Thursday, March 25, 2010

AR4D global conference

Next week the first Global Conference on Agricultural research for development (AR4D) will meet to try and bring the successes of the green revolution to developing countries through a mixture of sustainable techniques, designing plans for the local environment, and increasing support in agricultural research in developing countries. According to the IRIN Global new article, the aim of AR4D is to

“achieve sustainable food and income security for all food producers and consumers, especially the poor, using the same resources – land, labour, water – available within the constraints of climate change and an expanding population.”

New agricultural development is needed; over 1 billion people are currently food insecure, and the population is expected to rise by three billion over the next forty years.

The Green Revolution occurred in the 1970’s and brought about an increase in development of agricultural research and technology. New high-yielding varieties of grains helped relieve hunger in developing nations such as India. However, many of these developments were made for general application; the high-yield crops that worked in Asia, where the land is irrigated, failed in Africa where most crops are rain fed. One of AR4D’s main points is to produce local food for the local growing population. In order for food aid and technological assistance to be helpful over the long term, it has to be designed for the local environmental conditions and has to be adopted by the country receiving aid. They have to take control make it their own project.

One of the main roadblocks to the Green Revolution and to AR4D is lack of political will in developing countries. Five countries account for over fifty percent of agricultural research and development in developing countries. Countries that take charge of their own agriculture can achieve results far above those of an outsider. India developed “200 rice varieties of its own” after outside agencies introduce a few high yielding varieties.

As we have discussed in class many of the problems with global food production, especially in developing countries, is that it tends towards increased production of a single cash crop and low prices of that crop. These lead to farmers developing unsustainable methods in order to increase their production by enough to make a livable income. As we learned in Raj Patel’s book, “Stuffed and Starved: The hidden battle for the world food system,” local, small scale agriculture have been shown to work in many countries where farmers are able to a measure of political influence. Organizations such as the Brazilian landless rural workers movement have improved conditions for farmers in Brazil and other countries. La Via Campesina is probably the largest of these organizations and includes 150 million members around the world.

AR4D addresses many of the problems with farming and agricultural practices today. It plans on using a bottom-up approach to involve the poor and disenfranchised, to create area specific plans to make agricultural and farming practices effective and sustainable, and to increase support of agricultural research and development in developing countries. If the support needed for this plan can be found, I think it has a decent chance of changing the world food system for the better. However, according to Uma Lele, “retired senior advisor to the World Bank and lead author of a comprehensive assessment report on AR4D,” “it will cost about $80 billion dollars a year to implement all the reforms needed to ensure food security for a rapidly growing world population,” which is double what is spent currently (VOA news).

The need for change is pressing, and as Lele says, "The situation will not change until every individual and institution starts taking responsibility. Research pays off only in 10 years or so; we have to start now."

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