Tag Archives: agribusiness

High-Tech Hydroponic Farm Transforms Abandoned Bowling Alley

High-Tech Hydroponic Farm Transforms Abandoned Bowling Alley | Wired Science | Wired.com.

Gotham Greens

NEW YORK CITY — On top of an old bowling alley in industrial northern Brooklyn sits an expansive translucent greenhouse. Inside, a bounty of produce thrives under the supervision of a computer-controlled network of sensors, motors and plumbing.

The 15,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse facility, called Gotham Greens, is reputedly the first commercial-scale urban operation of its kind in the United States. Thousands of lettuce and basil seedlings were plopped into a soil-less farming system in May. Since then, three local entrepreneurs say their operation is on track to deliver 100 tons of produce by the one-year mark.

While that pales in comparison to about 1.5 million tons of soil-free produce trucked into the city each year, and is far less than the output of nearby soil rooftop farms, the $2 million startup can’t keep up with demand from the city’s top chefs and upscale grocery stores.

“On the first harvest day we had so much lettuce we almost didn’t know what to do with it all, but now we can’t grow it fast enough,” said greenhouse director Jennifer Nelkin.

Gotham Greens is already eyeing some of the the city’s more than 940 million square feet of rooftop space to expand their high-tech operation.

The hardest task, said co-founder and CEO Viraj Puri, is convincing landlords to entertain the idea of putting a watery business on their rooftops. After that it’s a matter of navigating zoning restrictions, building codes and figuring out how to engineer the plumbing.

“You can’t bury anything on a roof,” Puri said. “It requires some clever technology.”

Images: 1) Inside Gotham Greens at 810 Humboldt St. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. (Dave Mosher/Wired.com) 2) The outside of the greenhouse. (Copyright of Gotham Greens)

 

seedlings in basalt rock plugs

 

Plant Plugs

The greenhouse begins its work by germinating seeds of four lettuce types and one basil variety in plastic bins. Fibrous plugs, spun from a volcanic rock called basalt, draw water to the fledgling roots and provide a medium for them to grow in.

“Not just hydroponic growers use the plugs,” Nelkin said. “A lot of farmers try and get a head-start at their soil farms, usually about six weeks before they can plant, by germinating seedlings in them.”

Images: Dave Mosher/Wired.com

 

irrigation system

 

Irrigating Gutters

Between 10 and 14 days after planting in the basalt plugs (above), the seeds sprout into seedlings and are ushered into hydroponic gutters (below). A series of pumps and drains constantly move nutrient-rich water through the gutters. Gotham Greens uses the nutrient film technique, which circulates a very shallow layer of water to supply roots with ample oxygen. Tight control over the nutrients and climate gives growers extreme control over their products.

“Many [hydroponic] tomatoes in the store, for example, taste like a swimming pool — and it’s too bad they’re giving hydroponics a bad name. It’s indicative of the grower, not the method,” Nelkin said. “You can really manipulate produce with hydroponics. You can choose to grow a tasteless tomato full of water, or grow the best, sweetest, juiciest tomato you’ve ever had.”

Images: Dave Mosher/Wired.com

 

calcium iron micronutrient bucket

 

Produce Juice

Plants primarily need water, carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur to grow. Most of these  materials come from air and tap water, but some trace nutrients need to be supplemented.

Gotham Greens stores nutrient mixes in giant buckets (above). When low levels are detected by sensors or in human-collected samples, computer-controlled pumps move the fluid into a nearby lagoon. (For proprietary reasons, Wired.com was only allowed to photograph this part of the system.) From there the solution is delivered to the gutters, and runoff returns to the lagoon for recycling.

The irrigation system is less complex than those of other hydroponic greenhouses, but Nelkin said anything more would be cost-prohibitive. “For our scale, it doesn’t make practical sense to micromanage every nutrient,” she said. “We’re not that large.” Their water comes from the tap.

Image: Dave Mosher/Wired.com

 

weather station

 

Climate Control

Important to Gotham Greens’ farming efficiency is a computer controller that monitors environmental conditions, keeping the greenhouse climate as ideal as possible for each type of veggie.

A weather station (above) monitors outdoor conditions while a photometer (below) and other sensors help keep tabs inside.

“When it hits a certain climate, [the controller] can turn on the fans, draw the sun shades, open vents, turn on the lights, turn on the heaters and so on,” Nelkin said.

