Green Fields: Economist’s advice to Big Food: Change or face fate of GM

Philip Brasher and Dan Piller, The Des Moines Register
Renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs warned the food industry that it risks disaster if it doesn’t get behind changes that will deal with climate change, environmental degradation and global hunger.

Sachs, author of the “The End of Poverty” and a special adviser to the United Nations, said the food industry has lost the public’s confidence in its ability to deliver healthful foods in an environmentally sustainable manner.

“This industry is a powerful lobby,” but it could “lobby its way to GM’s success,” he said, referring to General Motors.

“You could be so powerful that you lobby your way to bankruptcy, and this industry is powerful enough to do that.”

Sachs spoke Thursday at the World Food Prize symposium following the keynote address by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. The symposium brings together scientists, policy makers and industry officials worldwide….
(18 Oct 2009)

Global leaders gather in Iowa for World Food Prize, talks on food, agriculture security

Michael J. Crumb, Canadian Press
Growing and distributing food in a volatile world will be the focus of talks this week as agriculture officials from around the globe converge on Des Moines for the World Food Prize symposium.

This year’s conference comes shortly after the death of founder and Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug. Borlaug’s work on high-yield, disease-resistant crop strains helped to more than double world food production between 1960 and 1990.

Beginning Wednesday, world leaders will discuss ways to ensure people have access to food, particularly in areas that are poor or troubled by conflict.
“There is considerable potential for volatility and even violence in the future based on potential food shortages,” said Kenneth Quinn, president of the Des Moines-based World Food Prize Foundation.

Efforts to improve the world food supply could be hindered by such things as increasing food prices and climate change that reduces crop production, he said.

…Dr. Gebisa Ejeta will be honoured as this year’s recipient of the $250,000 World Food Prize. The Ethiopian scientist, now a professor at Purdue University, will be recognized for his breakthroughs in the 1980s in developing a drought-resistant sorghum widely used in Africa. He later developed a type of sorghum resistant to a persistent weed.

U.S. Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack and his counterparts from Canada, Egypt and the Netherlands will speak Thursday afternoon. The former president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, also is scheduled to speak, along with Dupont chief executive Ellen Kullman and Archer Daniels Midland Co. chief executive Patricia Woertz…
(13 Oct 2009)

Bill Gates reveals support for GMO ag

Tom Philpott, Grist
As it has come to dominate the agenda for reshaping African agriculture over the years, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been very careful not to associate itself too closely with patent-protected biotechnology as a panacea for African farmers.

True, the foundation named 25-year Monsanto veteran Rob Horsch to the position of “senior program officer, focusing on improving crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Yet its flagship program for African ag, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), explicitly distances itself from GMOs. “AGRA does not fund the development of GMOs,” the organization’s Web site states.

But AGRA—co-funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, proud sponsor of the original Green Revolution—is just part of what Gates does around African ag. What precisely is the foundation getting up to over there? Is it pushing GMOs on African smallholder farms?

…To be fair, Gates did point to “excesses” of the first Green Revolution, naming “too much irrigation and fertilizer” as examples. He vowed to avoid those mistakes in Africa. He insisted, more than once, that ecological sustainability was critical to the foundation’s project. Yet he repeatedly emphasized that increasing gross production—the Borlaug project of squeezing as much yield out of a piece of land as possible—was the key.

And that led him to the most fiery moment of his speech (if this dour man’s demeanor can ever be described as “fiery”): the part where he denounced unnamed “environmentalists” who are somehow blocking GMO seeds from entering Africa.

“This global effort to help small farmers is endangered by an ideological wedge that threatens to split the movement in two,” Gates declared. He decried what he called a “false choice” between a “technological” approach geared to boosting productivity and an “environmental” one geared to sustainability. “We can have both,” he said….
(21 Oct 2009)

Gates gives $120 million to help poor nations farm

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said it will donate a total of $120 million in nine grants aimed at boosting agricultural production, marketing and farming expertise in the developing world.

“Melinda and I believe that helping the poorest small-holder farmers grow more crops and get them to market is the world’s single most powerful lever for reducing hunger and poverty,” Gates, the billionaire founder of software giant Microsoft (MSFT.O), said in remarks prepared for delivery on Thursday to the World Food Prize annual meeting.

A summary and excerpts from his remarks were obtained by Reuters.

“The next Green Revolution has to be greener than the first,” Gates said in the prepared remarks. “It must be guided by small-holder farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and the environment.”

The World Food Prize honors individuals each year who make significant contributions to alleviating hunger and improving agricultural production. It was established by Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Prize winning scientist often called “the father of the Green Revolution” for his work with rice and wheat…
(15 Sept 2009)