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Resolving the food crisis

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has disclosed that the number of hungry people increased by another 50 million last year. This is indeed alarming, since 50 million is a substantial slice of the six billion overall population.

This is mainly due to the unprecedented food crisis faced by the entire world. The prices of many essential commodities have risen drastically, leaving many food items out of the reach of low income earners.

Both developed and developing countries have been affected by the crisis. But developing countries received a ‘double blow’ in the form of the oil crisis - the price of a barrel of oil has touched US$ 145.

It is not a crisis that seems to be resolved anytime soon. The world is likely to witness a similar trend over the coming years and there is every sign that it may aggravate.

The FAO has attributed the food crisis to rising demand for agricultural products due to population growth and economic development in emerging countries; the rapid expansion of biofuels; and insufficient supply as production is negatively affected by climate change, in particular drought and floods, at a time when cereal stocks are at their lowest levels in 30 years.

These trends are exacerbated by restrictive measures taken by some exporting countries to protect their consumers and the speculation of hedge, index and other funds on the futures markets.

One can argue that the most obvious solution is increasing agricultural output. But the high prices of agricultural inputs are a major obstacle for developing countries to increase agricultural production. From January 2007 to April 2008, fertiliser prices rose at a much faster rate than food prices.

Perhaps the time has to come to rely more on non-chemical, traditional fertilisers which do not have any additional side effects as well. Supporting farmers in developing countries, through the supply of seeds and fertilisers, should also be a priority.

The biofuel phenomenon has added another dimension to the food crisis. Millions of tonnes of agricultural crops are diverted for the manufacture of biofuels, thus depriving consumers the chance to get these crops. There have been calls at the highest levels for a moratorium on the manufacture of biofuels.

The nations of the world must also address the serious issue of climate change, which has sent agricultural seasons and patterns haywire. Droughts are common in periods that previously saw rains and vice versa. If no urgent action is taken, the world will witness worse times.

The best option is working together to find solutions to the food crisis.

As the FAO says, we urgently need new and stronger partnerships to address the growing food security problems in poor countries. No single institution or country will be able to resolve this crisis. Donor countries, international institutions, Governments of developing countries, civil society and the private sector have an important role to play in the global fight against hunger.

There is another school of thought, endorsed by the FAO, that developing countries have neglected agriculture in prioritising industrialisation. There is an element of truth in this argument, as most developing countries have seen industrialisation as a ‘saviour’ and an easy route to development, instead of agriculture.

Another factor is that the pace of modernisation in the agriculture sphere is low, thus limiting harvests. There is little or no research on issues such as obtaining higher yields and growing disease-resistant crops.

In fact, investment in agricultural research in developing countries is less than 0.6 per cent of their gross domestic product, compared to more than 5 per cent in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries.

Thus there should be renewed efforts to on boosting investment in agriculture by both public and private entities.

Improving rural infrastructure and allowing small-time farmers to benefit from market opportunities are also essential. Faster, better roads linking the hinterland with the main cities enable farmers to sell perishables without incurring any waste.

Eliminating, or even reducing hunger will not be an easy task. In order to reduce the number of undernourished in the world and meet growing demands, global food production needs to double by 2050. Individually and collectively, countries must strive to increase agri production with this target in mind. Only then will it be possible to resolve the food crisis.

The age of Green dilemmas

Environmental politics has come a long way forward in the last century but we are entering an age where the issue might not be whether or not be ‘green’ but how best to prioritise competing environmental concerns.

Full Story

Oil crisis: Boon for traditional paddy farming

Sri Lanka’s farmers who grow paddy for their home needs are now discovering a new trend. Instead of the widely-cultivated hybrid varieties they have opted to grow more traditional varieties of paddy as the latter are more nutritious, rich in taste, pest-resistant and need no artificial, petroleum-based fertiliser.

Full Story

18 Engineering Faculty students bring global acclaim for Motherland:

Moratuwa University: Top of the world

In a signal honour for Sri Lanka’s tertiary education, the University of Moratuwa has been placed as the best University worldwide at the GSoC 2008 competition. Sri Lanka has emerged first where it competed with the other nine giants among the first ten- the United States, France Germany, India, China, Canada, Brazil, Hungary and Poland.

Full Story

Monks, protests and changing times

The week before last, on the sizzling streets of Colombo, we were witness to the depressing scene of protesting Buddhist monks running hither and thither. They were attempting to escape the effect of tear-gas used by the Police in a bid to disperse them.

Full Story

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