Images: Dave Mosher/Wired.com

 

fly paper

 

Shoo, Fly

But what of the pests found in abundance near any unprotected plant? Gotham Greens doesn’t use pesticides. They fight fire with bug-eating fire.

Colored plastic cards covered with sticky goo attract the pests, which Nelkin and others check each day. When a bothersome bug is identified, Nelkin shops online for its predator, orders it and releases hordes of them in the greenhouse.

For aphids (above), a tray of ladybugs (below) usually does the trick.

“About 1,000 ladybugs costs probably $20,” Nelkin said. “It’s more expensive than pesticides, but it works.”

Controlling other pests requires the introduction of predatory wasps.

Images: Dave Mosher/Wired.com

 

solar panels

 

Green Power

Intelligent, organic greenhouses require electricity for lamps, pumps, computers and more. Solar panels installed by Gotham Greens satisfy about half of the facility’s needs, roughly enough to power 12 New York City households.

“Over the summer, we generated a good amount of power,” Puri said. “We’re going to track that data so we’ll be able to say exactly how much they help per year.”

Image: Dave Mosher/Wired.com

 

Jennifer Nelkin and Viraj Puri

 

Co-founders

Jennifer Nelkin (above, left) and Viraj Puri dreamed up Gotham Greens in 2008 after collaborating on a greenhouse that floated on the Hudson River. They’re now spending 100 percent of their time to develop Gotham Greens along with co-founder Eric Haley.

Their local food business may cut back carbon emissions better than most farms by minimizing transportation and relying on solar energy, but Puri said their main focus is delivering good produce. “The green aspects are a great bonus, but we want to be known for the quality of our products,” he said.

After Gotham Greens’ trial year ends in 2012, the company hopes to expand its line of crops to include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, strawberries and even eggplant.

Images: Dave Mosher/Wired.com

Worst Food Additive Ever is in Half of All Foods We Eat and Its Production Produces Collateral destruction and misery

Worst Food Additive Ever? It’s in Half of All Foods We Eat and Its Production Destroys Rainforests and Enslaves Children | Food | AlterNet.

The production of this ingredient causes jaw-dropping amounts of deforestation (and with it, carbon emissions) and human rights abuses.
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On August 10, police and security for the massive palm oil corporation Wilmar International (of which Archer Daniels Midland is the second largest shareholder) stormed a small, indigenous village on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. They came with bulldozers and guns, destroying up to 70 homes, evicting 82 families, and arresting 18 people. Then they blockaded the village, keeping the villagers in — and journalists out. (Wilmar claims it has done no wrong.)

The village, Suku Anak Dalam, was home to an indigenous group that observes their own traditional system of land rights on their ancestral land and, thus, lacks official legal titles to the land. This is common among indigenous peoples around the world — so common, in fact, that it is protected by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Indonesia, for the record, voted in favor of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. Yet the government routinely sells indigenous peoples’ ancestral land to corporations. Often the land sold is Indonesia’s lowland rainforest, a biologically rich area home to endangered species like the orangutan, Asian elephant, Sumatran rhinoceros, Sumatran tiger, and the plant Rafflesia arnoldii, which produces the world’s largest flower.

So why all this destruction? Chances are you’ll find the answer in your pantry. Or your refrigerator, your bathroom, or even under your sink. The palm oil industry is one of the largest drivers of deforestation in Indonesia. Palm oil and palm kernel oil, almost unheard of a decade or two ago, are now unbelievably found in half of all packaged foods in the grocery store (as well as body care and cleaning supplies). These oils, traditional in West Africa, now come overwhelmingly from Indonesia and Malaysia. They cause jawdropping amounts of deforestation (and with it, carbon emissions) and human rights abuses.

“The recipe for palm oil expansion is cheap land, cheap labor, and a corrupt government, and unfortunately Indonesia fits that bill,” says Ashley Schaeffer of Rainforest Action Network.

The African oil palm provides two different oils with different properties: palm oil and palm kernel oil. Palm oil is made from the fruit of the tree, and palm kernel oil comes from the seed, or “nut,” inside the fruit. You can find it on ingredient lists under a number of names, including palmitate, palmate, sodium laureth sulphate, sodium lauryl sulphate, glyceryl stearate, or stearic acid. Palm oil even turns up in so-called “natural,” “healthy,” or even “cruelty-free” products, like Earth Balance (vegan margarine) or Newman-O’s organic Oreo-like cookies. Palm oil is also used in “renewable” biofuels.

