Food for 9 billion

This week Marketplace, the public radio program from APM, started a series of reports titled “Food for 9 Billion” in collaboration with PBS NewsHour, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and Homelands Productions. According to UN estimates, nine billion is how many human beings there will be in a few decades. What will it take to feed all of us?

The first contribution to the series considers the scientific challenges, with some specialists seeing reason for optimism. But as reporter Jon Miller summarizes, “no matter how generous the funding, no matter how good the science, it won’t make a difference if government policies aren’t right. That means fair prices for farmers and help when crops fail. It means access to land and roads and warehouses and markets. It means education and nutrition programs and family planning. But you can’t just wait for all those things and then call in the scientists. Because if there’s one resource scientists need more than anything, it’s time.”

The second installment looks at the complex factors that lead to famine. One key to avoiding famine, per reporter Scott Tong, is a safety net. Unlike in the 1980s, “Ethiopia [today] — like many African countries — has gradually built a series of shock absorbers for droughts. It stores water and grain around the country for emergencies. It gives farmers better seeds, and insurance for when crops fail. It’s built roads to help people get to market. The point is to weave a safety net, and to lift incomes so enough people won’t ever need the net.”

The series is off to a good start.

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