DR. DICKSON DESPOMMIER spent thirty-eight years as a professor of microbiology and public health in environmental health sciences at Columbia, where he won the Best Teacher award six times. In 2003, he was awarded the American Medical Student Association Golden Apple Award for teaching. He has addressed audiences at leading universities including Harvard and MIT, and he has also been invited to speak at the United Nations. In addition, he has been asked by governments of China, India, Mexico, Jordan, Brazil, Canada, and Korea to work on environmental problems. Despommier lives in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
What Food Crisis?
9/4/2011 7:25:26 PM

The next time you are at the supermarket, take a closer look at what’s for sale. Go down a few isles of prepared foods and count the number of competing brands for each food item. It’s a staggering array of colorfully decorated boxes, cans, and plastic bags, all designed to catch your attention, like so many cute puppies in a pet store. If we didn’t know better, we’d think the whole world had the same problem: “What’s for dinner” (see: Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma). Well, although all of us ask the same question every day, many ask it for quite a different reason. That’s because last night, there was nothing for dinner. No dilemma of choices here.  Just dilemma. The World Bank has chosen to highlight this unacceptable situation with an in-depth review of the food crisis on their web site- http://www.worldbank.org/foodcrisis

According to their statistics, nearly 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night, and many have not eaten a real meal for months. Local grown food is not an option for these unfortunates, since farming where they live is either impossible, failing or has already failed. One of the most acute situations lies in the Horn of Africa. Drought and political unrest have combined once again to place millions living there in jeopardy of starving to death. It seems that every time we pick up a newspaper, that hot, dry region is in the headlines, and for the same reasons. Relief efforts are ongoing, but have so far proven ineffective. Food drops routinely fall into the hands of ruthless bands of heavily armed Somali ‘police forces’ and end up being sold on the black market. In other places, such as in Haiti, the situation may seem different, since there is no war in progress, but the result is the same. Not enough food, with millions starving and no hope in sight.  Life, regardless of what form it takes, is all about food and water. Getting both of these essentials to everyone every day is the single most important difference between a developed and a less developed country. 

But what if no one went to bed hungry or thirsty? No one. Ever again. What if all countries were able to satisfy all of the basic needs of their own people without any help? No need for foreign food aid programs. Is that an impossible dream? Not when I go to sleep. I see visions of cheap, reliable technologies coming to the fore in the form of drinking water recovery systems using liquid municipal waste, a burgeoning urban food production system, and an energy generating scheme that takes advantage of solar and wind power. I see the new internet, accessed with smart, inexpensive electronic devices, enabling billions of otherwise uninformed and often oppressed people, providing them with freedom to information as to how to access these technologies.

A world literacy has sprung up as the result of these new applications of information sharing that has already led to the overthrow of selfish, despicable leaders and their family-based empires of greed and excess throughout the Middle East, with more despots to fall in the near future, make not doubt about that. Arab Spring has been given a new breath of fresh air, as Libya falls to the freedom-seeking masses as this blog is being written. There is much to do that follows this paradigm shift, and a modern functional infrastructure is on the horizon for these fortunate infant democracies to make sure that they join the rest of the developed world as equal members. Lets hope that by the time they need them, vertical farming will have come into its own, empowering the cities throughout the Middle East to thrive in their dessert worlds, to provide a sustainable life for all who choose to live there . 

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