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78th Annual Summer Conference, August 6–9, 2009

Production and Cultivation: How Can the World Produce Enough Food to Go Around?

Speakers: HARRIET FRIEDMANN, Professor of Sociology, University of Toronto, SAMY WATSON, Regional Executive Director, World Bank, and former Canadian Deputy Minister of Agriculture, and RAY MOWLING, former President of Monsanto Canada (bios)

Summary by Panagiota Arhontou, CIPA Youth Scholarship Recipient

“The solution is in the seed, and the farmer knows the seed.”
— Dr. Florence Wambugu

For the three panelists speaking today, the solution to the global food crisis can be found in the seed itself if the right conditions surround it. These conditions can be controlled by understanding the ecosystem, by investing in farmers and in the right technologies, and by rethinking the way we approach food production both in terms of consumption and as a political element.

For Ray Mowling, pesticides play an important role in supporting a seed into its growth; however the days of uniform pesticides are long gone because you can address specific pesticides to specific crops. Investments and research are crucial to understanding the way the ecosystem in a given geographical area functions; for example, a better knowledge of the soil can lead us to adapt how we till the land. With a good understanding of the land and the seed itself, it becomes easier to find specific technologies to fight a particular virus or insect present in a given area. This can be done either through pesticides or by genetically modifying a seed. African Doctor Florence Wambugu is, in Mowling's opinion, the champion of getting new technologies to framers. While some may consider biotechnologies dangerous, Mowling believes that, at the moment, it is the best we've got and that is in what we must invest.

Samy Watson echos Mowling's call for more investment, technology, and surveillance. He believes that research cannot be left to the private sector alone; cooperation between the public sector and private corporations could help average the gap between the production and the potential yield of a land in the underdeveloped world. A partnership between the two would lead to a strengthening of a community approach; that has been the case of various cooperatives in Canada that help increase productivity while sustaining the environment. Respect for farmers and tradition would help introduce new technologies to other parts of the world, but it must be done in a sustainable manner. Watson also adds that sustainability needs to become an integral part of agriculture and that Africa would benefit greatly from a new green revolution; through it, farmers would get more out of the land and water already available. Whether in Africa, America, or anywhere around the world, agriculture must become a priority.

For food to become central to politics, it must first become central to citizens, which is not necessarily the case. According to Harriet Friedmann, people must rethink the way they look at food, and this may eventually lead to a change in public policy. By directing our science to enhance the knowledge of our farmers and working closely with them, much can be accomplished. In order for farmers to maximize the potential of a piece of land, they would need incentives, such as multiple sources of income, to do a better job. For example, restoring the quality of water and soil will more likely ensure food security; by giving farmers an incentive to recycle water and reduce green house gas emissions, the benefits would be significant. Friedmann also questions our way of looking at our ecosystem; she believes that it is important to adapt each seed to the ecosystem, and not the other way around. This calls for a different philosophical approach to agriculture, food and farmers around the world. In terms of risk assessment, Friedmann calls for precaution about risks; she believes the consequences of our decisions and their solutions should be on the front line – without forgetting to involve farmers into this thought process.