The Great Debate held during The Alltech 28th Annual International Symposium in Lexington, USA, hosted a panel of four of the sharpest minds representing all corners of the agriculture and food ecosystem. The debate cut through the hyperbole to get to the heart of what really matters when trying to feed a population of 9 billion people by 2050.
- Tom Arnold, CEO, of Concern Worldwide;
- Sean Rickard, senior lecturer in business economics, Cranfield University, United Kingdom;
- Dr. Marcus Vinicius Pratini de Moraes, Former Minister of Agriculture and Food Supply of Brazil; and
- Tom Dorr, CEO of the U.S. Grains Council in Washington DC, USA
The topics debated were:
- Feeding 9 billion people;
- Is Africa the new Brazil?
- What are the implications of the African land grab?
- What's next for biofuels?
Other topics included:
- Water - the fight for natural resources;
- Protecting the rainforests;
- Educating urbanites about agriculture;
- Dealing with groups hostile to agriculture;
- Solutions to obesity;
- Organic labels;
- What 'Local' really means;
- What does the future hold for the four year-olds of today's world.
All agreed that world hunger has declined dramatically over the past two decades. Arnold summed it up by saying, "In 1969 the world had about 3 billion people and about 25 percent of those 3 billion people were hungry. By 2004, the world had 6.3 billion people and 13% of that population were hungry." Rickard agreed and explained that a key driver of meeting that world population food demand was the ability of getting science and farmers together.
Arnold used the phrase "Food is back." He talked about how a large proportion of the world's population has moved out of poverty. Rickard highlighted the policy practices which he referred to as "mad policies" such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the European Union and the need to move towards smarter policies and polices that think through the implications.
Pratini de Moraes addressed the need to move away from protectionism and trade rules that effectively end up costing agriculture and consumers millions of dollars and eventually have a disproportionate effect on the availability of food.
Dorr suggested that the world should appreciate the fact that agriculture delivers over 7 trillion meals a day and suggested that agriculture may be where the information technology industry was at in the 80s.
Audience opinion was sought through a confidential electronic survey. Survey results were received from almost 600 delegates prior to the debate. Of those surveyed 52% resided in North America, 66% were feed focussed with 45% conducting business in the ruminant market.
. Almost 50% of those surveyed felt that 9 billion people cannot be fed without using genetically modified foods (GMO's) while in contrast 20% felt that the world can be feed without GMO's.
. 75% of respondents think that emphasis should be placed both on food safety and in teaching people to better prepare their food.
. 33% of those surveyed believe that biofuels should be subsidized but only for a short time, while 39% disagree and believe that biofuels should not be subsidized having already received too much subsidization already.
. 88% believe that countries should be allowed to prevent imports of food based on sanitary standards. Half said "yes" with World Trade Organization approval and half said "yes" in all cases.
All agreed that the agricultural industry is here to stay, and that demand for its output will continue to grow.