21st Century Agriculture

Humanity’s longest struggle has been the ongoing battle, waged with different weapons on different fronts, adequately to feed itself. The British scholar Thomas Malthus (1766–1834) doubted humanity’s chances. Writing in 1798, he concluded that “the period when the number of men surpass their means of subsistence has long since arrived.” The result, Malthus predicted, would be “misery and vice.” On the whole, Malthus has been proven wrong, at least until now. As the India-born Nobel economics laureate Amartya Sen pointed out in 1994, world population had by then grown nearly six times since Malthus first published his “Essay on Population.” And yet per person food consumption had increased, life expectancies lengthened, and standards of living generally improved. A significant factor was the “Green Revolution,” pioneered by the agronomist and Nobel peace laureate Norman Borlaug (1914–2009), a name that appears throughout these pages. But the contest between population and food supply has not yet been definitively won. “It took the world population millions of years to reach the first billion, then 123 years to get to the second, 33 years to the third, 14 years to the fourth, 13 years to the fifth billion…” writes Sen. The human population today stands at an estimated 6.8 billion, of whom an estimated 1.02 billion are undernourished. The marriage of technical prowess and agricultural skill promises advances on many fronts: a greater abundance of food, much of it more healthful, and available in a global marketplace that affords more of us access to this bounty. Agriculture even holds a key to delivering new forms of clean energy. The voices collected here include scientists, administration officials, and Indian and American winners of the World Food Prize. All are united in what Dr. Borlaug in his Nobel acceptance speech called a “vast army” in the battle against hunger. More broadly, 21st-century agriculture represents a noble application of our collective human ingenuity. May victory in this struggle come soon. Additional Resources Articles and Reports Agricultural Biodiversity in FAO. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2008. http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/i0112e/i0112e00.htm Briscoe, John, et. al. Water and Agriculture: Implications for Development and Growth. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2009. http://csis.org/publication/water-and-agriculture Energy-Water Nexus: Many Uncertainties Remain about National and Regional Effects of Increased Biofuel Production on Water Resources. Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office, 2009. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10116.pdf (PDF, 2KB) Federoff, Nina, et. al. “Radically Rethinking Agriculture for the 21st Century.” Science, vol. 327, no. 5967 (12 February 2010): pp. 833 – 834. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/327/5967/833 Hausmann, Ricardo. Certification Strategies, Industrial Development and a Global Market for Biofuels. Cambridge, MA: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, January 13, 2010. http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/19856/ certification_strategies_industrial_development_and_a_global_market_for_biofuels.html International Energy Outlook 2009. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Energy, 2009. http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/ McFadden, Steven. Community Farms in the 21st Century: Poised for Another Wave of Growth? Kutztown, PA: Rodale Press, 2007. http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/features/0104/csa-history/part1.shtml A New Biology for the 21st Century: Ensuring the United States Leads the Biology Revolution. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 2009. http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12764#toc Pardey, Philip G. and Julian M. Alston. U.S. Agricultural Research in a Global Food Security Setting. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2010. http://csis.org/files/publication/100111_Pardey_USAgriRes_Web.pdf (PDF, 304KB) Quinn, Kenneth M., “Dr. Norman E. Borlaug: 20th Century Lessons for the 21st Century World” http://www.worldfoodprize.org/borlaug/borlaug-history.htm Timmer, C. Peter. “Do Supermarkets Change the Food Policy Agenda?” World Development, vol. 37, no. 11. (November 2009): pp. 1812-1819. Von Braun, Joachim. The Poorest and the Hungry. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute, 2009. http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/oc63.pdf (PDF, 2KB) Web Sites AgNIC: The Agriculture Network Information Center http://www.agnic.org The Center for Global International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) . http://www.cgiar.org/ Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations http://www.fao.org/ Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS): On Food and Agriculture http://www.fao.org/giews/english/index.htm International Food Policy Research Institute http://www.ifpri.org/ Millennium Villages Project http://www.millenniumvillages.org/ National Institute of Food and Agriculture http://www.csrees.usda.gov/ Responding to World Hunger http://www.america.gov/food_security.html Svalbard Global Seed Vault http://www.croptrust.org/main/arctic.php?itemid=211 U.S. Agency for International Development. Food Security. http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/agriculture/food_security.htm U.S. Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Global Food Security. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/GlobalFoodSecurity/ U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food Security http://www.fns.usda.gov/fsec/ U.S. Department of State. Global Hunger and Food Security http://www.state.gov/s/globalfoodsecurity/index.htm U.S. National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) http://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/ World Agricultural Forum www.worldagforum.org Filmography Sustainable Table: What's on Your Plate? (2006) Running time: 52 minutes Director: Mischa Hedges Summary: What's on your plate, and where does it come from? What are its effects on the environment and your body? This film presents questions about the sustainability of many agricultural practices, and attempts to pursue some answers. Food Inc. (2008) Running time: 94 minutes Director: Robert Kenner Summary: The film examines large-scale food processing in the developed world, arguing that its methods do not promote good health for consumers or the environment. Diverseeds: Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (2009) Running time: 51 minutes Director: Markus Schmidt, Austria Summary: Large agricultural producers have adopted a few plant varieties with genetically engineered qualities for desirable for crop production. This practice has narrowed genetic diversity, which, the filmmaker argues, is vital to meeting the world's future development needs. King Korn (2009) Running time: 88 minutes Director: Aaron Woolf Summary: Best friends from the eastern United States move to the agricultural producing regions of the Midwest to learn where their food comes from. They grow a corn crop and attempt to follow it through the food processing system. Farm! (2008) Running time: not listed Director: Christine Masterson
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Posted on: Mar 31st 2010


Humanity’s longest struggle has been the ongoing battle, waged with different weapons on different fronts, adequately to feed itself. The British scholar Thomas Malthus (1766–1834) doubted humanity’s chances. Writing in 1798, he concluded that “the period when the number of men surpass their means of subsistence has long since arrived.” The result, Malthus predicted, would be “misery and vice.” On the whole, Malthus has been proven wrong, at least until now. As the India-born Nobel economics laureate Amartya Sen pointed out in 1994, world population had by then grown nearly six times since Malthus first published his “Essay on Population.” And yet per person food consumption had increased, life expectancies lengthened, and standards of living generally improved. A significant factor was the “Green Revolution,” pioneered by the agronomist and Nobel peace laureate Norman Borlaug (1914–2009), a name that appears throughout these pages.

