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March 21, 2012 Volume 33, No. 25

International experts discuss challenges of feeding the world

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FEEDING THE WORLD: From left, Roger Beachy, president emeritus of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center; Christopher S. “Kit” Bond, former Missouri governor and congressman; Brady J. Deaton, MU chancellor; and Dino Patti Djalal, ambassador to the United States for Indonesia took part in a lecture on worldwide hunger March 14 at the Bond Life Sciences Center. Photo by Rob Hill.


"Food security is national security,” one panelist said.

Global hunger was the topic at the first Christopher “Kit” Bond Distinguished Lecture March 14 at the Bond Life Sciences Center’s Monsanto Auditorium.

Speakers included Dino Patti Djalal, Indonesia’s ambassador to the United States; and Roger Beachy, president emeritus of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

MU Chancellor Brady J. Deaton, who in 2011 was appointed by President Obama to chair the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, made opening remarks. Deaton said that feeding a global population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050 would require a 70 percent surge in global food production. 

He said he would base his food-sustainability recommendations to Washington, D.C., officials on the substance of the Bond Lecture discussion. “Clearly the panel we have today could not be more appropriate for addressing the issue on a broad basis,” Deaton said.

About 1 billion people around the world are starving, international health groups report. In 2010, there were 925 million people in the world suffering from malnutrition, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. That’s an increase of 80 million since 1990.

In Indonesia, experts grapple with how much the government should control the agricultural process, Djalal said. 

Financial turmoil also impacts food prices, he said, as happened in Indonesia in 1998, causing social unrest.

In Vietnam, planned hydroelectric dams may jeopardize proper water flow and crop production, affecting regions relying on the country as a major rice exporter, said Le Thanh Binh, head of the Office of Science and Technology at the Vietnamese Embassy.

Beachy pointed out that the United States risks a similar fate to Vietnam’s regarding food production if it fails to invest in agricultural resources. 

About 12 percent of Americans’ income is spent on food, but the cost could jump five-fold if a better sustainable approach to food production isn’t achieved, he said. 

“We don’t support agriculture resources enough in this country,” he said. “What’s it going to take?”

Panelists offered a number of solutions.

Feeding the world would require stronger leaders who promote national dietary habits and food sustainability, they said. It would require long-term planning and policies addressing energy and food.

Josyline Javelosa, agricultural counselor for the Philippines Embassy, said technological intervention is necessary to make food more nutritious and better distributed worldwide. 

Djalal pointed out that the stability of nations and, therefore, the world depends on a thoughtful approach to feeding the hungry.

“Food security is national security,” he said.