A hectare of land (2.47 acres) produces, on average, 3.7 metric tons of palm oil, 0.4 metric tons of palm kernel oil, and 0.6 tons of palm kernel cake. (Palm kernel cake is used as animal feed.) In 2009, Indonesia produced over 20.5 million metric tons, and Malaysia produced over 17.5 million metric tons. As of 2009, the U.S. was only the seventh largest importer of palm oil in the world, but as the second largest importer of palm kernel oil, it ranks third in the world as a driver of deforestation for palm oil plantations.

Indonesia has lost 46 percent of its forests since 1950, and the forests have recently disappeared at a rate of about 1.5 million hectares (an area larger than the state of Connecticut) per year. Of the 103.3 million hectares of remaining forests in 2000, only 88.2 million remained in 2009. At that time, an estimated 7.3 million hectares of oil palm plantations were already established, mostly on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Indonesia plans to continue the palm oil expansion, hoping to produce an additional 8.3 million metric tons by 2015 — this means a 71 percent expansion in area devoted to palm oil in the coming years.

At stake are not only endangered species and human lives, but carbon emissions. One of the ecosystems at risk is Indonesia’s peat swamps, where soil contains an astounding 65 percent organic matter. (Most soils contain only two to 10 percent organic matter.) Laurel Sutherlin of Rainforest Action Network describes the draining and often burning of these peat swamps as “a carbon bomb.” Destruction of its peat swamps as well as its rainforests makes Indonesia the world’s third largest carbon emitter after the U.S. and China.

Among the horror stories coming out of Southeast Asian palm oil plantations are accounts of child slave labor. Ferdi and Volario, ages 14 and 21, respectively, were each met by representatives of the Malaysian company Kuala Lampur Kepong in their North Sumatra villages. They were offered high-paying jobs with good working conditions, and they jumped at the opportunity. According to an account by Rainforest Action Network: “The two worked grueling hours each day spraying oil palm trees with toxic chemical fertilizers, without any protection to shield their hands, face or lungs. After work, Ferdi and Volario were forced inside the camp where they’d stay overnight under lock and key, guarded by security. If they had to use the bathroom, they’d do their best to hold it until morning or relieve themselves in plastic bags or shoes.” They escaped after two months and were never paid for their work.

What is the industry doing about such horrific claims? It has established the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Kuala Lampur Kepong, Wilmar International, and Archer Daniels Midland are all members, and so are their customers, Cargill, Nestlé and Unilever, as well as environmental groups like the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International. But, according to Sutherlin, membership in RSPO means nothing — other than that an organization paid its dues. “That’s the first level of greenwash,” says Sutherlin.

RSPO certifies some products and companies, and Sutherlin says that does have some meaning, but leaves major loopholes open. For example, there are no carbon or climate standards, and there have been problems with the implementation of social safeguards. “It’s been a spotty record about their ability to enforce the standards for how people are treated and how communities are affected,” notes Sutherlin. Yet, he says, RSPO is “the best game in town.”

Rather than simply relying on RSPO’s certification, Rainforest Action Network has focused its campaign on the U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill, which has a hand in fully 25 percent of palm oil on the global market. Rainforest Action Network is asking Cargill to sign on to a set of social and environmental safeguards and to provide public transparency on its palm oil operations. If Cargill cleans up its act, perhaps it will help put pressure on other major multinationals like Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and Nestlé, which also source palm oil from unethical suppliers like Wilmar International.

Journalists have also criticized environmental groups for “cozy relationships with corporate eco-nasties.” The World Wildlife Fund has come under attack for its partnership with Wilmar, the corporation that attacked a Sumatran village. Its involvement in RSPO serves as a reminder of the accusations in a 2010 Nation article, which claimed that “many of the green organizations meant to be leading the fight are busy shoveling up hard cash from the world’s worst polluters–and burying science-based environmentalism in return.” (WWF says it received no payment from Wilmar in this particular case.)

The ugly issue of palm oil even touches the beloved American icon, the Girl Scout cookie. When Girl Scouts Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen began a project to save the orangutan for their Bronze Awards, they discovered the link between habitat loss and palm oil. Then they looked at a box of Girl Scout cookies and found palm oil on the list of ingredients. The two 11-year-olds — who are now ages 15 and 16 — began a campaign to get the Girl Scouts to remove palm oil from its cookies.

