World Food Prize, Day 3: Here, Fishy, Fishy.

Continental breakfasts are delightful when, and only when, they include scones. This morning’s 7 a.m. session with light fare adjoined has them!

A fast-paced run on the treadmill next to a former marathoner was a delightful way to begin the day. I entered the diminutive exercise room on my floor, floor 6, with two treadmills and an elliptical and, for one of the first times in Michael Maw’s recorded history, I hoped on a treadmill in preference over the elliptical.

But, it being a Thursday morning –a jogging morning of late training for this coming Saturday’s half-marathon back in Missouri, I arose at half-five, stretched, and walked a few yards down the hall to the exercise room. (Well, actually, my journey included an elevator ride to the lobby desk, followed by a return trip with the overnight staffer to the exercise room, because my key card did not open the obstinate door.
My new former-marathon running buddy and I ended and walked out together, both with the 7 a.m. breakfast in mind.

First was the session to answer the question –can we feed the world by 2050?, sponsored by ActionAid. The session included points of agroecology, alternatives to GM crops, and warning of land-grabbing in Africa, all questions concerning small-holder farmers. Tim Wise said that we need to do down the road less traveled, inspired by Robert Frost, as the same ole road is the drive to increased crop yields.

“It’s not about feeding the world, it’s about feeding the hungry,” Wise said.

Statistics shown in the session estimated that there already is food sufficient produced for 10 billion people, and so feeding 9 billion is not issue for 2050, but today we still have 1 billion hungry. Other factors, such as farmland degradation, land-grabbing, and inefficiencies seem to be the suggested limitations through this breakfast panel.

One interesting land concern touched on were the vast land tracks that African nations have reserved for foreign investors, while these remain unused because the small farmers are prohibited from using.
In the first Borlaug Dialogue gathering for the day the Gates Foundation representative Dr. Pamela Anderson (not the Baywatch actress) gave a keynote stressing the need for more genetic improvement of smaller grain crops in Africa, empowering women, and large-scale soil mapping.

The president of Sierra Leon appeared via internet connection and gave a live speech on-screen, describing the ravaging Ebola virus effects on his nation, especially the youth. According to him, the greatest infected have been from ages 15-20. He is concerned that because his nation Is 1/3 Youth, aged 15-35, the virus prevents the agricultural development of Sierra Leon.

His speech was focused inward and generally seemed like he wants the West’s help for anything and everything.
A delightful luncheon included mingling with the high school and college students attending through a youth program and a wonderfully-nostalgic video message from Pres. Jimmy Carter! The powerfully moving speech during the main course was by Strive Masiyiwa, the director of AGRA and on the Rockefeller Foundation board. He apparently was named one of Time’s most influential people at some point in the last several years.
Other sessions were a focus on water from the private sector perspective, and a back-and-forth between U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and his Mexican counterpart Enrique Martinez y Martinez.

I escaped a bit early from the Secretary Roundtable (it was a lot of Nothing, really) and rode the escalator to find the Financing for Agricultural Entrepreneurs, in which three panelists shared their respective company’s move into greater money lending to the developing world farmers and processors. I found this session helpful and a bit over my head.

A few key points from this:
• Lenders are unlikely to lend to farmers for early stages of the supply chain (higher risk)
• There is a complex cycle of Impact on Operational Costs to the Impact on Credit Risk.
• Few developing-world farmers have credit histories and cannot raise required collateral
• A movement of food companies to increase direct movement from farm to company with less middle-men
• Interest rates are crazy large for developing-world farmers
• Machinery companies leasing equipment to farmers is illegal in many countries.

The evening ended with blackened salmon and MU colleagues in our fancy dress, and a puffer fish named Gordy.


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