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World Food Prize panel serves up ideas to end global hunger

‘Sexy’ agriculture, accountability, less rhetoric offered as solutions

 

Julie Borlaug, center, granddaughter of Norman Borlaug, makes a point Wednesday in Des Moines on world hunger. Mpule Kwelagobe of Africa, right, also took part in the discussion, which was moderated by DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman. / Bryon Houlgrave/The Register

Julie Borlaug, center, granddaughter of Norman Borlaug, makes a point Wednesday in Des Moines on world hunger. Mpule Kwelagobe of Africa, right, also took part in the discussion, which was moderated by DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman. / Bryon Houlgrave/The Register

Julie Borlaug says her grandfather would want “less rhetoric and more action” in efforts to end world hunger, during a panel discussion at the World Food Prize symposium in downtown Des Moines.

Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Prize winner whose plant research is credited with saving millions of lives, would like us “to diversify … who we reach out to,” said Julie Borlaug, who works at the institute for international agriculture at Texas A&M named for her grandfather.

“It’s going to take all different sectors to solve hunger,” said Borlaug, a panelist in a discussion moderated by DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman. “He’d want us to come together in a collaborative way.”

Kullman began the discussion saying “countless children across the world suffer from malnutrition. … political and social unrest continue because people are willing to take any risk to feed their families.”

“We need to hold ourselves accountable to address these challenges,” she said.

Part of DuPont’s actions include investing more in helping “small-holder farmers” in developing countries produce food that’s “more available, nutritious and culturally relevant,” Kullman said.

She said the company, the parent of Johnston-based Pioneer, has worked to reach “more than 160,000 small-holder farmers and their communities” in 2012 and plans to work with 3 million by 2020.

It could be a new panel discussion at the next World Food Prize symposium: Is agriculture sexy?

Mpule Kwelagobe of Africa introduced the idea when asked what needed to be done to attract young people to agriculture.

“We need to make agriculture sexy,” said Kwelagobe, director of the MPULE Institute for Endogenous Development, a group that helps young women succeed in farming.

Young people would rather move to urban areas, even if it means living in slums and working piece jobs, than remaining in rural Africa to grow food, Kwelagobe said.

The image of farming, she said, is of a hard life — a woman “with a baby on her back and a hoe in her hand,” she said.

Brett Begemann, president and chief commercial officer at seed company Monsanto, picked up the idea.

“Agriculture is sexy,” he said in his closing comments, noting that agriculture uses the most advanced technology, the most advanced science and the most advanced mathematics available.
Farmers struggle with maintaining profitability

Gerrid Gus, a Canadian farmer, told peers from across the world that size doesn’t necessarily guarantee profitability.

“There are 1,000-acre farmers that aren’t sustainable … there are 1,000-acre farms that don’t make money,” Gus said during a round-table discussion with global farmers at the World Food Prize symposium in downtown Des Moines.

Gus said Western farmers can struggle with a different kind of sustenance farming, with margins driven ever lower by large multinational food processors.

“Driving costs down has turned this into a commodity business,” he said.

Enrique Carlos Oyarzabal of Uruguay said farmers work hard at learning how to grow better crops that are more affordable to consumers.

“I have to be sustainable,” he said. “I have to have a good education. I have to have good machinery. I travel the world to do better.”

Eva Ntseoane of South Africa said she agreed to a biotech seeds trial and found that Bt maize produced 7 tons per hectare during a severe drought, while another plot with non-genetically modified seed produced 2 tons per hectare.

“I would encourage everyone to use the technology,” Ntseoane said.

[via The Des Moines Register]

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