Obsession with organic, local food harming developing countries

Blog, Environment, Joseph Quesnel, Trade

An American political scientist chastised Western food fads at an international food security conference at McGill University recently.

Robert Paarlberg, A professor of political science at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, argued in his 2008 book Starved for Science that “a growing distaste for agricultural science — manifested in the embrace of organic farming and rejection of genetically modified crops — is keeping Africans hungry.”

Among African farmers, he said, fertilizer and irrigation are relatively uncommon and seeds are not improved through breeding techniques.

The problem is Western activists have romanticized an indigenous, “all natural” form of agriculture that rejects modern advances in agricultural science.

But this was precisely what lifted Asian populations out of poverty through the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.

But, this anti-scientific discourse, of course, is not limited to developing countries.

Pierre Desrochers, a geography professor at the University of Toronto and his wife Hiroko Shimizu argue in the Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet,  that local food proponents are trying to force people to pay more for local food that could be cheaply imported from elsewhere. Moreover, diversifying food sources provides security from disasters that could decimate food supplies.

Desrochers will be speaking at a Frontier breakfast event in Calgary this Thursday. It will be interesting to hear how fads and anti-science ideas are distorting how we think about food and food security.