So how do you feed the poorest? The Gates and Rockefeller Foundations have an answer but skeptics abound.
The Rockefeller and Gates Foundations recently launched Green Revolution 2.0, aimed at Africa. Noble cause: feeding the poorest.
The question, though, is whether the tools of intensive agriculture really work.
The first Green Revolution (1950-1960s) is still controversial. Critics denounced the environmental costs of intensive pesticide, fertilizer, and water use (which also requires energy resources). More pointedly, they questioned the whole notion that it did, in fact, bring food to the poor. Food output rose during this time, but so did costs, which meant the hungriest couldn’t afford the wonder rice.
So now the Gates/Rock initiative is coming under question too. Food First issued a report with the top 10 reasons why Green Revolution 2.0 won’t work. The basic gist of the critique: growing food is not enough. Food — and land — needs to be distributed fairly too if the poorest are going to eat.
The authors back an “agro-ecological” model that raises food production among small-scale farmers, not on giant chemical-intensive farms:
Thousands of examples of the application of agroecology are at work throughout the developing world, where yields for crops that the poor rely on most — rice, beans, maize, cassava, potatoes, barley — have been increased by severalfold, relying on local biodiversity, family labor and new and traditional agroecological knowledge.
Although the authors also take on the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the body appears mindful of the critique. In a recent speech, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said:
The original Green Revolution of the Fifties and Sixties doubled world food production by bringing the power of science to agriculture, but “relied on the lavish use of inputs such as water, fertilizer and pesticides.
“The task ahead may well prove harder,” he continued. “We not only need to grow an extra one billion tonnes of cereals a year by 2050 — within the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren — but do so from a diminishing resource base of land and water in many of the world’s regions, and in an environment increasingly threatened by global warming and climate change.”
So maybe this green revolution will, in fact, be green? Stay tuned.