It took five years to get a response from the supposedly wholesome Girl Scouts USA (whose 2012 slogan is “Forever Green“). While the organization ignored its own members for several years, it was unable to ignore the coverage the girls received from Time magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and several major TV networks. Once the story was so well-covered by the media, Girl Scouts USA responded, promising it would try to move to a sustainable source of palm oil by 2015. In the meantime, it would continue buying palm oil that could have come from deforested lands or plantations that use child slave labor, but would also buy GreenPalm certificates, which fund a price premium that goes to producers following RSPO’s best practice guidelines.

So what should consumers do? For the time being, avoiding products containing palm oil is probably your best bet. Since palm oil is so ubiquitous this will likely mean opting to buy fewer processed foods overall. Don’t forget to check your beauty and cleaning products, too. In a handful of cases, such as Dr. Bronner’s soaps, palm oil comes from fair trade, organic sources. But this is hardly the norm, and with the immense amount of palm oil used in the U.S., it’s unlikely that sustainable sources could cover all of the current demand.

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Director : Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
Producer : Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Alex Garcia.
Release : March 8, 2017
Country : United States of America.
Production Company : Warner Bros., Legendary Entertainment.
Language : English.
Runtime : 118 min.
Genre : Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, Fantasy.

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Bangladesh's 'golden fibre': Jute makes a comeback

BBC News – Bangladesh’s ‘golden fibre’ comes back from the brink.

WATCH: Jute has been processed in the same way for generations

Jute, a vegetable fibre that can be spun into sackcloth, used to be the ‘golden fibre’ of Bangladesh.

Technology of Business

It brought much-needed foreign income to the impoverished nation.

But it lost its lustre in the 1980s after synthetic materials like polythene and plastics were introduced.

Now the natural fibre has made a spectacular comeback.

Exports of jute and jute products from Bangladesh this fiscal year crossed a record billion dollars as demand for the natural fibre is steadily increasing.

Jute Jute is grown all over Bangladesh

With growing environmental awareness, jute, which is bio-degradable, has become the preferred alternative to polluting synthetic bags.

Jute is considered to be the second most important natural fibre after cotton in terms of cultivation and usage. It is mainly grown in eastern India, Bangladesh, China and Burma.

Until recently the fibre was used mostly as a packaging material. With a diversification of jute products, the demand for jute has increased.

“By processing the fibre mechanically and by treating it chemically, now jute can be used to make bags, carpets, textiles and even as insulation material,” says Mohammad Asaduzzaman, a scientist at the Bangladesh Jute Research Institute in Dhaka.

Jute being soaked After harvesting, the jute is stored in water until it begins to rot

When synthetics like polythene bags came into widespread use, the demand for jute declined and many jute mills in countries like Bangladesh were shut down.

Thousands lost their jobs and farmers shifted from jute to more profitable rice cultivation.

Today, as demand increases, more farmers are returning to this traditional crop.

It is estimated that nearly five million farmers are involved in jute plant cultivation in Bangladesh. It plays a key supportive role to the rural economy of Bangladesh.

Once the jute plants are harvested they are bundled together and immersed in running water and allowed to rot.

Jute being separated One it has become soft, the jute fibre is separated by hand

Then the fibres are stripped from the plant. The stripped fibre is dried and later sent to mills for processing.

Golam Moazzam, a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, in Dhaka says: “It is important to note that policy support also contributed to its widespread use of jute both locally and internationally.

“For example, the Bangladeshi government has made it compulsory to use jute bags for packaging of food grains.”

New uses

Jute is also versatile, strong and long-lasting and scientists say they are discovering more uses for it in different sectors.

For example, Geotextiles, a diversified jute product, is used for soil-erosion control and also used in laying roads to give more durability. The natural fibre is also used to make pulp and paper.

Jute bundles Once dry, the jute fibres are bundled and sent to factories to be processed

Bangladeshi scientists are now working on an ambitious project to blend jute fabric with cotton to produce denim fabric.

They say if the jute plant is harvested earlier than the usual period of 120 days, then it gives a softer fabric.

