How to alleviate the global hunger crisis

Reprinted from internal source

There has been a global food crisis, so policymakers everywhere have to think hard about how to make food cheap and plentiful. This requires a commitment to more fertilizer and better seed production, maximizing the potential offered by genetic modification, and abandoning the obsession with a world rich in organic matter.

Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine is providing less food because the two countries account for more than a quarter of global wheat exports and large quantities of barley, corn and vegetable oils. The world, fertilizer, energy and transportation prices are rising, and food prices have risen 61 percent in the last two years, on top of punishing climate policy and the epidemic.

The war has uncovered some harsh truths. One is that Europe – which portrays itself as a green energy trailblazer – is heavily dependent on Russian gas, especially when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. The war reiterates the basic fact that fossil fuels are vital to most of the world’s needs. And the emerging food crisis now reveals another harsh truth: organic farming cannot feed the world and could exacerbate future crises.

A fashion trend for 1 percent of the world for a long time, environmentalists have increasingly come up with the misleading idea that organic farming can solve hunger. The European Union is actively pushing for a threefold increase in organic farming on the continent by 2030, when most Germans actually think organic farming can help feed the world.

However, research concludes that organic farming produces far less food per acre than conventional farming. In addition, for organic farming, farmers have to move the soil out of production for grazing, fallow or covered crops, which reduces its effectiveness. Overall, organic methods produce one-fourth to one-half less food than conventional, scientifically-driven agriculture.

Not only does this make organic food more expensive, it means that organic farmers will need much more land to feed the same number of people as they do today – probably almost double the area. Given that agriculture currently uses 40 percent of the world’s ice-free land, switching to organic matter means destroying large parts of nature for less efficient production.

The catastrophe that is happening in Sri Lanka provides a profound lesson. The government last year implemented a complete transformation into organic farming, appointing organic gurus as agricultural advisers, some of whom have questioned the dubious connection between agrochemicals and health problems. Despite the irrational claim that organic methods can yield comparable yields to conventional farming, the policy in a few months has created nothing but misery with the rise in the price of some food quintpools.

Sri Lanka has been self-sufficient in rice production for decades, but sadly is now forced to import rice worth 50 450 million. Tea, the country’s primary export crop and source of foreign exchange, was destroyed, with an estimated economic loss of $ 425 million. Before the country resorted to brutal violence and political resignation, the government was forced to pay $ 200 million in compensation to farmers and $ 149 million in subsidies.

Sri Lankan biological testing has failed fundamentally due to a simple fact: it does not have enough land to replace artificial nitrogen fertilizer with animal manure. In order to convert to organic matter and maintain production, it needs five to seven times more fertilizer than today’s total fertilizer.

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, mostly made from natural gas, is a modern phenomenon that is crucial for feeding the world. Basically thanks to this fertilizer, agricultural production has tripled in the last half century, as the human population has doubled. Artificial fertilizers and modern agricultural inputs have reduced the number of people working on farms in every rich country, freeing people for other productive occupations.

Indeed, one of the dirty secrets of organic farming is that, in rich countries, the lion’s share of existing organic crops rely on nitrogen imported from animal manure, which ultimately comes from fossil fuel manure used on conventional farms.

Without these inputs, if a country – or the world – becomes completely organic, nitrogen deficiency quickly becomes catastrophic, as we have seen in Sri Lanka. For this reason, research shows that globalization alone can feed only about half the world’s population. Organic farming will lead to more expensive, scarce food for lesser people, while more nature will be lost.

In order to feed the world sustainably and withstand the global shocks of the future, we need to produce better and cheaper food. History has shown that the best way to achieve this is to improve seed, using genetic modification, fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation. This will help us to produce more food, reduce prices, eliminate hunger and save nature.

Bjorn Lomborg

Dr. Bjorn Lomberg is President of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a Visiting Professor at the Copenhagen Business School.

He is also a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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