Ag broadcaster: Developing nations will have huge need for food

Farm Forum

In a time when international connections are tantamount for marketing, one of the speakers at the South Dakota Wheat Growers annual meeting addressed how the developing world will affect U.S. agriculture.

Since 1996, Andrew McCrea, a northwest Missouri farmer and rancher, popular author and nationally syndicated radio broadcaster, has traveled the nation, producing the “American Countryside” features that are heard each day on radio stations coast-to-coast. At the Wheat Growers meeting last week, he shared four points with an international focus.

“Africa, going forward, will have by far the biggest population increase and demand for food in the next 50 years,” McCrea said. “In Africa, during the last 50 years, the food supply has gone backward. If it continues to go backward for another 50 years there will be a real food crisis. While India will be the most populated county in the world, with massive increases in the middle class, India has technology to produce more food. That is a key thing. By 2050, three countries that will have the biggest gains in population in Africa will be Ethiopia, the Congo and Nigeria.”

McCrea said that China is investing in a lot of infrastructure in those counties as it sees it as a secure place to grow food. Most the world food programs are helping individuals. There are lots of problems with market access and technology. The farmers still dry grains on a sheet. In fact, he said that in Ghana, they lose 30 to 50 percent of the grain postharvest because of the huge problems they have in storing or transporting what is grown. As individuals struggle to grow crops, there is not often an excess of food.

In countries like China, they employ massive numbers of people. If more technology were put into place, then there would be people without work. In one feedlot that would employ 3 or 4 people in the U.S., they had 70 people working, doing many of the tasks manually. If at some point the feedlot modernized, there would be 65 people unemployed, which would create a problem for the government. They have a bias against technology because of the great need to keep people employed.

McCrea said it’s amazing to see ditches being dug by hand. “We complain about shipping jobs overseas. They need to have massive amounts of food grown. They have to a consider how to adapt and at what prices. Massive numbers of people are moving from the country to the city. The Chinese government has to have the food to feed them. They have the largest hog herd in the world, so there is a real opportunity for improvement.”

McCrea’s second point looked at freedom or the lack thereof, and how that impacts food.

McCrea referenced a study that looked at how a country’s lack of a bill of rights could affect the feeding of that country’s people. Why did Africa move backwards in food production? McCrea said it comes from the complete instability in the government when people don’t have basic freedoms. He said that undermines the whole system.

As far as food vs. nutrition, those who are undernourished create a whole slew of problems.

In a case study in Bolivia couple of years ago, it was the poorest country in South America. Of the people, 23 percent were considered obese, 40 percent were considered undernourished. Many showed up in both categories at the same time. When there is so little money for food, they choose food that fills the stomach. They can be obese and undernourished at same time. This opens up a whole other set of problems. Statistics from the United Nations looked at the nourishment rate and use that to accurately predict the Gross Domestic Product of the nation. It comes down to how nations take care of its citizens.

“Here in the U.S., we have backpack buddies to help provide nourishment over the weekends for young people,” McCrea said. “It’s been shown that what is consumed impacts brain development. In order to have a good work force going forward, proper nutrition needs to be part of daily life.”

Another key thing at the domestic level here in the U.S. is the importance of ag and rural communities. With fewer people to farm, there is a lot of wealth and increased valuation of the land. There is a need to keep investing into rural communities, by taking steps to keep young people involved in agriculture.

“Community foundations are a great way to make sure that we have strong communities going forward,” McCrea said. “What good is growing more food if there is no real infrastructure, just orphan communities?”

As an example, in the town of Shickley, Neb., they raised more than $2 million. One-half of that is for endowments; the other half is for projects to preserve what they have and to capture the wealth that is there. “We need to think of ourselves and the value that we have in rural communities,” McCrea said. “We’d hate to see all of value leave the rural areas.” McCrea urged those with a farm to give 5 percent back to community when transferring to the next generation. It’s a great way to support what has been built through the years.