The essay has been replicated in full online.
A Generational Recommitment to Abolishing World Hunger
by Norman Borlaug, Christopher Dowswell, Bill Raun, and Ed Runge
The term “Green Revolution” was first used in 1968 by William Gaud, USAID director, when referring to the dramatic improvement in wheat production in Pakistan and India that had occurred as a result of the improved dwarf wheat varieties, primarily Pitic 62 and Penjamo 62. Although this took place 40 years ago, the Green Revolution continues to carry a banner of commitment for developing nations. Yet, today, we continue to live in the shrouded thralls of world hunger with no universal pledge to eradicate it.
Human misery and suffering today are much greater than what they should be. Pogge (2005) reported that 44% of the world’s population lives below the $2-per-day international poverty line and consumes only 1.3% of the global product. Alternatively, affluent countries consume 81% of the global product but account for only one-sixth of the world population (World Bank, 2003). Tolerating the existence of world poverty inflicts greater harm on us as a society than the meaningful sacrifice it would take to abolish it. Society can no longer stand by and innocently watch as much of the third world spirals into a cauldron of hunger, disease, angst, and anguish beyond any reality known in the developed world.
We need a multi-generational recommitment to delivering increased production in the troubled third world. This recommitment must come in the form of people, placing them along with our treasures and resources in the lands of others. We need a program that puts the developed nations’ young, committed, and dedicated scientists on the ground in the third world. We need to embed that experience in their psyche early on in their careers, entrenching the willingness to be better ambassadors throughout their life. We need young scientists that want more out of life than a new car and a new home; young scientists that want to make a difference and whose daily thoughts are haunted by the horrific images and pungent smells of human disease and starvation.
The developed world needs to share more of its massive wealth with the third world. We need increased taxes, designated specifically for developing nations. We need more bridges and fewer fences, more schools and fewer guns, more teachers and fewer terrorists. This resonating message and others like it have been lost in a technological age of wireless networks, cell phones, GPS guidance, and satellite surveillance, yet despite this complexity, we remain incapable of hearing the basic cries of more than 30,000 people who die each day due to starvation and/or the secondary effects of malnutrition. More realistic and painfully embarrassing to the developed world is that terrorism has increased in direct proportion to the number of people in poverty and a growing sector of our world population that has lost hope.
We cannot begin to comprehensively combat terrorism until we first demonstrate our commitment and resolve to abolish world hunger. In order to make a lasting difference, we have to psychologically embrace a long-term and meaningful commitment—we have to provide hope to the disadvantaged.
Education: The Gift that Keeps on Giving
That commitment should start with a comprehensive K-12 education program for the entire third world that would cost trillions of dollars. The quintessential gift that keeps on giving is investing in education, the longest-lasting and most compassionate and fruitful gift society can give to itself. A commitment to education leads to schools, roads, infrastructure, production, and understanding. Education leads to tolerance among religious beliefs and a shared love for all our neighbors. If we all had it to do over, who wouldn’t take the billions of dollars spent in Iraq and Afghanistan on a comprehensive K-12 education program for the entire developing world?
Comprehensive cooperation is required from the private sector to develop multitudes of improved cereal GMOs with increased yield potential and disease/insect tolerance. The private sector must restructure how it deals with intellectual property interests from seed sold in the developing world. Similarly, the International Agricultural Research Centers of the Consultative Group on International Agriculture (CGIAR) and developed-nation universities should fight for open access to improved GMOs in the third world and not further contribute to the problem by actively participating in the IP fray.
A generational recommitment to abolishing world hunger is needed. This starts with:
Talking about world hunger at the dinner table in our homes and leads to third-grade lemonade stands and bakery sales in our schools.
Writing monthly checks to NGOs and religious groups needing financial help abroad.
Extending our good will abroad with a new “World Hunger Corps” tied into the USDA.
Enriching the lives of our youth by requiring them to work in the third world and to experience what they never experienced before.
Committing our very best young scientists to careers in international development with the CGIAR and a multitude of NGOs.
Committing more funds through taxes for USAID and more money for a World Hunger Corps that works together with universities and the CGIAR system and a host of nonprofit groups/foundations.
A generational recommitment to abolishing world hunger starts and ends with the agonizing reality that we would be consumed with anger and hatred if it were our children dying of hunger and living without hope. It must start with all of us, and it is desperately needed now.
Finally, who could lead this generational recommitment? In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, the Rockefeller, Ford, Kellogg, and Kresge foundations accepted and acted on the challenges for increased food production in the third world, and their efforts have delivered lasting changes. More recently, our world has benefited from the objective and sincere efforts from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which alone is incredibly well positioned to coordinate and lead the charge for an unparalleled K-12 worldwide education program, combined with a wealth of developing-world government and nongovernment organizations. We in turn must all work with them to answer the charge.
Pogge, T. 2005. World poverty and human rights. Ethics and International Affairs 19:1.
World Bank. 2003. World development report. Oxford University Press, New York.
Authors: N. Borlaug, Texas A&M University, College Station; C. Dowswell, Sasakawa Africa Association, c/o CIMMYT, Mexico City; B. Raun, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater; and E. Runge, Texas A&M University, College Station.
Photo courtesy of IRRI: An IRRI technican uses a 4-panel leaf color chart to manage the nitrogen levels of rice plants.
Based in the Philippines, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is the oldest and largest international agricultural research institute in Asia. It is an autonomous, nonprofit rice research and education organization with staff based in 14 countries in Asia and Africa. IRRI was established in 1960 by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations in cooperation with the Philippine government. Our headquarters—which feature modern laboratories, training and accommodation facilities, and a 252-hectare experimental farm—lie next to the main campus of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, about 60 kilometers south of the Philippine capital, Manila.