Despite the World Food Summit goal of halving the number of hungry in the world between 1996 and 2015, the number has remained stubbornly constant, with an uptick in the number as a result of the 2007-2008 crop price hikes. Currently the official Food and Agricultural Organization 2010-2012 estimate of the number of undernourished people is 870 million, though some aid organizations offer higher estimates.
At the same time, the world’s population is projected to grow from the current 7 billion to around 9 billion by 2050. Unsurprisingly, the question arises as to how we are going to feed 2 billion additional people by 2050, when we already have nearly 1 billion facing chronic hunger.
Recently we were asked to take part in a symposium at the Entomological Society of America annual meeting in Knoxville titled: “Feeding future generations: Expanding a global science to answer a global challenge.” The focus of that challenge was to identify ways to feed 9 billion people in 2050. What follows in a synopsis of our presentation.
We preface what follows by noting that it appears to us that the multinational biotech seed and chemical companies have responded to this challenge by positioning their products as the primary solution to meeting this goal. Not incidentally, they are also using this challenge as a justification for pressing the case for the extension of their intellectual property rights through trade negotiations.
As a result of our readings and discussion with others, it appears to us that much of the discussion about feeding 9 billion people by 2050 has been captured by these firms by setting up a false dichotomy.
On the one side, we have what might be called the current mechanized agricultural model. In this model, the goal is to bring the latest technologies (read GMOs and agricultural chemicals) to bear on solving this problem. It is argued that through the use of patented products and technologies, US farmers can boost their production to help meet the increased demand for food.
Similarly farmers in developing nations can use these same patented technologies and products to boost their crop production. But in order to make these technologies and products available, the agribusiness firms need to make sure that their intellectual property is protected. So what the companies want to do is offer the free use of products like a GMO cassava to a country’s farmers in exchange for their setting up US-style intellectual property rights and regulatory agencies in their country. The vision is to remold subsistence farmers into entrepreneurial export-oriented producers.