“If this special quality of fibre is chemically modified and bleached then it becomes softer. If we can blend it with cotton then we can manufacture denim fabric and diversified textile products,” says Mr Asaduzzaman

If this process can be commercialised, he says, it will bring down the demand for cotton, which is also becoming dearer day by day.

The price of fabric can be reduced by a half, bringing benefits to the country’s garment sector.

Jute delivery The resurgence of the jute industry has created jobs for many local people

However, there are bottlenecks.

Special machines are required to blend this fibre with cotton and they are yet to be produced commercially. Scientists hope spinning factories will be able to install these machines in the near future.

“Unfortunately, there is not much research going on in terms promoting diversified jute products,” says Mr Moazzam.

“Countries like Bangladesh and India, who are the major jute exporting countries, should conduct collaborative research to find out diversification of jute products.”

Virtual water cannot remedy freshwater shortage

Virtual water cannot remedy freshwater shortage.

ScienceDaily (June 6, 2011) — The implementation of virtual water into trading deals has been suggested as a realistic solution to solving the global inequality of renewable freshwater, but new research suggests that it may not be as revolutionary as first thought.

In a study published June 7, in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research Letters, researchers have claimed that virtual water is unlikely to increase water use equality, primarily because the existing amount of virtual water is not large enough to overcome the inequalities that exist.

Lead author David Seekell, of the University of Virginia, said, “Virtual water is unlikely to overcome these constraints because there just isn’t enough to go around.”

80 per cent of humanity currently lives in regions where water security is threatened, meaning that as the global population grows against a finite volume of freshwater, a more equal distribution of water use between countries will be needed.

Virtual water — the amount of water it takes to produce goods or a service — has been suggested as a possible solution to this growing problem by using virtual water values to inform international trade deals.

Most goods carry a virtual water value — for example, producing one kilogram of beef requires 15 thousand litres of water — which can act as a significant tool for addressing a country’s input and output of water.

For example, a trade deal could be struck where products with a high virtual water value, such as oranges, could be exported from countries where there is an efficient and abundant water supply, into a country where the requirement of water to grow that particular product is more of a burden.

This would allow the receiving country to save on water, relieving the pressure on their limited water resources, and allowing the water to be used elsewhere in its infrastructure.

This study, performed by researchers at the University of Virginia, assessed the inequality in water use between countries and examined how different uses, such as industrial, household, and for agricultural products consumed domestically, contributed to the overall inequality.

To do this, the authors compared United Nations statistics on both social and human development statuses with water usage statistics for a range of countries.

Their study concludes that virtual water transfers are not sufficient to equalise water use among nations because water used for agriculture consumed domestically dominates a nation’s water needs and cannot be completely compensated by current volumes of virtual water transfers.

Seekell continued, “Even if it cannot completely equalise water use between countries, virtual water may stand to contribute to this effort if there is increased transfer from high water use to low water use countries, but the danger here is that these transfers effectively prop up populations above the carrying capacity of their natural resources and this could actually erode a population’s long-term resilience to drought or other disasters.

“There are a myriad of political and economic barriers to trade, and because water is not usually a deciding factor in trade decisions, it is unlikely that global trade will ever be viewed as efficient from a water use point of view.”

Bollywood Superstar Aamir Khan Shines the Spotlight on What's Caused an Estimated 150,000 Farmer Suicides in India

Bollywood Superstar Aamir Khan Shines the Spotlight on What’s Caused an Estimated 150,000 Farmer Suicides in India | World | AlterNet.

An interview with Khan’s about his new film, “Peepli Live,” which explores the deadly consequences of India’s shift to a neo-liberal economic model.
A tangible consequence of India’s shift to a neo-liberal economic model has been the flood of suicides among farmers. The vast majority of the world’s second most populated country still farms for a living, but are caught between deep debt and the erratic nature of seasonal change. Lured by the promise of greater production, farmers are pressured into mortgaging their farms to purchase genetically modified seeds, pesticides, and fertilizer from American companies like Monsanto. Since GM seeds are patented by Monsanto, their repeated use each year requires constant licensing fees that keep farmers impoverished. One bad yield due to drought or other reasons, plunges farmers so deep into debt that they resort to suicide. One study estimates that 150,000 farmers have killed themselves in the past ten years.

