Hunger & Food Production: Journalists Speak Out at Johns Hopkins

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Earlier this month, the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of International Studies (SAIS) hosted a discussion on hunger and food production with journalists Alan Bjerga and Roger Thurow. Bjerga covers agricultural policy for Bloomberg News and has received multiple awards for his work in regards to Ethiopia and U.S. food aid, and Roger Thurow served as a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal for 30 years and is currently a Senior Fellow for Global Agriculture and Food Policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Both have recently written books on how to address hunger and the need to dramatically increase global food production.

The event was held as part of SAIS’s Year of Agriculture, a year-long theme that examines the important role that agriculture plays in international relations. The program aims to encourage discussion on topics such as food production and security, development of biofuels, the impact of global climate change, fresh water shortages, and decreasing availability of land for food production.

According to Bjerga, the global food crisis is a serious problem that has only been exacerbated by increasingly volatile food prices over the past several years. In order to address the current problem of hunger and meet the needs of a growing population, Bjerga and Thurow stressed food production will need to double by the year 2050. To meet this goal, said Thurow, “smallholder farmers of Africa are going to be indispensable.” These farmers, he explained, are far behind those in the developed world in terms of crop production, but this also means that they have huge potential to vastly increase yields.

Both journalists stressed that for smallholder farmers to be able to increase their yields, they need access to inputs and training. Inputs, including seed, fertilizer, storage, financing, crop insurance, and education can all make a dramatic difference in crop production and farmer livelihoods. Thurow noted that he had seen first-hand the benefits that such inputs can bring: during a visit to western Kenya, he met with one farmer who saw her maize yields in 2011 grow to 10 times what they had been in 2010 because she received inputs and training from the One Acre Fund.

Looking toward the future for agriculture, Bjerga also highlighted the importance of having “strength in diversity” by producing food in many different regions of the world. Diversifying food production locations, he noted, would help disperse the risk associated with regional droughts and floods. According to Bjerga, diversification can help “smooth out price volatility” and develop a “more robust agricultural ecosystem” that will be better suited to meet our growing food production needs.

Eleanor Fausold is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project.

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