Weighing in on the Food Production Debate

Over the last week, an important discussion has emerged in the blogosphere about the best ways for hungry nations to produce food. The debate began with a piece by Wellesley professor Robert Paarlberg, published in Foreign Affairs. Paarlberg argues that sluggish food production—rather than price explosion—is responsible for food insecurity in the Global South and that the only way to produce enough food is through advanced technology, increased chemical use and genetically modified seeds. He marginalizes organic farming as quaint and unrealistic as a solution. It’s time to stop rejecting biotech and industrial food production, Paarlberg claims, and realize that it is the only way forward.

A few days later, FP posted a rebuttal piece by Anna Lappe arguing that Paarlberg misrepresents organic farming and its demonstrated potential to produce large amounts of food on small parcels in the developing world. Sustainable agriculture is far more scientifically intensive than what Paarlberg gives it credit for, Lappe says, and much better for the environment to boot. Lappe also cites numerous studies concluding that low impact farming requires less water, doesn’t cause pollution or degrade land and it doesn’t leave peasant farmers dependent on large multinational corporations for materials.

So where does AJWS fall in this debate? Somewhere in between, but a bit closer to Lappe’s point of view. We believe that, first and foremost, it is critical that food be produced locally. When poor communities are reliant on shipments of industrial-produced, what happens when wars, weather, corruption and oil price spikes disrupt the flow? So the question is how best to produce enough food on local farms. Again, the answer lies in the middle. We know that organic farming is gentle on the land and sustainable. When communities are given access to the right resources, we’ve seen phenomenal results with our grantees. But our grantees’ experience also indicates that to achieve these results, there is a role for the proper use of technology and certain inputs. AJWS’s director of advocacy, Timi Gerson, expands on our position in a piece that was posted today at Civil Eats, and she asks for all of us to push for food aid programs that emphasize and enable local production. Check it out!