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Let science guide food production

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A farmer ploughs at Kaaboi in Turbo, Uasin Gishu County on January 28, 2021. FILE PHOTO | NMG

jenny

Summary

  • There’s a weird absence of information about how we can lose 40 percent of this crop, and 80 percent of that crop, and achieve food security still.
  • Indeed, 2050 Hero can campaign for us to all move to eating local, ending the black hole of oil consumption on international shipping, and accelerate other science too, to fuel our transport and our lights, while putting the use of science back into food production.

The world is searching its soul, this season, as the great and the good move from last week’s United Nations Food Systems Summit, reviewing how we can all end food insecurity, straight on to the far bigger climate change conference that begins on October 31.

Yet at the heart of both events is a debate that makes me think humanity is its own worst enemy: for how do we make so many decisions, and support so many ideas and movements, without facts?

For here’s the thing — we are heading towards our greatest food insecurity yet, driven by claims about mitigating climate change that simply enjoy no supporting evidence whatsoever.

So how is it woven, this tangled web? Well, first base, perhaps, is the impact of climate change on food production. The impact is greatest in Africa. Tropical climates suffer a far higher pest load than temperate climates.

The cold winters up north kill a lot of bugs and bacteria and fungi and weeds, as agricultural falls substantially fallow for several months a year, with ground sometimes even buried under snow and frozen.

In addition to having no ‘reset’ button courtesy of a freezing winter, the warmer, wetter climes in the south accelerate the growth of fungi and toxins, such as the deadly aflatoxins, and most plant viruses too, from this leaf wilt to that leaf wilt across crop after crop.

They also present enhanced breeding conditions for insects, not just locust, but white fly, moths, even Fall Armyworm.

Then, as the climate gets warmer still, and Kenya’s climate has increased by more than 1.5 degrees in multiple counties in recent years, the pest load grows faster still.

On top of that, globalisation is leading to new pests: no-one quite knows how Fall Armyworm blew into West Africa from South America, since it is wind-borne, but arrive it did, in 2017.

This year, one of the most virulent rice pests in the world, the Golden Apple Snail, arrived in Kenya.

The first sighting was confirmed by the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), in Mwea, in March this year.

By July, the snail, which lays 250 eggs at a time, had infested over 1,500 acres, destroying up to 80 percent of new grown rice, and changing the fortunes of our largest rice growing area forever.

For, as Fall Armyworm, lethal maize necrosis, and our other maize diseases have shown us — by triggering huge imports to keep our staple food in adequate supply — the more pests we are afflicted by, the lower our food production.

So a big agenda item about climate change is what we do about the rising pests? No. It isn’t. The big agenda, created by those who point the biggest budgets at communications, is how we stop pest control, to save the planet.

There’s a weird absence of information about how we can lose 40 percent of this crop, and 80 percent of that crop, and achieve food security still.

But the oddest thing, the European Union now has a farm-to-fork strategy for its agriculture, which has committed it to phasing out pesticides, and it’s very keen the whole world should do the same.

The EU does not claim this is for food safety or human safety, but in its own documents claims this will slow climate change, without ever showing any relationship or dynamic, or causal connection between, for instance, dipping cattle for ticks and damaging the Ozone layer.

The connection is literally a blank space, never argued, and never demonstrated.

However, it becomes increasingly clear that we all have a way of being led by the loud guys, straight over the cliff, and then, when we are all starving, our hero can come and suggest we deploy some proven and tested science to extend, expand, and repair our food production.

Indeed, 2050 Hero can campaign for us to all move to eating local, ending the black hole of oil consumption on international shipping, and accelerate other science too, to fuel our transport and our lights, while putting the use of science back into food production.

Let’s hope he’s born now, and getting ready, to put it back right.