Politics of Poverty

The Future of Agriculture needs a fertile conversation

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What would future farming look like if we better considered the role of women, risk, farmer-based knowledge, and less reliance on fossil fuel?

A little over three months ago, I sat attentively listening to the give and take between Nigerian Female Food Hero, Susan Godwin, and Chicago Council on World Affairs Senior Fellow, Roger Thurow. Thurow was moderating a panel at the World Food Prize Symposium called A Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World Sustainably? Also part of the discussion were Sir Gordon Conway, scholar and author; plant breeding and genetics pioneer, Gebisa Ejeta, and Jane Karuku, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Roger Thurow and Susan Godwin at the World Food Prize Dialogue. Photo: Jacob Silberman.

Now, an online dialogue, The Future of Agriculture, is considering much the same question about addressing hunger in the face of many challenges ahead. This discussion also includes my acquaintances, Susan Godwin and Roger Thurow. Mrs. Godwin writes eloquently on the challenge of passing the legacy of farming on to the next generation in  My Daughter Wants to Be a Farmer. Thurow again plays the role of summarizing and connecting the dots at the end of week one of the conversation.

In the first week, writers like Bill McKibben, writer and founder of 350.org, and Jose Graziano del Silva, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), argued that moving away from an agriculture dependent on fossil fuels could not only benefit the planet but set the stage for a more resilient and productive agriculture.

Joining McKibben and del Silva were thought leaders with very diverse points of view and from different parts of the world. All considered what future farming might look like if we better considered the role of women, risk, farmer-based knowledge, and less reliance on fossil fuel.

The discussion continues through this week with a new set of essays posted each day. So far the discussion has been lively. But to help build our understanding we need broad participation and dialogue. So please take some minutes each day to visit http://blogs.oxfam.org/en/future-of-agriculture. The essays are short; the implications for our future tasks are great.

After reading both Roger Thurow’s and Susan Godwin’s online contributions, I thought back to that hall in Iowa with over 800 people attending. Mrs. Godwin told how her community and other had asked her what she might offer to all the highly educated and important people that she might address in the US. She said that most important she would tell them how her work had improved the lives of her family and the other women in her community. And after a pause, during which the audience grew even more quiet, she declared, “I will tell them that I am a farmer!”

That day, that large crowd filled with educators, scientists, political leaders, and activists rose to their feet. They acknowledged that the hope for a well-fed future depends on the efforts of all stakeholders, and ideas from all sectors.

The Future of Agriculture discussion is no different. Join the conversation today.


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