Worrisome conditions face society as world population grows, Rotarians told

“Over half of the people alive today on the earth are subsisting on under $2 a day of income. And a lot of them are really hungry,” said invited speaker Richard Morrison at the Kyrene Corridor Rotary meeting last Monday.

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Morrison is chairman of Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy Board of Advisors.

And, according to Morrison, with the world population projected to increase from 7 to 9 billion by 2050, things are only going to get worse. “We’re going to need to feed two more Chinas by 2050 and one more China by 2030. The best minds I know—plant scientists, agribusiness specialists, and academics—say we cannot do it. The world cannot do it. We simply will not be able to meet this goal if the current constraints on technology and trade remain in effect.”

Contributing to the deficit, said Morrison, “are at least three Gs—greed, geography, and governments—which are a problem, along with the four Ws—wars, weather, and our seeming wilting willingness to achieve the goal. All of these things have combined to prevent this most basic of human aspirations from becoming a global reality.”

Morrison, who has also served on the boards of the National Advisory Council on Rural Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Agricultural Law Association, is a trustee with the Farm Foundation in Illinois, which, together with the New Harvest Initiative, released the Global Harvest 2011 GAP (Global Agricultural Productivity) Report earlier this year. Morrison shared and discussed several of the report’s observations, findings, and conclusions with the Rotarians.

“There is a gap between how we are growing and what is going to be needed to keep the world fed,” said Morrison.

Frustrating to him, however, is that “this global agricultural deficit comes after a time of technological and scientific advancements—wonderments, really—that have allowed us to grow bigger and better crops more quickly, efficiently, and economically.” But these technological advances available in the US are incredibly difficult to get into the countries that need them most. “Part of the answer is going to be in exporting technology, which has been much more successful than exporting food.”

Adding to the problem is increasing lack of freshwater availability, which “is identified as one of the biggest challenges to increasing food production around the world,” said Morrison.

He did offer a bit of good news. According to the GAP Report, worldwide agricultural production will have to double by 2050 to keep up with population demands. To meet this goal, output must grow annually at a rate of 1.75%. While in 2010 the growth rate was only 1.4%, in 2011, it increased to 1.74%, nearly reaching the goal.

“But this is a number that has to be maintained every year. We have to increase this productivity every year by that 1.75% in order to double output. The concern is that we don’t think that this annual rate will last unless we achieve some political breakthrough in the continuation of research and the use of technology,” said Morrison.

He acknowledged that the findings of this report are debatable.

Some believe, for example, that there will actually be food surpluses while others question the safety of certain technological agricultural advances, such as genetic modification of plant-based food.

But, to Morrison, this thinking both ignores current international hunger problems and fails to look past local concerns to consider the larger global problem.

“More and better food has got to be our mantra,” said Morrison. “The world must try to meet rising demand without growing agriculture’s environmental footprint, and we’ve got to grow more crops without using more gallons of water in this time of climate change.”

The GAP report emphasizes five “universal essentials for feeding the world,” including supporting research and development to create science-based technologies, supporting the widespread adoption of technologies, investing in critical infrastructure to ensure food gets to market, removing trade barriers, and fostering an environment for private-sector investment in the problem.

Ultimately, Morrison’s goal is for his audience to feel the urgency and to become more aware of how US policy affects the larger, global problems. “Feed the world must become our collective call to duty, our achievable and measureable goal in real terms.”

The GAP Report will be updated every year for the next 40 years and is available to read in its entirety at www.globalharvestinitiative.org.

The Kyrene Corridor Rotary Club meets Mondays at 12:10 PM, except holidays, at the Kobe Japanese Steak House (SW Corner of Elliot and Hardy). Upcoming speakers include Eric Iwerson, who will present on local bike paths (May 21), and Denny Barney, who is running for Maricopa County Supervisor (June 4).


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