Letter from the Editors

Article excerpt

In a modernizing, increasingly industrial world, one age-old challenge still haunts us: how to produce enough food for an expanding population. Today, however, the most pressing concerns are not Malthusian, reflecting absolute shortfalls in food production, but distributional. Nearly one billion people are hungry, while the spread of modern diets from the developed to the developing world has left over 300 million obese. As death rates fall and populations skyrocket, the production of food is becoming a crucial social, economic and political factor in the modern world.

In this issue we examine agriculture and the technologies of global sustenance. Olivier de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, opens our symposium with a claim that that the right to food should be at the forefront of efforts to achieve food security. Jake Ferris and David Pimentel then discuss the relative merits of the use of corn for ethanol production. Ferris, in an analysis of ethanol's potential as an energy source, concludes that ethanol can be a cost-and energy-efficient fuel and part of a comprehensive energy solution. Pimentel, on the other hand, highlights the real and potential effects of ethanol conversion on malnourishment in the developing world, and argues against increased usage. Next, Douglas Southgate and others investigate the growing trend of payments for environmental services for rural farmers in Latin America. They find that paying farmers to refrain from harmful practices may be an efficient way to protect the environment, but that such an approach should not be relied upon as a poverty-alleviation panacea. Pamela Ronald then looks at the threat posed by genetically-engineered crops to plant diversity, noting that the risk is real but often overstated. Finally, Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion, critically assesses what he calls Western "romanticism" about African subsistence farming. He argues that Africans realize, and Westerners should too, that for the continent to escape poverty it must embrace industrialization. …