Recently by Jean Kinsey

Feeding Billions: Local Solutions or Global Distribution?

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With a world population of 9.5 billion by 2050, the goal of cutting hunger in half (even in percentage terms) is an extreme challenge. Coupled with increased demand for animal protein foods in emerging nations (www.ers.usda.gov) food production will need to double by 2050. Never mind that we already produce the equivalent of 2,720 calories per person, per day in the world. Half of that production is lost somewhere in the supply chain. Much of it cannot be delivered to the hungriest 17% of the current global population (more than 1 billion people) due to a lack of transportation infrastructure, government trade agreements, regulations on safety and quality, political and economic consequences, or a lack of acceptance or resources by the potential recipients. The estimated need for expanded food production will require 12% more land and new technologies that will allow crop production to use less water and fertilizer and survive floods, saline soils and climate change.

Technological advances in crop production are critical to feeding the world's population because increased agricultural production must be sustainable in itself as well as sustain air, soil and water quality. Food production and distribution - a global business - is inextricably linked to the quality of human life in big cities as well as remote rural villages. Of the 1.3 billion people now living on less than $1.25 per day, almost two-thirds are in China, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia (www.guardian.co.uk). Hundreds of nations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and research institutions are working diligently to discover the next "green" green-revolution that will feed tomorrow's children at home and afar.

In contrast, affluent consumers are on a quest for "local" food - food that does not travel far to one's household, food that does not leave a big carbon footprint, food from animals produced in the most humane manner and without hormones or antibiotics, and food production that preferably complies with organic farming standards including not using genetically modified seed. Although hard to define, "local food" often includes knowing who the producer is or at least the reputation of the producing locale for quality products such as Colorado peaches, Texas grapefruit, or Napa Valley wine. By now, several studies (foodindustrycenter.umn.edu) have established that local foods do not necessarily have a smaller carbon footprint, are not necessarily organic, and often are more expensive than commercially produced products. Nevertheless, consumers with resources often seek out locally and/or organically produced food for its allegedly superior taste, nutrition, and safety and to support their local community. It also reflects a growing distrust of the commercial food system.

Is this growing preference for local food compatible with the need to build global food security and reduce hunger in the world? The answer is yes, but with important caveats and accommodations, both technological and ideological.

Global distribution and large scale agriculture is an irreversible fact. It is estimated that organic food production would, at best, feed about 3.5 billion people - less than half of the world's population (Fedorff, 2010). More than 13% of food consumed in the U.S. is imported from over 125 countries and 23% of our agricultural production is exported around the world (www.ers.usda.gov). Without world food trade commodity markets would collapse, food prices would soar, and even more people would go hungry.

High quality local food, however, will be a vital part of the solution to increase food production and feeding the poor and the hungry. Scientists are working diligently on developing new breeds of indigenous foods that are richer in micro-nutrients and/or can produce higher yields on poor soils. Some examples include adding vitamin A to rice, sweet potatoes, cassava, and maize and adding zinc and iron to wheat, rice, and beans. Biofortification uses a variety of techniques including conventional breeding, transgenic/genomics, or simply boosting the nutrient content of the soil or water to boost the uptake of nutrients into the food (Bouis and Welch, 2010). There are many success stories: the Philippines (tilapia), India (dairy) and Asia (mung beans) (Spielman and Pandya-Lorch, 2010). Two organizations pursuing this research include the Harvest Plus Project at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington D.C. and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture(CIAT) in Cali, Columbia. Their goal is to develop affordable, nutritious varieties of foods traditionally consumed by rural, indigenous people in order to provide better nutrition, better crop yields, and alleviate hunger (www.harvestplus.org/).

The adoption of biofortified foods depends on more scientific and field research to perfect the agronomic adaptability and gain local producer and consumer acceptance. It also requires the endorsement of consumers in the Western World, many of whom have lobbied against the development and adoption of genetically modified foods. New breeds of old foods will also require education for different agricultural practices and/or new cooking methods. New markets for these modified foods could offer new resources to poor framers. Nutritionally enhanced indigenous (local) foods have the potential to curb starvation and boost the productivity of millions of poor people.

It turns out that higher quality local food production is complementary to global trade, not only in prosperous countries but also for the millions of poor and hungry people around the world. Science can make it possible; compassion and education will make it happen.


* This post is based on a presentation given by Professor and Director Emeritus Jean Kinsey at the D.W. Brooks Lecture, University of Georgia, 10/5/2010. A copy of the presentation is available on The Food Industry Center's Presentations webpage.


1. www.ers.usda.gov/AmberWaves/November03/findings/richerworld.htm

2. www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/datablog/2010/sep/14/bottom-billion-poverty

3. foodindustrycenter.umn.edu/Local_Foods_Case_Studies/index.htm

4. Nina Fedorff, Penn State Univeristy, "Issues of Our Time: Rethinking Food Production in a Hotter, Drier World," Speech at IUFoST 15th World Food Conference, Cape Town S. Africa, August, 2010

5. www.ers.usda.gov

6. Howarth E. Bouis and Ross M. Welch, "Biofortification - A Sustainable Agricultural Strategy for Reducing Micronutrient Malnutrition in the Global South." Crop Science, 50:April 2010.

