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October 29, 2001


Global Food Security, World Hunger, Science,


Science And Agriculture In Africa

- Peter Marsh, 20 June 2001, SIRC Editorial, Social Issues Research Centre (UK) http://www.sirc.org/articles/sustainable_agriculture_editorial.shtml

We are delighted to receive for publication an article by Boru Douthwaite of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria. Boru is the Impact and Adoption Specialist for IITA and is part of a team whose mission is to enhance the food security, income and well-being of resource-poor people - primarily in the humid and subhumid zones of sub-Saharan Africa. The institute conducts research on methods of increasing agricultural production and improving food systems, and on the sustainable management of natural resources. It works in close partnership with national and international stakeholders.

Boru's paper specifically addresses the role that biotechnology can play in meeting these objectives, arguing that it is one of many tools that can and should be employed to bring hope to some of the poorest farmers in the world. The paper is both balaned and persuasive. It identifies the real issues at stake - ones which are rarely addressed by groups such as Greenpeace and their allies who are prepared to "smash" biotechnology "whatever the cost." The cost, of course, is not one which will be borne by the members of Greenpeace themselves, but by those most vulnerable to insecurities in food production and supply and to the vagaries of climate and geography.

Boru concludes with the comment: "There is nothing inherently evil or Frankenstein-like about genetically modified plants. However, if humankind does not concern itself with who controls this novelty generation and who decides which novelties to disseminate to farmers, then there is a real danger that large multinational companies may gain control over the food chain, driven by the economic logic of delivering higher returns to their shareholders, not the environmental health or sustainability of the planet."

This is where the debate must now be focused - not on fanciful, anti-science dogmas but on frameworks for the governance of new technologies. At the heart of many irrational attacks on genetic modification lie antipathies towards multi-national corporations and their sometimes less than benign motives, rather than towards the process itself. This may be understandable, but it does nothing to alleviate the plight of those who stand to gain most from biotechnology. It is also the case that the investment required to advance such technology is unlikely to be found entirely fom the coffers of NGOs and research institutes, even with the support of the World Bank and other international organisations. As in the case of medicine and pharmacology, major advances have often come from large corporations with an eye firmly on a return on investment and shareholder dividends. The pragmatist recognises this and looks for the solution which will provide suitable returns for the seed companies, but more importantly ensure

We need to move on to a stage where real dialogue along these lines is possible. And already there are some small signs of promise. The 'think tank' on OneWorld's web site, for example, is a genuine invitation to such debate that should not be passed up. Louk Box, Professor of International Cooperation at Maastricht University, writes in the introduction to this debate:

"The battle lines are being drawn, alliances are formed. "All those in favour of introducing genetically modified organisms (GMO's), please stand on that side of the fence. And all those against doing so, please remain on this side." A middle ground seems to become even smaller, especially in Europe and the US. But what is in it for poor countries, especially those in Africa? Where could they stand? That is the question being asked in this Think Tank.

It is this 'middle ground' that is now so vital to establish. Without it the polarised and destructive rhetorics of extremists on both sides will continue to obscure the real issues and inhibit the fair distribution of scientific knowledge and its beneficial applications around our planet.


The Role of Science in Sustainable Agriculture

- Boru Douthwaite, Impact and Adoption Specialist, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nigeria. 20 June 2001, http://www.sirc.org/articles/sustainable_agriculture.shtml

The 2000-2001 World Resources Report found that environmental damage, much of it to agricultural land, could have devastating implications for human development and the welfare of all species. The report, prepared by the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Resources Institute, shows that humans have become a major force of nature, largely because of the success of science-based technologies in extracting the earth's resources without proper concern for the environmental consequences. Science, though, has a crucial role to play in helping us avoid the impending catastrophe that is partly of its own making. Perhaps nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the need for science in developing sustainable agricultural systems.

To understand why this is so it is first necessary to see that change in agricultural systems, like all technology change, is an evolutionary process. People, as a result of the pressures they face and the opportunities they see, generate new ideas, things, and ways of organising themselves. If these novelties work well then others adopt them and they spread. Agricultural change is built up of many replications of this novelty generation, selection and diffusion process, just as we've evolved through countless natural selection iterations.

