By Colleen Scherer, managing editor, AgProfessional

The topics of hunger, poverty and food security were in the headlines last week as two significant world meetings took place to address these challenges.

On Sept. 22, the United Nations held its Summit on the Millennium Development Goals in New York to discuss its eight goals set 10 years ago to accomplish by 2015. The top goal is to end hunger and poverty around the world. The remaining goals include universal education, gender equality, child health, maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability and global partnership.

On Sept. 24, the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization held a special meeting to discuss the issue of food security in Rome, Italy, following spectacular events including Russia banning wheat exports after this summer’s significant drought wiped out 25 percent of its crop, flooding in Pakistan, which created huge losses of the country’s crops, and fears of food shortages, which are starting to creep back into the mainstream media news.

World leaders and media want answers from the agricultural industry to solve these issues. James Borel, DuPont executive vice president, who spoke to summit attendees, pointed out, "Agriculture is the primary driver to abate hunger and reduce poverty. Throughout history, agricultural prosperity has led to successful economies, and food security has a direct impact on national and political security."

But agriculture's role has to be managed carefully.

"According to the original Millennium report, half of the hungry are small farmers. They are hungry through no fault of their own, but rather, because their crop yields were too low," said Wayne Parrott, Ph.D., a professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia. "There is no doubt that biotechnology can prevent the yield losses due to weather extremes, pests and diseases."

The approach to solving the dilemma varies from produce more food, grow more bioenergy crops to teaching poor farmers how to grow crops better. In all likelihood, no one idea will be the sole solution. This challenge is complex, and if it could easily have been solved by now, it would have.

As an example, I attended BASF's Sustainability Summit earlier this past summer. Roger Thurow, former correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and co-author of "Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty," explained how giving poor farmers in Africa biotechnology enhanced seeds didn't solve their problem. In the short term, it was worse. Their first year was so successful, they didn't have the infrastructure to hold all of the grain they produced. As a result of the surplus, their market prices plummeted and farmers and their families starved because they didn't recoup their money. Meanwhile, warehouses had to be built to store much of the surplus grain that no one could buy because they didn't have the money.

The following year, without the funds to purchase biotech seeds, farmers returned to old varieties/hybrids. For them, biotechnology was not the savior they had been promised.

I am not against using biotechnology to help solve the world's problems of hunger. However, this example should make it easier to understand that we can't just throw our technologies into these countries and expect everything to be wonderful. The problem is complex, so the solution must be as well.

Biotechnology may indeed help, but more attention will need to be paid to how agriculture's technology can be fitted and adapted to these very poor countries. The West's simplistic approach is out of touch with the needs of the poorest. That will need to change in order for hunger to be eliminated on this planet.