Leave-ing malnutrition behind

A group of scientists thinks it might have a solution to ending the endemic malnutrition problems of hundreds of millions of people — they need to eat their alfalfa. Extraordinarily rich in protein, alfalfa is also very cheap to grow. According to an Agence France-Presse report, alfalfa is full of beta-carotene, iron, magnesium, folic acids and other important nutrients. The alfalfa can be dried and shipped in a leaf-like form around the world.

Now that the drying and processing technique has been perfected, scientists are awaiting a large scale research project to see if alfalfa can be mass produced and processed in developing nations to alleviate malnutrition.

Does Fasting Help?

Before Thanksgiving the local leftists here decided to raise money for Oxfam by bringing in a speaker who made an extraordinarily stupid claim — that the reason people starve in the developing world is because people eat so much food in the developed world. Carol Fenley, an advocate for homeless people who took her children and moved into a homeless shelter after a religious epiphany more than a decade ago, claimed that people starve around the world because of the developed world’s focus on “excess” and that the “enemy isn’t Iraq or Communism, it is our own greed.”

During the question and answer period I asked Ms. Fenley to elucidate how greed and excess, rather than xenophobic Communism, caused famine in North Korea. Or how greed and excess were responsible for Ethiopia’s continuing problems. Her answer each time was that she was not an expert on the international food situation, leaving one to wonder then how she concluded greed and excess were the cause of food shortages in the developing world.

Of course it is the internal policies of the governments of the developing world which are responsible for most of the suffering in those nations. Skipping dessert will do nothing to free North Korea of totalitarianism or end decades of madness in Ethiopia. Which brings me to the main lesson. Like many activists, Fenley places her faith in action, saying, “doing nothing guarantees absolutely nothing.” But doing nothing is often better than doing something out of ignorance of the facts merely to satisfy our psychological desire to see some activity.

Satellites increase crop yields

One way not mentioned in the above suggestions is using satellites to perform what is being called precision farming. William J. Hudson of the Pro Exporter Network wrote a highly informative piece about precision farming in the Nov. 20, 1997 issue of Intellectual Capital. As Hudson describes it,

The first commercialized technology available to farmers along this line is called precision farming, which involves the use of detailed field maps and soil sampling, followed by the application of nutrients by variable rate spreading equipment (sometimes with the aid of GPS systems) — with a goal of putting the exact mix of nutrients next to plants and the soil types, which ill maximize their uptake and leave nothing behind.

This will potentially allow farmers to get higher crop yields while using even less fertilizer. All that’s needed now is more satellites. Several other private companies are working on programs that should have satellites in orbit by 2005 and by 2010 the full extent of their effects should be known according to Hudson.

Australia hosts debate about food and preserving wildlife

In Sydney, Australia a few weeks ago the Hudson Institute’s Dennis Avery, the Australia Conservation Foundation’s Jim Downer and World Wildlife Fund/Australia’s Ray Nias debated the best policies to ensure that the world is able to feed a projected 9 to 12 billion people in 2050 while at the same time protecting wildlife. All three more or less agreed that a key to preserving wildlife will be increasing crops yields to avoid converting lots more land to agricultural purposes.

The three disagreed on the best route to achieve that, with Avery favoring free trade and high yield farming, Downer for organic cropping methods and integrated pest management, and Nias for land use planning and more organic solutions.

The Heartland Institute has a brief article on the debate at its web site.

No Future for North Korea?

In an op-ed piece for Scripps Howard New Service, Amos A. Jordan and Jae H. Ku of the Center for Strategic & International Studies predict North Korea’s latest round of famine and economic disaster may bring down dictator Kim Jong Il. Jordan and Ku write,

Economic woes are so deep, starvation so prevalent and his [Kim Jong IL] policies to overcome the problem so disastrously inadequate that his ousting is increasingly probable.

According to Jordan and Ku, North Korea’s economy has declined for seven straight years and although adverse weather in 1995-7 partially accounts for the specifics of the current famine,

there is a persistent shortfall of up to two million tons of grain that is largely a result of structural inefficiencies, lack of incentives, and inadequacies of resource inputs.

Meanwhile John Yale of World Vision International is one of the few people from the West to get a first hand look at conditions in North Korea. In Associated Press report Yale described what he saw on a recent trip to North Korea,

We saw people scavenging for food in fields that had already been harvested, looking for left-over roots — children, older people, even men in uniform.

Cracking the Food Genome

In its November 1997 issue, Scientific American reports the US Department of Agriculture is preparing a $200 million proposal to study the DNA of plants, animals and microbes in an effort to better understand and perhaps improve the species human beings rely on for food.

Kelley A. Eversole, a lobbyist for the National Corn Growers Association which is pushing the proposal, claims funding the program could increase agricultural production by 20 percent over the next 10 years.

Some critics, however, are concerned by the NCGA’s involvement and worry that the effort would be excessively focused on corn rather than other crops. Mark E. Sorrells of Cornell University is among those who fear that because of genetic peculiarities of corn, any findings about its genome will have only limited applicability to other crops.