The main role of science in agriculture has been to help us generate novelties that allow us to produce more with less land and less effort. Results have been spectacular. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a grouping of 16 international agricultural research institutes, is best known for starting the Green Revolution of rice and wheat in Asia. In the thirty years from 1971 to 2000 the improved crop varieties produced by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have helped raise average rice and wheat yields by 2.3 and 1.65 times respectively, helping to feed an Asian population that grew by almost 70% in the same period.

The Green Revolution crop varieties were novelties that farmers rushed to adopt. In 1982 IR36 was planted on 11 million hectares, making it the most widely planted rice variety ever. However, problems emerged when millions of rice farmers all moved from growing a number of their traditional varieties to just one or two genetically homogenous varieties. Some of the resistance that the breeders had given the improved varieties against pests and diseases broke down within 3 to 5 years leading to huge crop losses. In Indonesia, for example, a fifth of farmers lost their entire crop to brown plant hoppers in 1985 and 1986. Farmers in Thailand and the Philippines suffered a similar fate.

In evolutionary terms the cause of the problem was not with the novelties per se, but with the selection and diffusion mechanisms that led to them to be adopted so widely without considering the consequences. Farmers did not know the consequences because they were used to operating on the scale of their own fields, not to thinking about what might happen over millions of hectares. And the research and extension systems that were encouraging them to adopt did not know the consequences either. This has been a salutary lesson to the CGIAR: reductionist science that isolates problems and ignores contexts and scale issues can come horribly unstuck even in relatively simple ecosystems. It does not necessarily produce sustainable solutions.

Learning this lesson has meant a paradigm shift in the CGIAR system in which the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is at the cutting edge. IITA has been well placed to take a leadership role because it is based in Nigeria, works throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and hence has had to deal with much more complex farming systems than those existing in Asia. What IITA has learned is that science has a role not only in developing novelties but also in understanding selection and diffusion mechanisms, as well as in likely consequences of technology change. IITA has also learned that it is not sufficient to simply gain this knowledge to have an impact; it must also be put to use. This means working together with resource managers and policy makers so that they contribute to the findings, have ownership of them, and are thus more likely to use them.

IITA is doing this in practice using what's called the Benchmark Approach. One of IITA's six Benchmark Areas is in the forest margins of the Congo River Basin. This is an area of 15,500 square kilometres in Cameroon which IITA selected together with IRAD, the national agricultural research system, to contain population gradients, areas with different soils, tree cover, and access to market, and other factors that are known to influence the evolution of agricultural systems. IITA and IRAD carried out a large survey to characterise villages in the Benchmark Area and then made this information freely available to other research organisations, and encouraged them to join research projects.

There are now five international agricultural research institutes working in the Benchmark Area as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Bank, the World Wildlife Fund, the Johns Hopkins Institute, and various NGOs and farmer federations. Together, this coalition of international and national organisations is tackling research issues on things such as the links between human health, cutting down the forest and agriculture, the domestication of fruit trees, the integration of fish into farming systems, and the marketing of non-timber forest products. No single organisation could tackle all these issues. Humankind cannot hope to slow down or halt encroachment on what remains of the tropical rainforests without improving and stabilising the forest margins. Science has a role to play and specifically collaborative science of the type that the Benchmark Approach is trying to foster.

Professor Niels Röling of Wageningen University in the Netherlands talks about the paradigm shift that IITA is going through in terms of confronting the ecochallenge(1). Röling's starting point is that humans and their actions have become a major force of nature, as the CGIAR system has learned through pest outbreaks during the Green Revolution. He argues that while we have good scientific and economic knowledge what we lack is widespread reflexive knowledge about the impacts of our collective actions on the environment. Economics cannot help, and is in fact part of the problem because it has built a global market that must grow and consume more and more of the earth's resources every year to function efficiently. To meet the ecochallenge science needs to help contribute to a framework that guides our selection decisions so that we don't all grow one rice variety or cut down the rainforest with devastating consequences for human development and the welfare of all species. What is needed is a blending togeth

What this means in practice for agriculture is that we begin with the selection and diffusion processes and pressures, that is the drivers of technology change, rather than with the novelties as we've done in the past. 'Hard' science is still needed because in 30 years time there will be one third more people living on our planet and to feed them farmers will need to produce 50% more food with less water and land. However, hard science needs to seen in the context of how and who it will benefit, which is the domain of the 'soft' social sciences.

