Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published June 29, 2009, 02:00 AM

Can mankind end hunger?

FARGO, N.D. — I recently received my copy of “Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty.” Every person connected to the food industry should read it.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — I recently received my copy of “Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty.” Every person connected to the food industry should read it.

It’s a sobering book co-authored by Scott Kilman, a Chicago-based reporter from the Wall Street Journal.

“Malnutrition kills more Africans than AIDS and malaria combined,” they write. “The world paid for its complacency with the 2008 food crisis, which is a warning of worse to come.”

For the past decade, Kilman and his co-author, Roger Thurow, a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal who has reported from 60 countries, have been doing award-winning work from famine zones in places such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger and Chad.

I’ve long perceived Kilman’s admiration for Green Revolution, a movement led by Norman Borlaug, 93, the University of Minnesota biggie who won a Nobel Peace Prize for using technology to tackle hunger problems in Asia and Latin America. It hasn’t worked so well in Africa for of a variety of factors.

Their list:

n The food industry, which often puts the interests of those providing aid ahead of those receiving.

n Farm subsidies that tilt agricultural trade in favor of U.S. and European farmers and keep Africa’s farmers impoverished and dependent on foreign aid.

n Ethanol incentives that turn food into an uneconomical fuel at a time of increasing hunger.

n Western donors and policymakers who hypocritically impose economic medicine on Africa that they aren’t willing to swallow themselves.

n Activists whose distaste for modern agricultural practices that keep them well-fed at home make it harder to bring science to African farmers.

n African leaders who devour the wealth of their own people and use starvation as a weapon of war.

Bringing changes

The authors wonder whether ours will be the generation that finally ends the scourge of hunger that has haunted the human race for centuries.

Among their suggestions:

n Keep promises to expand development aid.

n Create a global fund to aid small farmers in Africa.

n Invest in African infrastructure. Africa must take responsibility, investing in scientific research and extension. It needs to allow more land to be privately owned.

n Plant new seed technology, with governments there deciding for themselves whether to use genetically modified crops.

“If they do, they should develop rigorous regulation for policing the testing and safety of these crops, And if they do, they should focus on crops that are specifically bioengineered to be more nutritious and easier for small farmers to grow — crops that are bug resistant, tolerant of weed killer, or better able to efficiently mine nutrients from the soil,” the authors say.

n Find an alternative to turning food into fuel.

n Consider an international grain reserve.

n Level the “plowing” fields. Citing Malawi as an example, they suggest “smart subsidies” should help farmers obtain seeds and fertilizer while boosting the private-sector traders who carry the items.

n Give U.S. food aid the flexibility for local purchase.

Kilman and Thurow cite a movement they say is cutting across ideologies to do that.

“It includes evangelical Christians, African entrepreneurs, Midwestern farm town families, ex-presidents and prime ministers, philanthropists Bill Gates and Howard Buffett, Irish rock starts and statesmen, Southern housewives and corporate executives.”

We all can make a difference, they say.

But will we?