The Politics of Science
By Marshall Matz
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
The month of May was an important month for agriculture. World leaders affirmed their strong commitment to global food security. The private sector was enlisted in a public-private partnership which has the capability to raise the needed funds. The one remaining issue appears to be a discussion and agreement on the needed science.
President Obama issued a clarion call on global food security to rally the world community. “It's a moral imperative, it's an economic imperative, and it's a security imperative,” he said. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that not since the Green Revolution has there been this level of focus on agriculture and food security.
Meeting in Maryland last week, the G8 - an informal body of eight of the world's leading nations which works together to address global challenges - issued a Camp David Declaration, making a commitment to fulfill financial and policy pledges that will accelerate progress towards food security and nutrition in Africa and globally.
The Declaration said, “We commit to launch a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition to accelerate the flow of private capital to African agriculture, take to scale new technologies and other innovations that can increase sustainable agricultural productivity, and reduce the risk borne by vulnerable economies and communities.” (Emphasis added.) In response, 45 companies pledged to invest $3 billion to supplement the public sector pledge.
The nagging question remains, however, exactly what “new technology and other innovations” will the G8 be taking to scale to increase sustainable agriculture productivity? On this issue, the G8 fell short of the standard set forth in the recent U.N. Report on Global Sustainability, Resilient People, Resilient Planet. Convened by the Secretary General of the United Nations in 2010, it was a high-level panel of renowned world leaders who issued this blueprint for a sustainable future of a planet under increasing stress. In its chapter on agriculture, where it addresses how to feed 9 billion people while protecting the environment, the report asserts the following:
The new Nigerian Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akin Adesina (formerly the Vice President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) reinforced the U.N. recommendation in a recent presentation to Johns Hopkins. According to Dr. Adesina, the technologies now exist to allow Africa to feed itself. The Green Revolution of the last century bypassed Africa, he said, because the focus was mostly on wheat and rice, which were not major crops in Africa. According to Dr. Adesina, however, 21st century “biotechnology offers great potential to help feed Africa.” He points to high yielding cassava varieties, orange flesh sweet potatoes, genetically modified maize in Kenya and South Africa and bananas in Uganda that reduce disease and pest complexities, as well as new varieties of rice for Africa.
So, why did the G8 not follow the lead of the U.N. panel and embrace the full range of technologies and other innovations currently available, including “green” biotechnologies? Perhaps the answer lies with the four G8 countries represented on the U.N. panel and the four not represented.
The U.N. Panel was Co-Chaired by Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, and Tarja Halonen, the President of Finland. The members of the Panel included representatives from twenty-two diverse countries. Russia, Canada, Japan and the United States had representatives on the U.N. panel. France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom helped craft the Camp David Declaration but did not have representatives on the U.N. Panel. A full list of U.N. Panel Members is in the box below.
As Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) said in a recent Senate floor statement honoring the USDA's 150th birthday: In order to feed 9 billion people and take care of our environment, “we must embrace agriculture research, science, innovation and biotechnology. When it comes to medical care, communication and transportation, we accept the importance of innovation. We need to do the same when it comes to the production of food.”
Years ago, biotechnology meant mega-doses of fertilizer to maximize yields. Today, biotechnology means the exact opposite. It means new varieties of seeds that require less water, fewer inputs and resist disease. It means improved soil science to ensure better yields with precise doses of micro-nutrients.
The sooner the G8 embraces the U.N. report's definition of “new technologies and other innovations” and heeds the words of Dr. Adesina, the sooner we can meet the goal of global food security.
About the Author: Marshall Matz serves on the Board of the World Food Program-US; the Congressional Hunger Center and the Global Child Nutrition Foundation. He is a partner at OFW Law in Washington, D.C. firstname.lastname@example.org