This view helps put the current debate on biotechnology into perspective. Biotechnology is a suit of tools that allows plant breeders to introduce a greater array of novelty into their plant varieties, and select which work, much faster than they could using conventional plant breeding techniques. There is nothing inherently evil or Frankenstein-like about genetically modified plants. However, if humankind does not concern itself with who controls this novelty generation and who decides which novelties to disseminate to farmers, then there is a real danger that large multinational companies may gain control over the food chain, driven by the economic logic of delivering higher returns to their shareholders, not the environmental health or sustainability of the planet.

(1) Roling, N. 2000. Gateway to the Garden: Beta/Gamma Science for Dealing with Ecological Rationality. Eighth Annual Hopper Lecture, 24 October 2000, University of Guelph, Canada.


Biotechnology Seen Way To Food Sufficiency

- Manila Bulletin, Monday, 29 October 2001

Biotechnology is one of the most viable alternatives to the country's problem in food security even as it will enable the Philippines to catch up with its Southeast Asian neighbors in agricultural productivity, according to a study made by the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc. (Amcham).

The foreign business institution, which has earlier lauded the Arroyo administration for declaring poverty alleviation based on agricultural production as one of the cornerstones of its economic development agenda, cited that the Philippines' vast agricultural resources need the most appropriate policy framework in which to develop and achieve their potential.

Food costs to the average Filipino consumer remain the highest in the ASEAN region, at 5060 percent of disposable income. For the Philippines to feed her burgeoning population, it should consider the urgency of defining policies that encourage the transfer and local adaptation of important technologies that will increase food production-including biotechnology.

Elsewhere in the world, biotechnology boosted agricultural production by reducing crop losses, increasing yield and improving crop quality. Statistics show that the global area planted with biotechnology crops is within the vicinity of 40 million hectares, which is 44 percent higher than the 1998 figure.

In the Southeast Asian region, Thailand and Indonesia are expected to begin commercial production of biotechnology crops by 2002. The Philippines has only allowed an isolated field trial of Bt corn.

Though developing economies are less prepared to adapt to these new technologies, they promise enormous gains for the economy in productivity and environmental sustainability. As a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), there is a need for Filipino producers to compete and succeed in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Amcham Philippines recommends the evaluation of the cost-benefit of biotechnology based on scientific and factbased analysis taking into consideration sociological, economic and environmental factors. (EHL)


Point of View: Florence M. Wambugu

- Genetic Engineering News, October 15. http://genengnews.com/current.asp

Agrobiotechnology matters to Kenya, as to most other African countries, for the most basic of reasons- our people do not have enough to eat. If anyone doubts this, they need only go to Turkana, where the recent drought has caused great hardship, even starvation. At such times of food scarcity, the poor suffer most because their money buys less as the prices of basic staples rise.

Even in good years, our crop yields are low relative to world averages. In maize, for example, average yields worldwide are four tons per hectare, whereas in Kenya they are only 1.6 tons per hectare. In some food crops, such as bananas, yields are actually declining while our human population continues to rise. So unless we can do something, our situation a few years from now will be even worse than it is today. Against this background, the potential of biotechnology to increase our production of basic food staples assumes tremendous significance.

In crops like cassava and sweet potato, only 7% of our farmers have access to improved planting materials at present. The use of tissue culture, combined with an effective distribution system, could raise the numbers to well over 50%. Farmers currently lose an estimated 40% of their maize crop to an insect pest called the maize stemborer. Transferring genes into maize to protect it against this pest could prevent those losses.


GM Crops - Part of the Solution for Soils?

- Professor Jennifer Thomson, University of Cape Town, South Africa
New Agriculturist Online, http://www.new-agri.co.uk/01-6/focuson/focuson9.html

It's well known that sub-Saharan Africa has some of the oldest and poorest soils in the world. Thousands of years of weathering have leached the nutrients, leaving the soil highly acidic, (on average between pH 3.5 and 4.5), which causes aluminium and manganese to become soluble and thereby toxic to plants. The deeply weathered African soils also suffer from high levels of iron and aluminium oxides, which also hinder plant growth by chemically 'locking up' phosphates. Combined with chronic shortage of water, the results of such poor soil fertility for African farmers is easy to predict. A study on vegetable production in South Africa showed that soil acidity and drought stress accounted for over 80% of yield losses. Diseases and pests accounted for the remaining 20%. A similar picture emerged from a study of community vegetable gardens; water stress, soil acidity and low phosphate and potassium levels were the dominant factors in reducing yields.

