Global food security is critical issue

Agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan shows a photograph of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi to illustrate a point about food security.

Story and photo by Liz Lachnit, NewsNetNebraska

A world-renowned agricultural scientist known as father of the green revolution in India had a simple message on Monday: “The future belongs to nations with grains, not guns.

M.S. Swaminathan’s comments came during his lecture on food security, which was the first in the Heuermann Lecture Series. Former Gov. Bob Kerrey and University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken were among those in the large audience at Hardin Hall on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus.

Swaminathan is considered the father of the green revolution in India for his work in producing high-yielding wheat and rice varieties. He won the World Food Prize in 1987 and was included in Time magazine’s 1999 list of the most influential Asian people of the 20th century.

Price volatility and climate change are the main problems for food security, he said.

Climate change has dramatically affected his culture, he said. For every 1-degree Celsius rise in mean temperature, wheat yield loss in India is around 6 million tons per year, or $1.3 billion, he noted.

The policy changes Swaminathan suggested to curb price volatility and climate change included restoring confidence in the international trading system, building up stocks at the world and regional level, curbing the growth of developed countries food demand and supporting access to food.

“Hunger is a very large problem,” he noted.

His native India has tried to address hunger in the last five to six years by taking a rights-based approach, Swaminathan said. Legislators there introduced the Food Security Act of India, which provides 35 kilograms of wheat and rice per family per month.

More local food security systems like that are needed, he said.

Swaminathan’s message was important for Nebraskans to hear, said one audience member.

“I think it is good, from time to time, to obtain insight on global perspectives in food production,” said Keith Glewen, a UNL extension educator who attended the lecture. “We tend to give a lot of energy to local issues, but it is good to hear from other cultures’ perspectives.”

During the lecture, Swaminathan also encouraged more research.

“Research is the prime mover of progress,” he said. “However, there is diminishing support for agricultural research.”

Yet he said he not discouraged by the reduction in support for agricultural research.

“Every challenge provides an opportunity,” he said.

Despite the diminishing support, Swaminathan cited several efforts that can be made to mitigate price volatility and climate change, including increased productivity with less ecological harm, increased political will and farmers’ skill, designing new plants types and reducing deforestation.

The expert in sustainable food security concluded his speech by quoting Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi: “Unsustainable lifestyles and unacceptable poverty should become problems of the past to achieve harmony with nature and with each other.”

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