A new feature film written and directed by Anusha Rizwi and produced by Bollywood megastar Aamir Khan, called Peepli Live, tackles head on this grim topic. The story is set in an Indian village named Peepli where one young debt-burdened farmer named Natha is talked into taking his own life after he learns that his family will be financially compensated through a government program created to alleviate the loss of farmers taking their own lives. What unfolds is a dark comedy of errors when a media circus descends on the tiny village, followed by corrupt politicians wanting to make use of the planned tragedy. Khan’s credits as an actor and producer include Lagaan, the 2001 Oscar-nominated film about Indian resistance to the British occupation. His latest film 3 Idiots released last year became the highest grossing film in Indian film history.

Text of Sonali Kolhatkar’s interview follows (with video and more information about Khan’s film at the bottom of the article):

* * * * * *

Sonali Kolhatkar: The film Peepli Live tackles a number of issues in rural India which aren’t always portrayed in Bollywood films. How important was it for you to make such a film about an issue that’s not very well known especially outside India?

Aamir Khan: I feel that Peepli Live is not really a film about farmer suicides [but] that farmer suicides are a backdrop because the film doesn’t really go into the issues that farmers are facing or why this epidemic really has been spreading for so many years now. It’s a film that’s more about the growing divide between urban and rural India and how as a society we are concentrating all of our energies, our resources, our wealth towards cities and are ignoring our villages and the rural parts of India which is where the bulk of our population lives. As a result our villages are not life-sustaining in a healthy manner. And that in turn results in a lot of migration from villages to cities. So in villages we don’t have schools often, medical facilities, even basic stuff like water and electricity. I think this is what the issue in the film really is.

On a certain level it’s also a film about survival. While it’s a satire about civil society today and takes a humorous view of the administration, the political scenario, the media, or civil society in general, it’s also on a certain level a story about survival. Each one of us: politician, journalist, civil servant, or a district magistrate, or even Budhia (a character in Peepli Live), who’s a farmer, a villager – each one of us in our own environment, in our own situation, is doing what he or she thinks needs to be done in order to survive.

Kolhatkar: How is Peepli Live different from mainstream Bollywood fare?

Khan: It’s not a mainstream Bollywood film. It’s just a story that I loved and a script that I read which Anusha Rizwi has written and directed and I just loved what she wrote. I found it very funny and moving and also heartbreaking. And also sensitizing in a lot of ways because I have lived all my life in a city. Often I’m not aware of how life in rural India is. So I just loved the script and I wanted to be part of it. I could see straight up that this is not a film that is going to be easy to market or even to convince the market to accept as a film. But it’s something that excited me, moved me, and engaged me.

So I just went ahead and produced it. I was aware of the challenges I have in front of me. And it’s also a film that I believe has the potential to engage a world audience. It’s a film that I think would connect with audiences from different cultures. And that’s what we’re trying to do – we’re trying not only to reach out to our traditional audiences for Indian film but to audiences who may have never watched an Indian film before. Or may have just watched Slumdog Millionaire (laughs). Actually Indian film, or Bollywood, as it’s popularly known, doesn’t make any one kind of film. Yes, the bulk of them are musicals, and the bulk of them have larger-than-life story-telling and have a lot of hope and romance in them. But a number of them now for the last few years have been films which are really off-beat and don’t fall into that category.

Kolhatkar: So Bollywood is evolving in your opinion?

Khan: Well I think everything is changing constantly. So I think cinema in India is also changing. I think audiences are changing. I think younger film makers are coming in who have different voices and have different things to say. And over the last ten years if you look at the films that have really succeeded and have gone down well with audiences, a number of them have been films which don’t fall into that description of what is conventionally known as mainstream Bollywood.

Kolhatkar: Farmer suicides are a huge issue in India and even though it’s a backdrop for your film, it’s a very grim subject. But Peepli Live addresses this is an almost comedic or satirical manner. Why was this approach effective?

Khan: This is a question more for Anusha (Rizwi) who’s written the film. I don’t know why she chose a satirical view of what is happening. But I think it’s more engaging that way. Anusha was a journalist before she made this film and she, I guess, through her experiences in the field, has come up with a lot of what is in the film and a lot of what is in the script. So I think her choice of it being a satire is because it connects more easily with people. But while you’re laughing you’re also feeling bad. You’re thinking, “should I be laughing at this,” you know? “I don’t think I should be laughing at this, but it’s funny.” And, it’s also very thought-provoking on a lot of levels. So personally I really like what she wrote and I think when I saw the film after its first cut – because I was not there when they were shooting it and I was only involved after the first cut stage – I was really happy to see what she has done.

