Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Today's Hunger and Tommorow's Food

The food of the future are being discussed and designed while most are still wondering about todays food. The recent troubles of the global seeds giants Mosanto, against the backlash of popular opinion mainly powered by campaigns ochestrated over social networks (facebook, avaaz, twitter, etc) served as a reminder of unresolved debates about food and intellectual property patents and by a further stretch -organic agricultural methods vs conventional farming methods. 

A shift in policy emphasizing on re-investment and revamping of the agricultural sector has been noticed globally. "Food security" has slowly crept into the discourse of sustainability, climate change and the future ecomomy. The need for crops and livestock that can adapt to climatic changes and adverse conditions have gained prime importance amongst the first world economies. The developing economies, still battling hunger, poverty and unemployment face an uneviable task of proffering solutions for todays poor and ensuring the security of tommorow's food. Raising productivity of farmers in an emerging economies like ours is one way of reducing hunger, but that is just one head of the beast. Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality and definitely not due to lack of food. The world already produces enough to feed 10 billion people (the forecast for global population by 2050) but most of that population can't afford to buy this food. The reality is, most farmers live below the poverty lines. Combating hunger would require policies to foremostly address the conditions that ensure poverty amongst over 70% of our population. Access to sizeable plots of land for cultivation, financial facilities tailored to the peculiar needs of farmers, proper training and education are practical ways to reducing poverty and improving the quality of life of farmers.

The allusion that genetically selected or modified food is a ready made solution to overcoming the issues of food security is unfounded and probably wrong. The possibility that the crops our poor farmers would use in future are being patented today is extremely worrisome, this could go a long way in controlling the price and demands of tommorows food. Recently a news report in The Guardian annouced bodly :" The future wellbeing of millions of Africans may rest in the unlikely hands of a vegan hippy scientist working for a sweet company who plans to map and then give away the genetic data of 100 traditional crops"

These crops include yam, cassava and cocoa. The man of the moment : Howard-Yana Shapiro described rather poetically as "The Hippy from Mars". Since he joined Mars (Yes! the multibillion dollar sweets and chocolate factory), Shapiro has been credited with making the company go sustainable. Based on his influence as the Director Of Agriculture for Mars, the company announced it would "contribute $10m to a project to map the cacao tree genome and publish it for free to speed up the development of quicker-growing and more resilient varieties." The only snag to projects like these, is that while its a laudable step to include Yams, Cassava and other tropical crops that are not of interest to the other seed and food corporations, the main motivation for Mars is quite apparent - a steady supply of cocoa. While over three fourth of the world's cocoa is produced in Africa (mainly Ghana and Ivory Coast), the final products i.e. coffee, chocolate bars and beverages are consumed mainly by the first world economies. Those who can afford this products and actively purchase them represent quaint outliers of the overall populations here.

Decoding these 'orphan crop' genomes could make a huge difference to the national and global economy, saving millions of lives in Africa from poverty would require concerted investments on Agricultural training and developing an entrepreneurial approach towards agriculture. It is only then we can begin to influence the R&D departments that are churning out tommorow's food. It is only then we can assure today's food.