What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Foresight Africa, Brookings Africa Growth Initiative

Humanity needs science, not ideology, Huffington Post

The Food Index, Oxfam

Perilous retreat from global trade rules, China Daily

101 Organizations to Watch in 2014, Food Tank

First comprehensive test to detect genetic modification in food, American Chemical Society

Got milk? The impact of Heifer International’s livestock donation programs in Rwanda on nutritional outcomes, Science Direct

New discovery could stimulate plant growth and increase crop yields, researchers say, EurekAlert

Hidden soy on supermarket shelves masks assault on nature, WWF

Conservation Agriculture: Global Prospects and Challenges, Jat, R.A, Sahrawat, K. L. and Kassam, A.H.

Frankenpolitics: The Left’s defence of GMOs, EU Observer

The right kind of helping hand for small farmers, Thomson Reuters Foundation

What I learned from six months of GMO research: None of it matters, Grist



Bill Gates reviews One Billion Hungry

“I found [Gordon Conway’s] new book, One Billion Hungry, an interesting read and a clear roadmap for what we need to do to increase agricultural productivity and eliminate hunger in the world.”

Bill Gates, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in his blog, The Gates Notes, recently reviewed Gordon Conway’s book, One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World.  A direct quote, “If there’s one book I’d recommend reading to get the definitive story about the state of agriculture today and what we need to focus on to increase productivity and eliminate hunger, it would be One Billion Hungry”, illustrates what Gordon was trying to achieve: a compendium of the solutions to tackling global food insecurity.  Bill Gates also stated, “For people who want to learn about the connection between agriculture and world hunger, this book may be the best broad overview of how our modern food production system is tied to agricultural practices. It’s also very readable.” Gordon Conway is a self-proclaimed optimist acknowledging the challenges we face but confronting them with solutions, but is surpassed by Bill Gates’ optimism. “In some ways, I’m more optimistic than Conway that science-driven advances can strengthen our food security.” That global thought and action leaders on international development, such as Bill Gates, are equally if not more optimistic about future progress in combating hunger is surely proof that this optimism is grounded in real evidence of change. To read his full review click here. Bill Gates also places Gordon’s book on his list of top reads for 2012.

Other reviews of the book include:

Fred Pierce for New Scientist: “If you wanted someone to come up with a grand plan to feed the world, you might be hard pressed to find a person with better credentials than Gordon Conway.”

Peter Timmer for the Wilson Quarterly: “Conway, a professor of international development at Imperial College, London…, is perhaps the most knowledgeable and distinguished agroecologist of his generation, and in One Billion Hungry he does not mince his words.”

In the New Agriculturist: “Optimism is a commendable sentiment but policymakers need more rigorous encouragement to act on the priorities outlined by Professor Conway.”

In Nature: “He ploughs through the crises, discusses methods, delves into the role of farmers as innovators, and faces up to environmental challenges. An impressive marshalling of case studies, new research and long experience from an expert in the field.”

We’d love to hear your reviews of Gordon’s book too.

Closing yield gaps through nutrient and water management

Could ‘sustainable intensification’ be the solution to meeting future food needs and reducing agriculture’s negative impact on the natural environment? Gordon Conway has defined this approach simply as ‘producing more while using fewer resources’, and the practical implementation of the term has been increasingly scrutinised and the subject of controversy. Indeed it is the topic of an upcoming Chatham House Food Security 2012 conference in London entitled, Sustainable intensification: miracle or mirage?

A recent paper in Nature discussed the possibility of agricultural intensification and specifically of closing yield gaps – the gap between yields which are attainable and yields which are observed – for 17 major crops. The variability in yields achieved for different crops was found to be largely due to differences in fertiliser use, irrigation and climate.

Authors of the paper found that closing the yield gaps by 100% would result in an increase of crop production for most major crops of 45% to 70%. Significant opportunities for intensification of major cereals exist in Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. Reaching this level of yield gap closure would, however, require increases in irrigation and nutrient application, actions that are not necessarily in line with the paradigm of sustainable intensification. Sub-Saharan Africa does, however, have large untapped water sources that, if used responsibly and, yes sustainably, could improve food production. [Read more…]