Top of Mind: Living on the Edge

15:19PM Nov 02, 2011

JeanneBernick SpringEvery night, I sit down to a full meal. Along with my family, I dig into healthy portions of wholesome food. Our chatter spills over the clank of glasses filled with fresh water. We worry about who will do the dishes—not whether there will be another meal.

Perhaps that’s why I find our global food situation so sobering: Nearly 1 billion people do not have access to adequate food, and by 2050 the global population will grow more than 30%, resulting in 2.3 billion more people to feed, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. These statistics were repeated like a ringing alarm this past month in Des Moines at the World Food Prize, an international event highlighting food issues.

The world today is looking to farmers to do more than produce food; agriculture is expected to pull people out of poverty and ease social unrest. For every 1% growth in agriculture, poverty declines by 2%, according to the World Bank. The majority of those who are hungry live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Investments in the ag sector increase efficiency in the marketing chain, reduce the share of poor people’s income spent on food and enable them to purchase health care and housing. Food also is one of the few pleasures available to the poorest.

"So much depends on a full stomach," noted Mike Mack, CEO of Syngenta, during the World Food Prize. "If people can’t count on enough food on the table, if the price of food becomes out of reach, the result can be violent social unrest." Mack pointed to the 2008 food riots and warned that food price pressures will make social instability more frequent. "Will living on the edge become the new norm?" he asked.

On the Brink. At the event, the Global Harvest Initiative reported that ag development is not growing fast enough in areas where populations are rising. Growth for sub-Saharan Africa averages 0.85%, in sharp contrast to growth of more than 2% in Brazil. Turn to page 28 for more on this topic and watch "AgDay" TV the week of Nov. 22 for coverage from the World Food Prize and updates on ag industry hunger initiatives.

"We have the tools and know-how; it just doesn’t get done," Mack said. He questioned whether the global community is engaging in the right discussions about agriculture. Instead of debates on food safety and regulation, for example, Mack thinks there should be more discussion on incentivizing private investment in rural areas.

What do you think it takes to end hunger? As top producers, you grow 85% of the agricultural output. You need to be part of the discussion on how to feed 9 billion people in 2050. Feeding the world will be hard, and business as usual will not suffice.