There is unlikely to ever be a single 'magic bullet' that can solve the problem of poor soils in Africa, but there are signs that genetically modified crops could be one element in a broader solution. The logic behind this is simple; incorporating crop residues into the soil is an obvious and low cost way of rebuilding soil health. Not only do the residues contain valuable nutrients, they also moderate extremes of acidity. But the vicious circle of low productivity means that just as crop yields are low, so are the quantities of crop residue; there's generally very little for the farmers to put back into their soils once their crop is harvested. Genetic modification is potentially a way of breaking this chain, since crops engineered to prosper in the face of drought, disease and pests, are, as something of a side effect, also going to offer greater biomass post harvest.

Evidence of the potential of GM crops in sub-Saharan Africa is already coming out of research being done by the University of Cape Town. For example in the case of drought tolerance, a research group in Cape Town is currently working to transfer genes from an indigenous 'resurrection plant' into food crops. Resurrection plants are capable of drying up almost completely, yet resurrecting to full health when rain finally arrives. If the right genes could be transferred to food crops, losses to drought might be significantly reduced and more organic matter could be returned to the soil. Interestingly, many proteins that confer tolerance to drought also confer tolerance to other stresses such as high and low temperature and salinity. The genes of the resurrection plant could offer multiple benefits.

The same case can be made for GM crops that can stand up to pests and diseases. Attack by insects slows down plant growth, and robs the farmer of potential organic material. Traditional plant breeding to counter insect attack has only had limited success, and many farmers cannot afford pesticides. Insect resistance is a genetic trait that is already being widely exploited in the USA, and GM insect resistant cotton has been successfully introduced in South Africa. Consequently, commercial farmers are now using less insecticides, and the environmental benefits are clear, as non-target insect species are returning to the cotton growing areas, as are insectivorous birds, and, most encouragingly, a number of species of frogs. (Frogs, due to their porous skin, are supremely sensitive to foreign chemicals, and for them to be returning shows the extent of the environmental clean-up). This improvement above ground is likely to benefit the soil; although the relationship between life above and below ground level is l

Virus resistance is another area of research, that could offer hope for farmers and their soils. Africa is home to a number of unique plant viruses, such as maize streak virus and African cassava mosaic virus. Recently cassava mosaic virus wiped out the entire cassava crop in Zambia. As plants have no immune system the only way to combat these diseases has been by traditional plant breeding or by trying to kill the viral insect carriers by spraying. Unfortunately poor farmers cannot afford insecticides and breeding has been only partially successful. However, scientists in Africa, together with partners elsewhere, are developing GM maize and cassava with "built in" resistance to these viruses.

Thus, genetic modification offers not only the prospect of greater productivity directly through increased yields, but also the prospect of larger quantities of crop residues, which can build soil fertility to the benefit of subsequent crops.


Food Security: China Shows The Way

- Kanthi Tripathi, The Statesman (India); 10/29/200; The author is a member of the diplomatic service.

Today, the global challenge of food security is unprecedented. The worlds population is expected to reach 8 billion by 2025, when China alone is estimated to need 750 million tons of grain. This calls for the average yield of cereals to increase phenomenally to meet the projected demand for food.

About 2500 years ago, the basic idea developed in China that the state had a duty to nourish its people. The Books of Rites, dating to around 500 BC, advises that a government accumulate three years worth of grain in good seasons in order that it can survive periods of famine. Adequate food was a matter of significant self-interest for the government, since that which served the people eventually supported the state.

China has had a proactive good grain policy since then, and its commitment to self-sufficiency in food grew with the recurrent crop failures and food shortages that it confronted. Given that China faced a major famine as recently as the early 60s, food security is a major concern for both Chinas leaders and its people.

