News story gets it half right

I woke up this morning in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (the first stop on our tour of agricultural innovations in Africa) to another story on hunger in The International Herald Tribune. The piece didn’t cover much new ground—it went through all the same information: 1.02 billion people on the planet are hungry; more agricultural investment is needed; and genetically-modified crops may help feed the hungry. I was surprised, however, by the last two paragraphs, which focused on the potential of organic agriculture to help feed the world. (Full disclosure—I almost missed those two paragraphs because I was so frustrated with the rest of the article).

While I’m pleased that alternatives to conventional, “Green Revolution” style farming practices were mentioned, I’m frustrated that the author of the article decided to frame solving hunger, particularly in Africa, as an either-or scenario; either we focus on seed breeding, artificial fertilizers, and genetically modified crops to feed the world or we rely solely on organic farming practices. It’s not that simple.

There is overwhelming evidence that a combination of approaches is more effective in terms of productivity, income generation, and resilience than any one approach, including using conventional practices paired with agro-ecological approaches or input-driven agriculture that also protects natural resources. Yes, more investment is needed from international donor community to reduce the number of hungry, but we also need to break out of old ways of thinking which haven’t eliminated hunger in the past.

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