National Geographic discusses the global food crisis


National Geographic has a "special report" in the June issue that deals with the issue of dwindling worldwide supply of food side by side with the increasing demand for it to due global population growth.

It's a sobering article as well as even-handed in its treatment of the issue. For example, it has a pretty open-minded treatment of pesticides and genetic modification. It's what fueled the so-called "green revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s after all, when India lifted millions out of starvation by introducing new types of grain developed by a plant breeder from Iowa who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

It seemed like a miracle at the time, but then came the debts (from the high cost of fertilizer and pesticides) and the cancer (possibly a result of the new seeds' need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, though the article says "[t]here's no proof"). The seeds also need an exhaustive amount of water. The article makes it sound like there's hope for genetic modification without the ugly side effects though.

Tidbits from the Nat Geo article after the jump.

Here are some talking points from the feature, which, (obviously, it's National Geographic after all) has some very compelling photos to accompany it:

  • With the world's population set to reach nine billion by 2050, agricultural experts say we need to double current food production by 2030.
  • Annual worldwide grain consumption has risen from 815 million metric tons in 1960 to 2.16 billion in 2008 (and not just from pure population growth, but also for a growing worldwide penchant for meat, which takes a great deal of grain to raise).
  • "I realize the problems of water quality and water withdrawal," says a noted soil scientist about the problems resulting from India's green revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. "But it saved hundreds of millions of people. We paid a price in water, but the choice was to let people die."
  • A new green revolution is having some (controversial) success, notably so in Malawi, where, in 2005, the president gave 1.3 million residents coupons for hybrid corn seed and fertilizer. "What happened next has been called the Malawi Miracle."
  • Says well-known agroecologist Vandana Shiva, "We must stop focusing on simply maximizing grain yields at any cost and consider the environmental and social impacts of food production."