Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bill Gates: Growing Enough Food to Feed the World

How can we feed a growing population in the midst of climate change and an appetite for more meat? These factors and more are straining the world’s agricultural capacity and pushing up the cost of food, which makes it difficult for the world’s poorest people to grow enough to feed their families.

If you’ve ever gone on a fast, you know that by the end of the first day, about the only thing you can think about is food. That’s what it’s like pretty much every day for a billion people—15 percent of the world’s population—who are living in extreme poverty.

Forty years ago, things were even worse. Four in 10 people were living in extreme poverty and the global population was growing, prompting a prominent Stanford scientist, Paul Ehrlich, to predict that hundreds of millions would starve no matter what the world did to try to save them.

Fortunately, Ehrlich was wrong. About the same time, a brilliant scientist named Norman Borlaug was developing new seed and production technologies that enabled farmers, most importantly in poor countries, to dramatically improve their yields. Known as the father of the Green Revolution, Borlaug is credited with saving millions of lives and helping many nations advance from the depths of poverty.

But the world’s success in warding off famine led to complacency and a decrease in agricultural aid. Today, experts are again warning that there may not be enough food to feed everyone. Studies show a rise in global temperatures, more droughts, and more floods—all due to climate change—could wreak havoc with crop yields. The global population is predicted to grow by as much as 40 percent over the next four decades, and more people are eating meat. All of these factors, and more, are driving up food prices.

Yet, I believe that this is a solvable problem. In my annual letter that will come out next week, I talk about the need to find solutions so farmers—especially those in the poorest countries—have better tools and knowledge so they can grow enough food to feed their families. Investing in innovation and partnerships will help build self-sufficiency. This will not require a huge investment, but it will take more money than is available today. In a world as wealthy as ours, it is a small price to pay to save millions from needless suffering. And ultimately contributes to the stability and well-being of the entire globe.