STRATEGY: That Chinas desire to be food self-sufficient is strong, and that it drives its national policy is understandable. China is the most populated country in the world, with only seven per cent of the worlds arable land and a fifth of the global population. Its food grain production rose from 90 million tons in 1960 to 395 million in 1999, making it the worlds largest producer and outpacing USA's 333 MT that same year. Although only an eighth of China's land is suitable for cultivation, it is among the worlds largest producers of rice, barley, sorghum, potato, peanuts, tea, fruits and vegetables, with farmers always having prided themselves that their cultivation practices result in high yields even with small land holdings.

It is said that China must increase its yields by 60 per cent to meet its food requirements for a projected population of a billion and a half in 2025. This is possible, according to experts, only from enhancing biological yields and not from area expansion or greater irrigation. Water is becoming scarce and the scope to put more land under the plough is limited by urban spread and desertification. Hence biotechnology as the basis for food security is accepted Chinese strategy today.

In addition, China sees biotechnologys potential in making the country a global competitor and an economic powerhouse. In this, the country has the support of Chinese working abroad with whom there is an enviable network of trans-Pacific contacts to bolster domestic research endeavours.

China has made major investments in plant biotech research through its institutions such as the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. To provide stronger support to transgenic plant research, agricultural technologies are listed in the state-sponsored 863 hi-tech development plans, as part of the countrys 10th Five Year Plan (2001-2005). So as to dramatically accelerate innovation and commercialisation, the biotech budget for this period is about five times more than the total of the last 15 years.

Analysts predict that China will have major commercial control in agro-biotech, destined to be a key technology of this century. It was the first to begin growing GM crops commercially with virus-resistant tobacco in 1988, as public-commercial biotech collaboration between the Beijing University and the government tobacco companies. Since then China has tested over a hundred GM crops.

China's scientific community, largely convinced about the need and benefits of GM crops, hopes that within ten years about half the countrys fields will be planted with them. Current estimates vary from 1.4 to 2 million acres, making China the fourth largest country with GM crop cultivation. China's biggest genetic effort focuses on rice, the worlds most consumed grain. The China National Rice Research Institute in Hangzhou has spearheaded research on engineered rice varieties with better yields, nutrition and taste, and improved drought and insect resistance.

OPPORTUNITY: In July 2001 it announced the development of two varieties of rice genetically modified to resist moths, a major agricultural pest affecting about 10 million hectares each year in China. The new GM varieties have passed safety tests conducted by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, and foreign experts say that the technology as internationally advanced.

A genetically enhanced superhybrid rice with phenomenally high yields is expected to be introduced in 2004, under a joint project by scientists from Hong Kong, the United States and China. The new rice is the solution to Chinas food needs of the future, according to Professor Yuan Longping, director of the China National Hybrid Rice Research. Traditional rice yields about 6000 kg/hectare. First-generation hybrid rice, which now feeds half the population of China, yields 7500 kg, while the new super rice is to yield as much as 15,000 kg. China, to a large extent, has insulated itself from the global debate that rages on the dangers of GM foods. USA and Europe, having spent billions on basic research in genetically modified crops are now sorting out domestic controversies. Europe has banned GM foods, and the US, comfortable on the food front, can afford to pass up biotech foods. Developing countries, on the other hand, do not have the biotech research capabilities, or have their own apprehensions about this t

Beijing, for example, sensitive to issues such as cloning says it will adhere to the international consensus that opposes human cloning, but wont be swayed by public opinion against using any technology for what it deems are ethical causes. Chinas view is that high-yield and disease resistant GM crops are the only means of feeding its growing population. They also argue that the Chinese already consume GM foods as in the soya oil made of American gene-altered beans, or the domestic beer with genetically improved yeast.

LAX STANDARDS: Till now there was no government control when GM crops graduated from the research to the commercial arena, or labeling requirements when GM foods were sold in the market. Chinas new GMO regulations of May 2001 provide these safeguards. They require labelling and safety certification of all GM products, and also cover GMO research, testing, production, processing, and import/ export activities, as also the issue of civil liability for accidents occurring when handling GMOs.

But the dangers of genetic pollution cannot be set aside. Some experts caution against this rush towards genetic crops, which could introduce unwanted traits in crops on neighbouring fields, create new strains of super weeds, or introduce unforeseen hazards to health and environment. While China's regulations look good, some of their own scientists acknowledge that adherence to standards is sometimes lax.

