Scientist warns of global famineCanada
Cassandra Kyle, Saskatchewan News Network
A respected Australian scientist and writer used an international stage in Saskatoon Monday to call on the world's governments to "wake up" to the threat of global famine.
"This is a big issue -- it is the biggest issue, it is bigger than the global financial crisis and it is more urgent than climate change because it's going to happen quicker," Julian Cribb said at the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) at TCU Place. "I'm asking governments to start thinking about food security in a much more direct and positive way."
In his keynote speech, Cribb said the world will soon face the greatest challenge in its history: To more than double food production with far less land, half the water, and depleted soil nutrients in order to feed an estimated 9.2 billion people in 2050.
And 50 years from now, when the globe's population could reach up to 11 billion people, the Earth and its inhabitants will need to produce 60 quadrillion calories a day to keep everyone fed, he said. The keys to preventing a crisis involve investment and time, but work to stop the threat must start now, Cribb said. Failure to do so, he added, could mean death, war and the collapse of society. "Worst-case scenario is that you will see famines start breaking out left, right and centre by the middle part of this century. Those famines -- some of them will lead to wars," he said.
"There will be hundreds of millions of refugees wandering around all over the planet looking for somewhere to live. They will destabilize society, the price of bread will go through the roof.
"As I say, all of these things are avoidable, they don't have to happen."
There are ways the world will be able to manage and sustain global diets through the population peak in the mid-21st century and a natural decline in numbers thereafter, he said. The solutions, he explained, will require the use of ag-biotechnology to guide necessary global changes.
Namely, he said, agriculture must be reinvented so it uses fewer inputs and doesn't damage its resource base. Canada, a major centre for agricultural science, has the opportunity to be a driving force behind such changes, Cribb added.
"Canada is a wonderful food exporter, but it's not going to feed the world. It's main contribution will be in the area of agricultural science, it will be as an exporter of agricultural knowledge, knowing how to do these things, how to solve these problems," he said.
"Canada has a huge opportunity and I would beg the Canadian government not to cut its investment in public research in Canada, but instead to redouble it."
Saskatchewan's potash, too, will be in higher and higher demand as farmers strive to grow more food on less land. As a key ingredient in fertilizer, the pink plant nutrient must be shared with the world and discovered in different capacities, Cribb argued.
"If you were the Canadian government you would want to keep the potash for Canadian farmers before you started selling it to Chinese farmers or Indian farmers, so these sorts of resources are going to be very scarce in time to come, unless we do one thing, unless we recycle all the potash and the phosphorous and the other nutrients that come out the bottom-end of the city," he said.
Wilf Keller, president and CEO of Ag-West Bio Inc., a provincially funded organization that aids the development and commercialization of ag-biotechnology, agrees time is of the essence as the threat of a global famine inches closer.
The province, with almost one-third of Canada's ag-bio capacity and nearly half of the country's farmland, is already working on how to get the best yield out of crops, he said.
"What we can do in Saskatchewan is begin to address the fundamentals about what's required in directing more of the plant's capability to produce seeds -- to produce larger seeds, to produce more sustainable yields, to address issues such as drought tolerance.
© Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-Post
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