The Asia Society held a symposium at the Ford Foundation Monday, to discuss food security in Asia. The event was launched the report “Never an Empty Bowl: Sustaining Food Security in Asia,” co-published by the Asia Society and the International Rice Research Institute. An esteemed panel including the Director of the World Food Programme and the former Secretary-General of ASEAN discussed food production in the continent, lauding the technological innovations and increased productivity stemming from the Green Revolution. Panel member Robert Zeigler, Director General of the International Rice Research Institute, (an organization that played a key role in bringing the Green Revolution to Asia) further underscored the relationship between technology and food security, telling the room that his organization is busy planting the seeds of a new Green Revolution in Asia.
And yet, amid all this talk of agriculture rooted in technology, the audience seemed to want something different. A small burst of applause erupted when panel member Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, called for a more environmentally conscious Green Revolution – one that doesn’t rely on fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides that deplete soil nutrients. Ursula Shaefer-Preuss of the Asian Development Bank insisted that climate change must be front and center in any present-day discussion of food security, provoking a similar response from the audience. The scope of the talk left the young Filipina woman seated in front of me visibly dissatisfied. She explained to me that five years ago she and her mother started one of the few organic farms that currently exists outside of Manila. By abandoning chemical additives and embracing traditional farming methods, the soil’s fertility has returned, as has the land’s biodiversity. Frogs and fish now frequent their rice paddies, a scenario no longer known in the “highly productive” fields of the Green Revolution.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons