoc and a policy fellow for the Food and Society Fellows Program.