It’s not an easy film to execute. And she hasn’t been to film school and she hasn’t really assisted any film makers to learn from them. It’s so amazing to see someone like her execute so well on screen what she has written. It’s a very layered script with a lot of characters. There’s a lot of chaos in the film at many times and while there often is a lot of chaos in a film shoot it’s usually behind the camera. And to create chaos in front of the camera and make it look natural is not easy. So when I saw the film I felt that what you’re watching is actually happening and she’s has hidden cameras capturing what is happening. So I thought she’s done a wonderful job – I’m really happy with her work.

Kolhatkar: The film most skewers Indian politicians and Indian media. How realistic are the caricatures presented in Peepli Live of the corrupt politicians and overzealous media?

Khan: In my opinion it’s a fairly accurate portrayal of what happens. Having said that I’d like to point out as well that it’s not the only point of view. A satire takes one point of view – it’s not a 360 degree view of politics or the people in media, or the people in administration (civil servants). There are a lot of civil servants, politicians, and those in the media who are trying to do a lot of good work and are very positive in their approach.

Kolhatkar: One of them is the young journalist, Rakesh, a character in Peepli Live, who is very hopeful. I’m wondering if he is a symbol of India’s young journalists.

Khan: He is the only character in the film that really has a conscience as it turns out. As I was saying earlier that while what is shown in the film is fairly accurate and happens everyday in India – it’s a fairly good window into rural life in India – but at the same time, I’d like to add that a satire takes one point of view. Of course there are journalists who are doing great work, and there are some politicians who are doing good work and are really sincere. But that point of view is not shown in this film. This film takes a satirical point of view. While what is shown is accurate, it is one aspect and not the whole.

Kolhatkar: There are no big-name stars in Peepli Live and I understand many of them are theater actors. How were they recruited? Were non-actors also recruited to play the roles of villagers?

Khan: I’m really happy with the casting that Anusha and her husband Mehmood, the casting director and co-director, have done. They really chose to go real with the casting which I thoroughly supported. A lot of the actors are actually villagers and tribals (indigenous people) who are from central India. And a lot of them are part of a theater group called Naya Theater. This is a group that was started by Habib Tanvir, a really amazing theater personality who has worked in Indian theater all his life. Unfortunately he passed away six months ago. But he was running this theater group in which he worked only with villagers and Adivasis (tribal or indigenous people) from Central India. And they did all kinds of things like adapting Shakespeare into their local languages and dialects. So a lot of them are very well trained actors. They may have never acted in a film before but they come from a strong theater background. I think the directors of the film, Anusha and Mehmood, also wanted there to be no known faces so that it looks real. So most of the cast is from a rural background.

Kolhatkar: One of the characters in the film is an elderly farmer who silently toils throughout the story. Is he a metaphor for the typical Indian farmer who is ignored and silenced in the mainstream media?

Khan: Yes you’re right. He really stands for a whole lot of people who in a very sincere and uncomplaining manner try to deal with what is dealt out to them in life and don’t really have a voice in what’s happening around them and are almost invisible to us. That’s how he’s treated in most of the film. So he represents that entire section of people.

Kolhatkar: Let’s talk about the film’s music. One particular song in the film called ‘Mahangai Dayain’ is played by the villagers of Peepli and recently was the center of some controversy after real-life local Indian politicians requested to use the song in their campaigning?

Khan: Well what is shown in the film is happening in real life I guess (laughs). The words to the song are: “my husband earns a lot of money but inflation eats it all away.” And it’s actually wasn’t in the film to begin with. But when Anusha was shooting in the village in Bidwai, she heard the local musicians singing this song. They had written this song themselves and it’s part of their music. When she heard this song she really liked it. So this is their voice and she asked them if she could use it in the film. And she got Raghu-bhai (one of the lead actors in the film) who is a very good singer to learn the song and sing it. They actually learned the song that night in the village under the tree and it’s recorded live on location, not in a studio, with spoons and thalis (steel dinner plates) and home-made musical instruments. And that’s a song that has really resonated strongly with a lot of India[ns] because it’s a coincidence that at the time that we were about to release the music of the film there were these huge price increases in India. The opposition parties called for a national “bandh” which is sort of a general strike for a day all across the country in protest of these price increases. And that day all the news channels actually carried the song as an anthem of what was happening around us. And so that made the song very popular. What’s amazing is that this is a song created by the villagers as part of their lives. This is what affects them – it’s their voice which you can hear.

