The world needs a second Green Revolution, and Nigatu Yitbarek wants to help make it a reality.
The administrator of a corn-production program in Ethiopia says the same kind of revolutionary increase in cereal yields that transformed much of Asia in the 1960s can happen in Africa and other regions where food production is stagnating.
But what it will take, he says, is a new emphasis: Instead of focusing on the well-watered and environmentally stable conditions that the first Green Revolution addressed, attention must now be focused on the arid land, deteriorated natural resources, and unstable weather Mr. Yitbarek encounters in his work with Ethiopia's highland farmers.
"We need to pay more attention to a practical transfer of new technologies to poor small farmers in these more challenging regions," he says. "We can't forget they still feed much of the world."
Yitbarek is one of more than 400 scientists and food-production specialists who took part in an international conference here last week on increasing global food security.
It was the first major scientific gathering on food production since scientists meeting in Iowa in 1950 mapped out a course of crop growth through the use of high-yield hybrid seeds and fertilizers. Last week's conference was testimony to how that course will change in the future.
"The challenge has changed, and we need to change our approach," says Timothy Reeves, director general of the Mexico City-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, which organized the gathering. More focus will be needed on the drier, soil-degraded conditions of much of the developing world, especially Africa. More attention will go to working with local varieties and conditions, experts say, and more emphasis must be put on working with local farmers, rather than on simply trying to take answers to them.
"We have to think more in terms of joint ventures - between universities and farmers, between the private sector and international organizations working on food production," Mr. Reeves says.
One example, the United States is initiating a $30 million African Food Security Initiative this year, aimed at addressing the continent's food gap through more-focused research and development and trade. The 10-year initiative could reach $100 million by 2000, according to Mr. Bertram.
Less food, more citydwellers
Food production is leveling off and even falling in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America because of highly deteriorated farmlands, insufficient access to fertilizers and improved seeds, and urbanization.
Working with poor farmers will channel research into new areas, Reeves says. US farmers use 100 percent hybrid seeds, for example, but that requires the purchase of new seed each year. Since poor farmers cannot afford new seed every year, research is needed in apomixis, a type of plant reproduction that results in clones of hybrid seeds. That way farmers could switch to high-yield hybrids and continue using the seeds their crops produced.
Also, experts estimate that by 2015, half the world's working population will be urban-dwelling for the first time. "One of the big coming challenges will not only be producing more on less land," says Reeves, "but feeding this new urban poor."