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Seven Billion And Growing

To me this is the major problem facing the world, said Michael Trevan, dean of the faculty of agricultural and

food sciences at the University of Manitoba. Climate change may come and go… but we ve got a bigger problem on our hands.

He noted world population is expected to reach 9.5 billion in the next 40 years, the equivalent of adding a country the size of Canada every six months, or 120 people every minute.

Manitoba s minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, agrees this issue will change the way food production is approached.

The Earth s resources are finite and we have to recommit ourselves to the smart usage of the world s resources,

or seven billion people can chew their way through those resources pretty quick, said Stan Struthers.

The province promotes locally produced food with a number of programs, but has also made investments aimed at increasing food production, remaining mindful of the province s export industry.

The minister said research and development have a role in supporting increased production, but need to be done under the right circumstances.

We have to be careful when we talk about new strains and new technologies. The first question for me is, who benefits? If it s some big multinational corporation that is going to benefit I don t get as excited… if it s the Manitoba farmer who benefits, then I think we should be right there investigating these new possibilities, said Struthers.

New technologies, such as more effective pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, in addition to new breeds of high-yielding crops, helped increase crop production between the 1940s and 1970s a period often dubbed the Green Revolution.

But Trevan doesn t think another Green Revolution is the solution.

What we need is not another revolution, but a new paradigm, he said. How we deal with this is going to be a challenge, because we re very good at thinking in individual silos, but this will require a holistic approach.

Part of that thinking must include reducing the amount of food wasted at home and in the fields, he said. Fifty per cent of Indian grain is destroyed one way or another during storage; enough to feed the entire subcontinent.

The long-term effects of developing new plant varieties and inputs must also be balanced with short-term gains, he added.

You can t just take it from the point of view of the plant breeder who says, OK, I can make that twice as productive, because that will lead you into other problems. The more productive you make a plant, the more water and inputs it requires, he said.

But even when enough food is produced, it doesn t mean everyone is fed.

At the present time, it s not an issue of food security, it s a problem of acquisition and pricing, said John Longhurst, director of resources and public engagement at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. It s about access.

Urbanization

He noted many of the world s poor are farmers, but things don t improve when they leave the land and head for the city. The goal of Canadian Foodgrains Bank is to keep small farmers on the land, using sustainable farming practices… doing what they are passionate about doing.

Kreesta Doucette of Food Matters Manitoba agrees farmer can use some support.

Farmers these days are often not making a sustainable living, then we ask them to be sustainable, be the answer to health and tell them you also need to feed the world, she said. That s a lot to throw on the backs of farmers.

The United Nation s Food and Agriculture Organization recently published,The State of Food Insecurity in the World.It points to solutions that would see farmers move away from monoculture and focus on knowledge-based production methods suited to local climates and production methods.

I was really surprised and interested to hear they were calling for small-scale production as the solution to feeding the world, said Doucette.

According to the UN organization, maintaining current farming methods would result in 24 per cent less arable land by 2050, eight per cent less productivity and 160 per cent more greenhouse gases.

But arguably the most significant trend affecting food production in modern agriculture is the loss of biodiversity.

In the last 80 years we ve gone from 307 varieties of corn to 12, in terms of squash we ve gone from 341 to 40 varieties and with tomatoes, from 408 varieties to 79. That s something to really think about, said Doucette. Diversity does have some cost in terms of production, but it has huge benefits in terms of sustainability.

Diversity

Some of those benefits include resistance to disease and drought, ensuring the security of food crops during periods environmental upheaval.

But Longhurst said there are also positive developments. He noted the last 20 years passed famine free, a stretch now broken by conditions in East Africa, but a positive indicator despite increasing pressure on the global food system.

In addition to population growth, those increasing pressures include the growing demand for meat as the middle class burgeons across the globe and greater demand for biofuels.

But greater access to food also has the ability to slow population growth, one of the most notable pressures affecting world food production.

When news of the seven-billionth child arrived, I m sure some of the people who heard it might have thought, why don t people just have smaller families? said Longhurst. But what we have discovered what all NGOs have discovered is people have more children when they are worried about their economic future. If they have confidence in the future and financial security, they have fewer children.

However, it s not just people in the developing world who have trouble affording and accessing food.

Although Manitoba is a food exporter with the ability to produce enough food for its population, Doucette said many Manitobans still don t have access to healthy food.

This is often the result of poverty or location, she said, pointing to northern communities as example.

Trevan agrees more can be done to increase what he calls nutritional security in Manitoba.

Often people get the calories they need, but not the vitamins and minerals, or it comes at a very great cost, he explained.

But despite hurdles ahead, he remains optimistic for the future, with one caveat.

I don t think it is going to be easy, he said.

[email protected]

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We have to be careful when we talk about new strains and new technologies. The first question for me is, who benefits? If it s some big multinational corporation& I don t get as excited.

STAN STRUTHERS

MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE, FOOD AND RURAL INITIATIVES

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Farmers are often not making a sustainable living, then we ask them to be sustainable, be the answer to health and tell them you also need to feed the world. That s a lot to throw on the backs of farmers.

KREESTA DOUCETTE FOOD MATTERS

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THE WORLD S POPULATION

The seven most populous countries

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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