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The World comes to Saskatoon to talk about Global Food Security

Blog by Dr. Maurice Moloney
Executive Director & CEO – GIFS

Consider Kwame Ogero, a young Research Associate at the International Potato Center in Mwanza, Tanzania. Kwame has a big problem to solve, but he has the knowledge and energy to succeed in his research. Kwame needs to find a way to produce virus-free sweet potato for Tanzania and other East African countries. Sweet potato is a staple food in Tanzania along with Cassava. Both of these are propagated from vines and tubers rather than from seed and this poses the risk of passing on the virus to the next generation crop. While a plant virus poses no risk to a consumer, it can devastate the plant causing yield reductions in excess of 50%. This problem especially impacts impoverished families that rely more heavily on the sweet potato for food. Kwame knows of several ways to tackle this problem, but came to Saskatoon to the GIFS conference on Emerging Technologies for Global Food Security to discuss his approach with experts from all over the world.

Kwame Ogero, International Potato Centre

At the conference, we had some of the world’s most renowned plant scientists presenting their cutting-edge research on new rice hybrids in China, nitrogen fixing cereals, plants that make healthy omega-3 ‘fish oils’ and the role of ‘epigenetics’ in crop productivity. The impact of such new technologies on food security could be huge, but why does it take so long to see the benefits?

One of the reasons is not the speed of science. It is the speed of societal acceptance (social license) and of regulatory systems around the world.

For this reason, we invited policy makers and regulators to consider these important impediments to real solutions to food insecurity. Dame Anne Glover, the former Chief Science Advisor to the European Commission provided remarkable insight from her time in government and reminded us all that we must all promote evidence-based policy. Others, like Fiona Fox (UK) and Kevin Folta (USA) encouraged all scientists to become better communicators of sound science. However, where the ‘rubber hits the road’ is often in national parliaments where legislation will determine which technologies can be used or not. This was brought home to the conference by Ugandan MP, the Hon. Beatrice Atim Anywar, who works tirelessly for food security issues in her home country. She is not shy of technology and has been a leader in the Ugandan Parliament in setting up rational, evidence-based regulatory systems which will help to identify appropriate solutions for food production in Uganda. It is parliamentarians across Africa, like Beatrice Anywar, who will help young scientists like Kwame to succeed in their science and apply the solutions of their research.

Hon. Beatrice A. Anywar, Parliament of the Rebublic of Uganda

In this GIFS conference, which had delegates from 24 countries, there was a sense of optimism despite so many problems around the world. There is a strong belief that the science that is needed is being done and that it will emerge as practical technology. However, no matter how good our science is, we know that many barriers will need to be overcome. Interestingly, fear of science seems to be more prevalent in the rich, developed world than in the developing economies. As commentator, Rob Saik, has observed, the question is not whether we shall be able to feed 9.6 billion people.

The question is: ”Will we be allowed to feed 9.6 billion people by 2050?”