In general, however, policy makers are supported by their scientists in the belief that, with supervision and enough respect for scientific ethics, the side effects of gene-transplanting technology can be controlled. Mainland China may have to tackle more vigorously the question of the risks of GM foods, particularly if the publics incipient fear is heightened by the growing articulation on the subject by activist groups in Hong Kong and Taiwan. At the same time the wisdom of the Book of Rites cannot be denied. Biotechnology holds out the promise of food security, but can also pose scientific and social challenges to China's leadership and its research community.


Points of View: The Extent, Causes And Remedies For World Hunger

- New Agriculturist Online, http://www.new-agri.co.uk/01-6/pov.html

Why is continuing widespread hunger and poverty not just a shaming tragedy but a threat to the very stability of the world? Is it feasible to significantly reduce, let alone eliminate hunger? What is needed in terms of financial and political commitment? Can peoples and governments in developed countries come to recognise that existing inequities (dumping of food, subsidies to farmers in developed countries, tariffs to prevent poorer countries exporting value added products) must end if the world is to avoid instability caused by hunger, hopelessness and mass migrations?

The following points of view on these and other questions related to hunger and poverty are taken from papers presented and interviews recorded at the IFPRI "Sustainable Food Security for All by 2020" conference, held in Bonn, Germany September 4-6 2001.
The extent of world hunger

Millions of children die every year from nutrition-led illnesses and many millions more do not develop to their full potential because they are malnourished. About 800 million people are food insecure, meaning that they either starve or they do not know from where their next meal will come. In a world such as ours, such a situation is a disgrace, it is ethically and morally wrong, and it is bad economics. - Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Director General IFPRI

It has become clear that if present trends continue, the target of halving the number of undernourished people {by 2015} cannot be met.- William Meyers, Director, Agriculture and Economic Analysis Division, FAO

Small farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are efficient, usually making good use of their resources and are certainly more efficient than many large farmers. However, the vast majority are very poor. Trends towards globalization in theory should give small farmers (like all others) access to lucrative world markets, but is likely to spell the death for many small farmers, who will lose much of the urban markets of their major cities to imported goods from other continents. Unless concerted steps are taken, the small farmer in Sub-Saharan Africa is doomed to a life of poverty.- Dunstan Spencer, Managing Director Dunstan Spencer and Associates, Sierra Leone

Agriculture in South Asia still engages about two-thirds of the workforce and contributes roughly one-fourth to the gross domestic product of the region. Therefore what happens to small farmers in South Asia has significant ramifications, both at regional and global levels. South Asia, after all, is home to 22 percent of the world's population, about 44% of the world's poor, (living on less than a dollar a day), and lives on less than 2 percent of the world's income. - Ashok Gulati, Director of the Markets and Structural Studies Division, IFPRI

The causes of world hunger
Why are we failing to realize sustainable food production and distribution? Many developing countries lack a deliberate food policy. It is important for developing countries to accept our internal weaknesses before we blame external factors. Worse still, developed countries which produce surplus food, readily supply their surplus food to these countries as a result of which the developing countries do not get adequate pressure to adopt deliberate food policies. - Professor Apolo Nsibambi, Prime Minister of Uganda

The reason why progress against hunger has been slow is that the nations and peoples of the world have not devoted much effort to it. Let me cite my own country, the United States, as an example. My government refused to participate in the World Food Summit of 1996 without assurances that the Summit would call for no new financial commitments. - David Beckmann, Bread for the World, USA

In a poll among German project workers in food security projects, a majority indicated in their replies that corruption and cronyism existing in the developing countries had been contributing to a significant deterioration of the food situation. Examples such as Zimbabwe show how, as a result of ill-conceived policies, a country which has the potential not only to feed its own people but even help feed other countries ends up in need and has to rely on considerable levels of cereal imports. - Uschi Eid, Parliamentary Secretary to Ministry of Economic Cooperation & Development, Germany

It is my submission that the policies of the rich OECD countries, which protect and subsidize domestic agriculture, are major culprits holding back agricultural-led growth in many poor countries that are in the early stages of demographic transition and economic transformation. The anomaly of domestic agriculture policy is that rich countries tend to subsidize heavily a declining agricultural sector which at maturity contributes less than 5 percent to GDP, while poor countries, where agriculture is the dominant sector, tend to tax agriculture-directly or indirectly. - Alex F. McCalla, Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Agricultural Resource Economics, University of California (Davis)

