Commentary: Going down the wrong road
You knew that was coming.
“Feeding a growing population requires working on several fronts at the same time,” said Juergen Voegele, World Bank Director for Agriculture and Environmental Services. “Applying the principles of climate-smart agriculture across landscapes — crops, livestock, forests and fisheries — has the potential to sustainably increase food security, enhance resilience and reduce agriculture’s carbon footprint.”
That statement is your basic bureaucratic claptrap, the kind of jargon-ese that sounds impressive but actually says next to nothing. For all the high-minded language, “climate-smart agriculture basically comes down to one item: raise fewer livestock and somehow convince several billion people to cut back on the animal foods they crave.
Only you won’t hear UN officials or any other politicians actually acknowledging that near-impossibility of getting the world to go veggie, nor any practical template for replacing the calories from meat and dairy with plant-based foods.
Here’s Exhibit A: Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General, told a global conference on the sustainable agriculture earlier this month that feeding the world will require “a multi-faceted process” involving agroforestry, crop diversification and other practical measures related to meeting the challenge of climate change.
“Agriculture is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, farmers worldwide are increasingly feeling the effects of a warming climate,” Ban said in a message to the Third Global Conference on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security and Climate Change in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“The answer to the interconnected problems [of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change] lies in climate-smart agriculture,” Ban said.
At least he’s got the talking point down pat.
Here’s what’s really needed, and it is indeed a three-pronged approach: First, continued emphasis on scientific and technical progress in agriculture, driven by robust funding for both public and private research.
Second, and this is where the UN ought to focus, dissemination of basic farming technology — irrigation systems, fertilizers, modern planting and harvesting equipment — throughout the resource-poor areas of the world. There are huge gains to be made simply by elevating subsistence agriculture to the level of most modern farms.
Finally, biotechnology must be re-focused not just on commercial applications such as herbicide resistance but also on developing improved survivability, higher yields and enhanced nutrition.
Instead of pounding away at livestock producers and pretending that the world’s going vegetarian, the UN and its partners ought to focus on modernizing farming and expanding the potential of genetic engineering.
That’s the only way that 9.6 billion people are going to get enough to eat.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.
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