Food security on the table at McGill conference

Poor agricultural structure in developing countries is the underlying cause of the world’s food shortage, according to the United Nations.
Kanayo F. Nwanze, vice-president of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Developments, spoke at McGill on Wednesday as part of the Global Food Crisis conference. He said food security is a high priority in ensuring sustainable development for poorer countries.
Conference speakers echoed Nwanze’s views as agriculture dominated the discussion at conference round tables.
“If we want food security, why don’t we grow enough food?” asked Jack Wilkinson, of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, adding that farmers need aid to organize and to build infrastructure.
Along with Wilkinson, speakers from organizations such as the International Food Policy Research Institute and the University of Agriculture in Makurdi, Nigeria among others, said there is no incentive to turn to farming in developing countries, especially in Africa where only 14 per cent of arable land is used for farming.
Investing in rural infrastructure including irrigation systems, distribution channels and processing facilities would go a long way in helping farmers.
Michael Chong, MP from Wellington-Halton Hills in southern Ontario suggested farmers should be encouraged to unite and communicate their concerns with a single voice.
There was also wide support in favour of genetic engineering for food crops. The Africa Rice Center presented New Rice for Africa, a genetically-engineered strain of rice that is resistant to harsh weather and diseases and can produce up to five times the yield of ordinary rice.
While rice is a staple food for most Africans, the majority of it is imported, driving up costs and decreasing food security. Robert Zeigler, a representative from the International Rice Research Institute, said rice strains like the one mentioned above can help make rice farming more efficient.
But there were also concerns that because genetically modified seeds are patented and owned by the large biotechnology corporations that develop them, the seeds could end up costing farmers more than conventional seeds.
Still, Zeigler said genetically modified crops are necessary to ensure the world has enough food. “The world can feed itself, but we’re not going to be able to do it with existing technologies.”
Lise Latrémouille, director of international programs at the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada, said the conference failed to introduce any new ideas.
“I think there are some missing voices in this conference, notably the voices of organized farmers. They have a lot of things to say on these issues,” said Latrémouille, who has worked with local farmers in developing countries.
“They do really innovative things and the concept of local innovations as a long term answer to ensure food security has not been addressed.”

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