The developing countries are currently losing some US$40 billion a year in income as a result of the industrialized countries' agricultural protectionism [1995 figure from World Bank report]. If you consider that the EU alone is spending an annual 40 billion euros on subsidies for less than 7 million farms, while at the same time spending a mere 7 billion euros on development cooperation (spent by the Commission, not including member states' development cooperation), you will realize the absurdity of it all: almost 5,800 euros from the EU budget go to every farmer, as opposed to 1.4 euros to every person in the developing countries. To me these are unacceptable proportions.- Uschi Eid, Parliamentary Secretary to Ministry of Economic Cooperation & Development, Germany

The question of who within the household has property rights is also critical. In general, assets are unequally distributed between men and women. Even where women are primarily responsible for food production (as in many African societies), land is owned or controlled by men.--Ruth Meinzen-Dick, Senior Research Fellow, IFPRI

Food security for all will remain a dream as long as armed conflicts exist, unless governments, international institutions, and NGOs urgently implement policies and initiatives aimed at preventing and mitigating conflicts. Food security can diffuse tensions and can be used as a tool to bring peace. Improved food security will help to break the vicious cycle of poverty and conflict.- Philippe Guiton, Africa Relief Manager, World Vision

No famine in history has ever taken place in a functioning democracy.- Amartya Kumar Sen, 1998 Nobel Prize laureate, quoted by Poul Nielson, EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid

As we consider the causes of hunger, let us recall how complex it is to feed people. As well as planting, harvesting and distributing food efficiently, all sorts of other factors also have to combine perfectly. It is difficult to prove that one factor is more important than another. What matters is that every contribution to making food more widely available is part of the solution. Those factors that can be influenced by human activity require very specific expertise.- Heinz Imhof, Chairman of the Board, Syngenta

The remedies for world hunger
There is no question that the primary responsibility to deal with poverty actually belongs to developing countries themselves. And since the World Food Conference of 1974 many countries have reordered their priorities, many countries have increased investment in agriculture and changed their policies in favour of rural people. The problem is that once these countries produce more food and become self-sufficient and want to enter the export market the doors are closed because of subsidised exports. The total subsidies (to agriculture in developed countries) are 360 billion dollars a year, one billion dollars a day, which is six times the amount of aid that the developed countries give to the poor countries.- Sartaj Aziz, former Finance Minister and Foreign Minister, Pakistan (see also this month's Perspective)

Although the Green Revolution did much for agriculture in developing countries, it was less successful in Sub-Saharan Africa and yields have not changed in 40 years. Indeed cereal production per capita has steadily declined. We therefore need a Doubly Green Revolution, including biotechnology. See also Focus On - GM crops: part of the solution for soils.- Jennifer Thomson, Professor of Microbiology, University of Cape Town

As the global concern for food security increases and translates into more innovative strategies, the role of women in fighting the current food crisis cannot be underestimated. Subsistence agriculture still dominates the working lives of more than half the world's women. In Africa, women produce 78 percent of the continent's food, with very limited resources, land included. Their contribution to survival in most African countries is key and cannot be underestimated.- Wilberforce Kisamba-Mugerwa, Minister of Agriculture, Uganda

After the {World Food} Summit, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) commissioned a study of what it would cost the industrialized countries to do their part to cut world hunger in half by 2015. The study concluded that an additional $4 billion a year of poverty-focused development assistance could achieve the goal. Four billion dollars is less than $5 for each person in the industrial countries. Four billion dollars is also less than a third of what people in the industrial countries spend at McDonald's.- David Beckmann, Bread for the World, USA

Essential external financial contributions by donor governments and intergovernmenal organizations (IGOs) will not succeed without parallel actions by national governments. But wealthy outsiders will not be credible in prodding local governments to act if they continue to fail in strengthening their own tangible commitment to ending hunger, a project which should engage us all.- Robert Paarlberg, Professor of Political Science, Harvard University

But who is responsible for taking action? Dramatic changes in the roles of national governments, civil society, the private sector, and international institutions are creating confusion about who is responsible. Some use these changes as an excuse for not taking action. Imagine what we can do if we make sustainable food security for all our top priority and pull in the same direction. We can make a difference in the lives of millions. - Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Director General IFPRI