But the contest between population and food supply has not yet been definitively won. “It took the world population millions of years to reach the first billion, then 123 years to get to the second, 33 years to the third, 14 years to the fourth, 13 years to the fifth billion…” writes Sen. The human population today stands at an estimated 6.8 billion, of whom an estimated 1.02 billion are undernourished.

The marriage of technical prowess and agricultural skill promises advances on many fronts: a greater abundance of food, much of it more healthful, and available in a global marketplace that affords more of us access to this bounty. Agriculture even holds a key to delivering new forms of clean energy.

The voices collected here include scientists, administration officials, and Indian and American winners of the World Food Prize. All are united in what Dr. Borlaug in his Nobel acceptance speech called a “vast army” in the battle against hunger. More broadly, 21st-century agriculture represents a noble application of our collective human ingenuity. May victory in this struggle come soon.

Additional Resources

Articles and Reports

Agricultural Biodiversity in FAO. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2008.

http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/i0112e/i0112e00.htm

Briscoe, John, et. al. Water and Agriculture: Implications for Development and Growth. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2009.

http://csis.org/publication/water-and-agriculture

Energy-Water Nexus: Many Uncertainties Remain about National and Regional Effects of Increased Biofuel Production on Water Resources. Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office, 2009.

http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10116.pdf (PDF, 2KB)

Federoff, Nina, et. al. “Radically Rethinking Agriculture for the 21st Century.” Science, vol. 327, no. 5967 (12 February 2010): pp. 833 – 834.

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/327/5967/833

Hausmann, Ricardo. Certification Strategies, Industrial Development and a Global Market for Biofuels. Cambridge, MA: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, January 13, 2010.

http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/19856/
certification_strategies_industrial_development_and_a_global_market_for_biofuels.html

International Energy Outlook 2009. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Energy, 2009.

http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/

McFadden, Steven. Community Farms in the 21st Century: Poised for Another Wave of Growth? Kutztown, PA: Rodale Press, 2007.

http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/features/0104/csa-history/part1.shtml

A New Biology for the 21st Century: Ensuring the United States Leads the Biology Revolution. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 2009.

http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12764#toc

Pardey, Philip G. and Julian M. Alston. U.S. Agricultural Research in a Global Food Security Setting. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2010.

http://csis.org/files/publication/100111_Pardey_USAgriRes_Web.pdf (PDF, 304KB)

Quinn, Kenneth M., “Dr. Norman E. Borlaug: 20th Century Lessons for the 21st Century World”

http://www.worldfoodprize.org/borlaug/borlaug-history.htm

Timmer, C. Peter. “Do Supermarkets Change the Food Policy Agenda?” World Development, vol. 37, no. 11. (November 2009): pp. 1812-1819.

Von Braun, Joachim. The Poorest and the Hungry. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute, 2009.

http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/oc63.pdf (PDF, 2KB)

Web Sites

AgNIC: The Agriculture Network Information Center

http://www.agnic.org

The Center for Global International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) .

http://www.cgiar.org/

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

http://www.fao.org/

Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS): On Food and Agriculture

http://www.fao.org/giews/english/index.htm

International Food Policy Research Institute

http://www.ifpri.org/

Millennium Villages Project

http://www.millenniumvillages.org/

National Institute of Food and Agriculture

http://www.csrees.usda.gov/

Responding to World Hunger

http://www.america.gov/food_security.html

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

http://www.croptrust.org/main/arctic.php?itemid=211

U.S. Agency for International Development. Food Security.

http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/agriculture/food_security.htm

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service. Global Food Security.

http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/GlobalFoodSecurity/

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food Security

http://www.fns.usda.gov/fsec/

U.S. Department of State. Global Hunger and Food Security

http://www.state.gov/s/globalfoodsecurity/index.htm

U.S. National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS)

http://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/

World Agricultural Forum

www.worldagforum.org

Filmography

Sustainable Table: What’s on Your Plate? (2006)
Running time: 52 minutes
Director: Mischa Hedges
Summary: What’s on your plate, and where does it come from? What are its effects on the environment and your body? This film presents questions about the sustainability of many agricultural practices, and attempts to pursue some answers.

Food Inc. (2008)
Running time: 94 minutes
Director: Robert Kenner
Summary: The film examines large-scale food processing in the developed world, arguing that its methods do not promote good health for consumers or the environment.

Diverseeds: Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (2009)
Running time: 51 minutes
Director: Markus Schmidt, Austria
Summary: Large agricultural producers have adopted a few plant varieties with genetically engineered qualities for desirable for crop production. This practice has narrowed genetic diversity, which, the filmmaker argues, is vital to meeting the world’s future development needs.

King Korn (2009)
Running time: 88 minutes
Director: Aaron Woolf
Summary: Best friends from the eastern United States move to the agricultural producing regions of the Midwest to learn where their food comes from. They grow a corn crop and attempt to follow it through the food processing system.

Farm! (2008)
Running time: not listed
Director: Christine Masterson

 

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