The Great Debate

May 23
The Great Debate The Great Debate

The Great Debate has been a highlight of Alltech’s Symposium for several years. It is always an in-depth, and sometimes heated, discussion of the most pressing issues facing agriculture and the food chain. Each year the panel is as varied as the questions.

Aidan Connolly, VP at Alltech, introduced each of the panelists: Tom Arnold, CEO, of Concern Worldwide; Sean Rickard, senior lecturer in business economics, Cranfield University, United Kingdom; Dr. Marcus Vinicius Pratini de Moraes, Former Minister of Agriculture and Food Supply of Brazil; and Tom Dorr, CEO of the U.S. Grains Council in Washington DC, USA.

Connolly’s first question focused on past efforts to eradicate hunger. “For 50 years we have focused our attention on hunger alleviation – why has nothing changed? Why have our food policies failed?”

Tom Arnold contended that we have made some progress and described the current challenge.

"In 1969 the world had about 3 billion people and about 25 percent of that 3 billion people were hungry.  By 2004, the world had 6.3 billion people and 13 percent of that population was hungry. So at one level there has been a success… You had falling food prices for over 30 years and that began to change around the first half of the first decade of this century… and probably in the future we are going to have higher food prices and more volatile food prices. The other side of the food economy equation, which is of critical importance is that we have on one side a billion people who are hungry in the world today and on the other side a billion people who are obese – this double burden, and that’s part of the challenge we face going forward."

Clearly, there is more work to do. Sean Rickard also noted substantial progress in feeding the world over the last 50 years but contended that we are now in danger of failing.

"No, we certainly didn’t fail. I very much agree with Tom. Putting science and farmers together in the world meant that food production kept pace with growing population. If we failed it is that over the last ten years or so, particularly in developed countries and particularly in Europe, we took our eye off the ball. We looked inwards. We thought, we can feed ourselves, we’re quite happy. We’re not so worried about what’s going on in the rest of the world. We played down science, we withdrew money from scientific bodies and we focused much more on celebrity chefs and those sorts of aspects of food, and now we’re running behind. We’re going to have to do over the next 40 years what we did over the last 50 years. We’re going to have to double food production, and we’re going to have to speed up our association between farming and science if we’re going to do it. So, no we haven’t failed but we’re in danger of failing."

We have fallen short of eradicating hunger and will soon have the additional burden of feeding 2 to 3 billion more people. Innovation, efficiency and productivity will become more important than ever over the next few decades. Agriculture is our most essential industry and it will bear an increasingly heavy burden as we strive to produce food, fiber and fuel for over 9 billion people.

This post is the first in a series covering the urgent questions raised during the 2012 Great Debate.

Do you think we have made enough progress in reducing hunger? Can we reduce hunger further or will we slip further behind as our population increases?

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