A revolution to combat world hunger

Published on OneWorld, by Yojana Sharma, 24 September 2009.

Last week, the world mourned the loss of Norman Borlaug, the agronomist credited with saving as many as a billion people from starvation by introducing high-yield crop varieties.

Borlaug’s success in establishing food security — dubbed the Green Revolution — came at a time when the planet was far less populated than today. When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971, one of his many awards, the world’s population was 3.7 billion. By next year, it will reach 7 billion — and Borlaug was among the first to recognise that new strategies will be needed to combat a huge rise in pressure on food resources …

… The end of a 40-year tradition:  

As these issues are debated, the reform team is pressing ahead. “Three or four mega-programmes will be defined by March 2010 and vague ideas on another four or five will be fleshed out in the course of next year,” says Jonathan Wadsworth, a senior agricultural researcher with the Department for International Development in the United Kingdom, and a member of the reform team.

The central fund will, Wang hopes, be in place by the end of this year, although it could affect cash flows to the centres in the meantime. “It obviously involves a certain amount of risk,” says Hall.

Also by December, a consortium board will be appointed, whose first task will be to appoint a chief executive.

Some believe the toughest part will be for the 15 centres to give up their own structures.  Says one insider: “We will still have centres with their own culture. You cannot wipe away 40 years of doing things in a particular way.”

Wang admits he does not “have all the answers” on how the consortium will work. But he is more upbeat on the central fund. “This year we did a survey of the 15 largest donors — 14 said they would like to join the fund, although some have conditions.” These include effective communication between the centres and other national organisations.

How much donors will actually commit to is hard to predict. “If we get about half the current CGIAR funds, or at least US$250 million for the central fund, we can consider the reform to be a success. If we reach that, it will be very unlikely that the reform will founder,” says Wadsworth.

And if that target is not reached, the consortium unravels, or there is infighting over mega-programmes?

“The danger is that five years down the line we will need another reform,” says Bennett.

And the victims will be the hungry. (full long text).

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