A lot of stars have aligned this week to make this post happen.
I spent the last three days at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa. I met representatives from Non-profits and companies coming together to feed the world. And Whole Foods Market bought the inside front cover spread of Fast Company.
So – to paraphrase Whole Food’s beautifully thought provoking, windfall-of-incoming-money, ad – the time is ripe.
Here in the US we are overly blessed. The average household spends less than 10 percent of its annual income on food. We are able to produce all of our staple crops within the US, giving us the highest level of food security in the world. We have reached a point where we are literally able to give food away in terms of foreign aid for relief efforts in developing nations and domestically to government funded food programs at schools and local food banks. Whether you agree with these efforts or not – the fact remains we are able to do this without our local food supply being impacted.
There are a lot of behind the scenes players that come together to make food happen – crop insurance, good infrastructure, food storage and processing. And at the heart of it all is the farmer.
This isn’t a post extolling the virtue of farmers. Many voices, louder and clearer, than mine have taken on that task to varying degrees of success.
This is a post to say that we as a global consciousness have an obligation to feed the world.
Norman Borlaug died in 2009 at the age of 95 in Dallas, Texas. Norman Borlaug saved a billion lives.
But you’ve probably never heard of him.
He believed in empowering youth and feeding the hungry. Borlaug was, in his heart, a farmer.
In 1978 Paul Harvey gave an address to the National FFA Convention called “So God Made a Farmer”. He extolled on the virtues of the farmer – their sense of community, strong work ethic and compassionate nature. Paul Harvey probably had the American farmer in mind because farmers in America are community keystones.
Borlaug dreamed of this being true for farmers across the globe. He wanted farmers in India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Botswana and dozens of other countries, to be empowered through education, access to infrastructure and new technologies to become those community keystones.
The running theories are that this can be accomplished by empowering women, who preform the vast majority of farm work in developing countries; access to infrastructure and markets; and education. Its kind of a vague running dialogue.
But its not just any empowerment. Not just roads and bridges. Not just blanket education.
We need to define better what these broad terms mean.
It isn’t enough to tell women they have power over their minds and bodies. We have to break through generations of social constructs and show men why they should value their wives and send their daughters to school. But how do you do this without making it appear that their culture is on trial (harkening back to the epically racist, “Whiteman’s Burden” argument of the late 19th and early 20th century)? How do you show women they have a voice when they’ve never had one before?
In the US we have agricultural co-operatives that function as a collective bargaining entity for members. They have access to large equipment that would be too costly for individual farmers to buy. They have grain storage and transportation. But how do you implement cooperatives in remote rural areas where access to water and sanitation isn’t available, let alone give easy access to a central location on often minimally maintained roads?
Education needs to be a priority as well. But education has really become too generalized. Yes! Educate! Great! But what do we need to teach? The extension services in the US provide farmers with access to great new research and information on everything from invasive species to plant diseases – but how do you reach farmers when you consider all of the afore mentioned complications? How do you ensure that they even get a crop to market?
Many companies, governments, NGOs and private individuals are bridging all of these gaps.
Syngenta for instance is using cellphones and QR codes to provide insurance to farmers. A card with a distinct insurance policy number is put in each bag of seed. Once planted, the farmer then uses their cellphone to activate the policy and insure the bag of seed. If a drought, flood or other weather event occurs within 21 days of that policy being activated the farmer can initiate a claim with their policy number and be refunded the cost of that bag of seed within 48 hours via money transfer.
Many more solutions like this exist. It’s just up to our generation to find them. We need to be the next Norm’s.
Everyone hopes they will say something profound with their last breath. Few truly do.
Norman Borlaug was the exception.
With his last breath, he reminded us to, “Take it to the farmer.”
In 2050 our global population is projected to be 9 billion people. We will have fewer resources, less arable land and a greater need for food security. There are problems that are our generation’s to solve. So, will you be the next Norm?
The time is ripe – take it to the farmer.