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A hungry world will turn to farmers

Published on December 28, 2012 3:01AM

Last changed on January 25, 2013 9:30AM


Nearly 1 billion people on this planet go to bed hungry every night.

That's something to think about, especially in the context of how most people in the U.S. live comfortable, abundant lives.

Most of the hungry -- about 578 million -- live in Asia. Some 239 million more live in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Hunger Education Service.

As we look forward to the coming of a new year, those are startling, and sobering, statistics.

It has been said that agriculture is the most important industry in the world. It is. Without farmers and ranchers -- and all of the other people who help get food from the fields and pastures to the table -- millions more people would surely starve.

In the U.S., these statistics seem to get lost among other concerns about food. While kids are starving in Asia and Africa, South America and other corners of the globe, we proceed to debate the niceties of how food is grown, how far the truck that delivered it drove and whether the farm consisted of 10 acres or 1,000 acres.

Such discussions are a luxury in most of the world. In North Korea, political prisoners are forced to eat rats and insects to stave off starvation. In Africa, mothers line up for anything -- Anything! -- to feed their children. Whether that food came from across the street or across the globe is no concern to her. She just wants to make it through another day without her child dying in her arms.

In 2010, the most recent year for which we could find an estimate, 7.6 million children died of hunger. That is more than the entire population of Washington state. That is twice the population of Oregon.That is nearly five times the population of Idaho.

And here we sit in circles, with full bellies discussing "foodsheds" and reinventing a "food system" that has all but erased hunger from our lexicon.

This is a time of year to consider these ironies and inconsistencies. It is a time consider what we, as the most prolific producers of food in the world, can, and should, do to help.

Each year, we are astonished by the generosity exhibited by hundreds of domestic efforts that help to feed those in the U.S. who are less fortunate. From Farmers Ending Hunger, to FFA food drives, to Beef Counts, to the Gleaners, to Second Harvest -- the list goes on -- farmers and ranchers, processors and distributors join the efforts to get food to those who most need it. In the wake of the economic calamity that has brought many Americans to their knees, those efforts are timely and appreciated.

But there is more -- much more -- to be done. In Asia, Africa, Central and South America, families live day by day with little hope of ever breaking the cycle of hunger.

Some organizations, such as Heifer International, have developed ways to help break that cycle. They teach people in impoverished areas to raise food and to share the bounty.

Others have developed different models, using modern technology to develop seeds that can thrive in drought conditions and that produce yields unheard of only a few years ago.

In the 1960s, the Green Revolution averted a global disaster, bringing to bear the latest technology -- and the will to use it -- to feed a growing world population. The revolution was led not by politicians and other talkers. It was led by doers -- plant breeders, researchers, agronomists and others -- who saw a problem and worked until it was solved.

We in agriculture need to do the same now. The world population continues to grow. In the next 50 years some estimate the number of people in the world will increase by 50 percent.

Talking will not feed them. Nor will hand-wringing. Only a concerted effort of research, technology and an unflagging effort to bring food to those who need it most will avert a global disaster.

Now is the time to redouble our efforts. Hunger will not wait.


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