En route to the roots of a second Green Revolution

Just two summers ago, people in the United States were alerted to a food crisis caused in part by spikes in corn prices and diversion of corn for food to corn for ethanol. Because the global human population has grown from 4 billion to 6.7 billion people in under 40 years the strain on global agriculture to feed the growing population has been immense. Fewer people today grow their own food relative to populations in the past and many have suffered because they lack the ability to grow their own food and have become dependent on global food commodity markets.

Following Wolrd War II, urbanization, globalization, and increased agribusiness concentrations have taken food production out of people's hands as the world has moved along a path of global "development." For six decades, global development agencies have promised prosperity and abundant food production for the entire world. The most pronounced of these global agribusiness moves has been dubbed the "Green Revolution."

In short, Norman Borlaug and other scientists developed "dwarf varieties" of cereal crops that produced higher yields when grown with chemical fertilizers. Though yields grew in many places and overall cereal production grew, we now have enormous chemically dependent monocultures of corn, wheat, and soybeans that have generated soil erosion and chemical pollution while also displacing traditional agriculture. And the first Green Revolution barely touched Africa and large sections of Central and South America where people have perhaps been affected most by hunger as populations have ballooned.

This weeks's guest, Jonathan Lynch (Prof. Plant Physiology and Soil Sciences - Penn State University), has written in The Australian Journal of Botany that in the more than 40 years after the beginnings of that revolution, "854 million people are malnourished, 6 million children under the age of five die every year from hunger, and more than half of all childhood deaths in the developing world are caused directly or indirectly by malnutrition." This problems roots are fed by "overpopulation, poverty, disease, environmental degradation, war, social inequity, corruption" and other problems. Lynch believes that we must now face a future where and when subsistence farmers are afforded the possibilities to feed themselves and their communities in low fertility areas. This could be the beginning of a Second Green Revolution.

It seems the Second Green Revolution could use traditional breeding methods and merge them with modern scientific examination to develop root systems in corn and beans (two of the most important crops in the world) that can both survive droughts and take up nutrients in low-fertility soil. Lynch has been working for several years now and believes that he has figured out ways to bring greater yields to many hungry people without genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with little to no chemical fertilizer, and even in arid lands where water is scarce. Is it possible that people left out or forced into poverty by global chemical agribusiness could be provided with tools to live with less hunger and therefore, less suffering?

On this week's show we hope to learn much more about the coming Second Green Revolution. Jonathan Lynch will sit down and talk us through the state of hunger in the world, his goals, and why - from a social, economic, environmental, and perhaps spiritual vantage - we need a Second Green Revolution. As his lab's website writes, "Since most soils on earth suffer from one or more nutritional problems, this subject is of considerable importance for two of the great challenges confronting humanity: how to sustainably support over 6 billion people, and how to deal with global environmental change." Might these routes be a way to sustainability now? We hope so.

Join us this afternoon, Friday May 14th at 4 pm on The Lion 90.7.

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