Tonight will bring more blogging from the rural side of politics. This afternoon, I attended a lecture by world renowned scientist M.S. Swaminathan of India. The first recipient of the World Food Prize, Dr. Swaminathan came to the University of Nebraska to speak on "Food Security in An Era of Price Volatility and Climate Change"
Most of what Dr. Swaminathan spoke about was relatively familiar to an audience in a state as dependent on agriculture as Nebraska. He spoke about the importance of “yield per drop”, which means maximizing crop yields per drop of water used in irrigation. He mentioned the struggles in increasing yields without abusing fertilizers and pesticides/herbicides, a difficulty well understood by farm families. Finally, he mentioned the necessity of political support for agriculture. Without elected leaders devoted to supporting scientific research and intensive agricultural practices, it is immensely difficult to feed a nation.
Expect to see some consternation over several parts of Dr. Swaminathan’s speech. The first uproar will likely involve his mention of the inefficiency of using cropland to feed animals destined for human consumption. In his speech, Swaminathan used a joke to lighten the tension of this moment by suggesting he wasn’t advocating vegetarianism but rather looking to ease up inefficient production styles. When PETA and the Humane Society inevitably misconstrue Swaminathan’s words, I will be the first to say I told you so.
I also predict people will fail to correctly interpret Swaminathan’s discussion on the options for moving beyond traditional wasteful and polluting agriculture. Swarminathan rightly pointed out organic agriculture for what it is: a low yield, inevitably polluting practice that is advocated for by the privileged and wealthy. What people from the developed world seem to fail to understand is that despite advances in agriculture, people remain hungry in many parts of Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Pushing policies that force low yields is no way to advance agriculture in this world. In a twist of irony, these practices take considerably more water, cause more pollution and release of carbon into the atmosphere, and ensure more hungry bellies in the poor parts of the world.
It was a pleasure to hear a genuine hero of the developing world speak about challenges we all face in the near future. As a resident of one of the most productive agricultural areas on Earth, I believe we share a common goal of feeding humanity. Hopefully, our interests intersect enough to ensure these goals are met.