7. David J. Spielman and Rajul Pandya-Lorch, Proven Successes in Agricultural Development - A technical Compendium to Millions Fed. Washington DC, IFPRI, 2010.

8. www.harvestplus.org/


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Dreaming of a Hunger-Free Minnesota

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Hunger-Free Minnesota!

This is a dream and a serious campaign launched by Second Harvest Heartland, Hunger Solutions Minnesota and the Greater Twin Cities United Way. As an invited contributor to this project, I had the privilege of working with Professor Elton Mykerezi to construct the Cost/Benefit Hunger Impact Study identifying the payoff to investing in programs and activities that will help to end hunger in Minnesota. The study revealed the unnecessary disruption hunger plays in our community, specifically costing Minnesotans upwards of $1.62 billion annually in direct and indirect health and educational expenses as well as lost wages. About half of this cost is born by public funds. Eliminating these costs will save tax payer money, help lower the state budget deficit, decrease health care costs, and increase the health and welfare of millions of Minnesotans.

The pervasive effects of hunger range from physical illness and educational costs to lost wages and productivity. Direct and indirect medical expenses result from likely emergency room visits and childhood maladies such as iron deficiency. Those who are ill and cannot work incur costs to themselves in lost wages and to their employers in lost productivity. We spend almost $59 million annually to help treat children and teens for hunger-induced psychological problems. Hungry children and adults do not concentrate and perform well in school or on the job and hungry children are more likely than well-fed students to drop out of school.

Earlier studies at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank and the University of Minnesota's early childhood education programs have illustrated very positive returns from investments in children's education - payoffs for individual children and for the community - but I argue that a precursor to effective early childhood education is being well-fed. Ending hunger and promoting early childhood education go hand in hand for the welfare of all Minnesotans.

The newly released 2010 Hormel Hunger Study, found that nine out of ten Americans agree that reducing the number of hungry children benefits the community. The study has been conducted by Hormel Foods for several years, prompted by their leadership's interest in this issue. This year's results find that hunger has increased; one in four Americans say they or someone they know has had to make a choice between buying food for their family and paying their bills. Companies like Hormel Foods and organizations like Second Harvest Heartland, with thousands of volunteers and food donations, continue working toward alleviating this hunger. Public policies, however, that reduce unemployment and poverty will be needed if we want to reduce the members of our community who go hungry and boost the numbers of healthy, educated children and healthy, productive adults. This is an economic issue. This is a humanitarian issue. It is our collective issue.


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Consumers Are Voting With Their Words

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With the explosion of social media tools, society has moved from "mass media" exposure to "masses of media" exposure. It means that ideas are not shared by the masses, but by a narrow set of "friends" who think like "I" do. The result is messages and markets are fractionalized and niches are now the target for promoting one's product, service, or idea. A VERY DIFFERENT MINDSET is required. Now, the audience is creating the messages, determining what is good or bad, desirable, or boring. Marketers now are LISTENERS and followers rather than leading the discussion about their products. Consumers are not just voting with their dollars or their feet, but they are voting with their words - their comments and suggestions - their praise and their outrage - their videos and their tweets.

The keynote speaker at the 2010 Symposium of The Food Industry Center confirmed that his company uses social media to invite people to get involved, inspire people to share their comments, and include people by listening to their opinions. Instead of keeping a new product "secret" until it was ready to hit the shelves, they share it during the development stage to get rapid feedback. It is like having a focus group of thousands - online - that someone else runs. Bloggers who write about their products need - by contract - to disclose they have received products from this company, but they are free to say anything they like - and they do. Negative feedback is valuable and much less expensive than going to a full product launch only to learn too late about its potential failure.



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How Will Social Media Change Food Industry Relationships?

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Building Relationships was a common theme spoken at the April 28, 2010 Spring Symposium of The Food Industry Center -- The Opportunities and Challenges of Social Media in the Food Industry. The food service sector (restaurants) is using social media to exchange information with potential customers about what they like to eat and to identify the brands of food being used in the restaurant (i.e. farmer John's local beef or Tyson's chicken). Fans of a particular beverage (Coke) formed a Facebook fan club that has 4.5 million fans. Coke cannot and does not control this fan club, but they can participate in it and learn from it. It was estimated by one presenter that a $1.00 investment in social media messaging returns $3.60 in revenue - not a bad ROI in the food service sector.

Participants offered their own practices in a pre-symposium survey on social media use to provide a current example of how the tools are being used. More than three-fourths of student participants have been using social media for more than 3 years, compared to 59% of industry professionals working full time. The predominant reason both groups use social medial tools is to connect with friends and family. Facebook, You Tube, texting and LinkedIn were the most popular tools for these social relationships. Participants noted the most popular tools for conducting professional or school work are LinkedIn, Facebook, Blogs, and You Tube tied with Twitter. Only 2 percent were non-users compared to about 24% of the general public.

The symposium offered the following takeaway thoughts for the food industry, its constituents, and their relationship:
• Postings on social media sites make up a "life cast" -- a new form of diary or
biography, only it is written in real time.
• Cell phones are the new cigarettes -addictive.
• Anonymity is gone!
• The audience (customer) now creates the message.
• Social media is a conversation among people to which industry marketers can
listen. It cannot be controlled or used to sell (push) a preconceived product.



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