What is in this article?:
- Two billion more mouths to feed by 2040.
- With shrinking budgets, where should agricultural research focus be?
- Public sector scientists say biotechnology promises are too often overblown leading to underfunding of conventional agricultural research.
A delicate balance
Sinclair says working in developing countries is “delicate because no one wants to be accused of a new era of colonialism — ‘you must do it our way.’ We must work within their farming systems.
“Some of the things we could introduce would mean risk for the farmers in developing nations. In places like Africa, risk needs to be near zero. If you tell them to spend a bit more on fertilizer and a subsistence farmer loses her crop, the situation is worse than ever. It’s a precarious balance.”
There are reports of difficulties in getting Africans to eat grains they’re unfamiliar with. Sinclair says this is another facet of the hunger problem.
“The four crop species that are part of the Gates project are chickpea, common bean, peanut and cowpea.
“The dietary issue is very interesting. Basically, if anyone is given a new food, the inclination is ‘that tastes odd. I’m not sure I like it.’ We like to eat what we were brought up eating.
“However, I’ve spoken to people who tell me if we’re sensitive to recipes and preparation that fit what people are used to, they’ll accept the new grains. I know someone who introduced pigeon pea into Bolivia. It took some work to get the pigeon pea to fit what the locals were used to.
“But this points to the need to present a whole package. Too many approach food issues saying, ‘We’ll do this and this.’ When it isn’t adopted rapidly, they just give up. Well, the locals don’t know how to cook it and/or it doesn’t taste right. That’s a challenge.”