Davos, world hunger and Felix Salmon

After a conversation with Dan Barber of Blue Hill Farm (a phenomenal restaurant, by the way), Felix Salmon is convinced that the Davos approach to solving world hunger is broken:
No one talked about creating relatively small and self-sufficient agricultural communities: the model is still very much that you sell your one crop for money, and then use that money to buy whatever other food you might need.
Here’s my comment in response:
Felix, I love that you posted on this, but I don’t think where you’re coming out is specific enough to the rural smallholder farming households who make up most of the world’s hungry. They are food-insecure because they can’t produce enough to feed their families and/or they don’t make enough money from selling their surplus crops to buy enough food to close the deficit. “Creating relatively small and self-sufficient agricultural communities” is a nice goal, but we can’t get there in poor countries without figuring out the “how” of improving smallholder productivity.

Staple crop monocultures for these smallholders aren’t necessarily as dumb as they might seem from afar. Which staple crop often varies according to local growing conditions (e.g., in Ethiopia, some regions grow mainly maize, others mainly wheat, teff, or sorghum). And if you’re struggling to grow enough to feed your family on your single hectare of land, focusing on the most productive staple crop – perhaps with a small plot of a cash crop like tomatoes or onions on the side – makes sense.

Agricultural innovation (like, say, flood-resistant rice or drought-tolerant corn, or yield- and sustainability-enhancing crop rotation techniques for that matter) is critical not so the developed world can produce more to ship to the developing world, but rather so poor farmers in developing world can produce enough food to feed themselves.

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