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The benefits of local food production and the need to feed the world

Published Jun. 11, 2010 | Discuss this article on Facebook
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Buckeye Farm News

A report released this spring detailed the benefits of having a thriving local food system, saying it can help boost an area’s economy and make it less reliant on outside food sources. On the other hand, some say that placing too much emphasis on local food systems and not large scale food production can hurt efforts to feed the world.

These point-counterpoint arguments are the subject of two recent Town Hall Ohio episodes. The first show dealt with a report by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission that examined the benefits of having a strong local food system in central Ohio. MORPC’s Agriculture and Food Systems Working Group worked for a year with 12 counties in gathering information and making recommendations about a local food system.

Only 1 to 3 percent of food consumed in central Ohio is produced there, said Jerry Tinianow, director of MORPC’s Center for Energy and Environment, on Town Hall Ohio. In comparison, during World War II when petroleum was scarce for the area, about 40 percent of food consumed was locally produced, he said.

“If we can get up to 40 percent of producing food locally, we will be doing very, very well,” he said, noting that central Ohio has the potential to produce more food locally because of its productive soils and plentiful water.

The report found that not only will a strong local food system strengthen the local economy but ensure that the fresh food is easily accessible to people of all income levels, reduce the distance needed to distribute and sell the food and preserve farmland by making agriculture more viable to area farmers.

While consumers are starting to “wake up to the value of fresh, local food,” demand is not great enough for many farmers to switch to selling locally and stopping out-of-state commodity shipments, Tinianow said.

“Farmers are capitalists and are subject to supply and demand and right now the economics favor commodity shipments out of state,” he said.

As the push for local foods gains momentum, some experts are concerned that it will hinder worldwide efforts to feed the hungry. About one out of every seventh person is malnourished, said Per Pinstrup-Andersen, a 2001 World Food Laureate.

“The world’s biggest challenge is to feed future generations but even more importantly to feed the kids who don’t get enough to eat,” he said, pointing out that about 5 million children died of hunger and nutrition-related illnesses last year, many in Asia and Africa. “It’s not our responsibility to solve their problems but it is our responsibility to help them.”

Scientists are continuing to look for ways to improve crop production to reduce famine, in particular with genetically modified crops. The United Nations estimates the world needs to double food production over the next 40 years to meet demand.

“We need to think about the people who are starving and don’t have proper nutrients,” Pinstrup-Andersen said on Town Hall Ohio. “We need to do things more quickly and large scale … rather than more locally and smaller and slower.”

Farmers around the world need to produce food in the most efficient manner possible and in a way that does the least amount of damage to the environment, he said.

“In many cases, producing food locally is very inefficient and contributes more to global warming and greenhouse gasses,” he said. “We have to worry about the efficient use of natural resources; otherwise, we will tear them apart and not have enough food in 50 years.”



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