Kolhatkar: So you hope that the film goes a long way toward bringing the stories of silenced farmers to not only urban India but to a worldwide audience?

Khan: Yes, I am hoping that the film sensitizes a whole lot of us like it did to me when I first read the script. As a society we have to be aware of inequalities and try and fight against them. I think that this is a film that I’m hoping will have an impact. It’s not often that films have an immediate impact but I’m hoping that this film has an impact and starts people thinking in the right direction.

Kolhatkar: There is only one hint in the film about the complicity of corporate America when one of the politicians’ characters in the film mentions the American company “Sonmanto” in an obvious reference to the agri-giant Monsanto corporation. Given that farmer suicides are directly linked to neo-liberal economic pressures from the West, particularly the US, how important is it that the film is viewed by an American audience?

Khan: I think it’s important that all of us should be aware of this, not only Americans. It’s important for all of us to be aware how our actions are affecting other people. When Peepli Live was screened at Sundance where we had a predominantly American audience, we got some pretty interesting responses, one of them being that not only did they find the film to be a great window into rural India but they felt that it resonated with them. One [member of the audience] gave the example of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans and how the [Bush] administration reacted and the observation made was that even in that case the people affected were from less privileged sections of society. Which is why nothing was done for very long and even the funds that were collected for them, a lot of that didn’t reach [the people affected]. So these are things that happen all across the world, even in “first-world” countries. And the other aspect that you were talking about is how each of our actions has an impact .We have to be aware of how each of our actions affects other people and on a very basic level – I know this is over-simplifying things – we should try not to adversely affect people with our actions.

Kolhatkar: The media as portrayed in your film Peepli Live is amusing and even shocking. I’m wondering how you think Indian media is going to receive your film and the commentary that the film makes on them?

Khan: I believe that all of us are human beings first. I’m an actor, you’re a journalist, and someone else might be a politician. At the core of it we’re all human beings first and I think that that’s how I think people would receive the film. I think the film is accurate so no one should have a complaint from that point of view. I think that we as a creative group that has made the film are very clear that we’re taking one point of view and that it’s not a holistic point of view. So not every media person is like that. But this is one of the realities today of life in Indian society. And also importantly I think that Anusha Rizwi as a writer and director is not being judgmental on anyone. She’s not taking any sides and I think that’s an important aspect of the film. It’s important for people to receive this in a positive way for it to have an impact. And I think that’s one of the things that this film does achieve in my opinion.

For example you have Natha’s son [in the film] saying “Dad when are you going to die because uncle says that when you die I’m going to become a contractor.” And Natha says “what do you mean? Your dad’s dying and you want to be a contractor?” The son says, “No no, I want to be a cop!” So this is not how every child would react and this is not how we would expect a child to react whose father is about to die. You’d expect him to say “Dad I don’t want you to die.” But here we have a kid who’s in a bit of a hurry about his dad dying. So it is a black comedy, it is a dark view of things. And it’s not the only view and I’m sure the media’s mature enough to realize that.

Kolhatkar: I’d like to talk a little bit about your own career and why you gravitate toward films with a socio-political message. You’ve made a number of films either as an actor or producer or both, that are not simply standard Bollywood fare like Lagaan, Rang De Basanti, Mangal Panday, etc (many of which have been about the historical resistance to the British occupation). Why are such films important to you?

Khan:
Well I move towards material that excites me, stuff that I believe in. And creative people whose voices I believe in. So, it’s important for me to be happy in what I’m doing. When I come across a script that touches me, moves me, engages me, makes me laugh or cry, that’s what I want to be part of. I think for me film-making is a number of things: you’re entertaining people, you’re also engaging their minds. And importantly, it’s one or two years of my life. And so, the process is as important as the end result. So I have to be happy and excited about what I’m doing.

Kolhatkar:
Your last film 3 Idiots became the highest grossing Bollywood film of all time in India, breaking many records, and winning a huge number of awards. Although it’s extremely entertaining it also has a social message at its heart about the intense pressures that Indian parents put on their children to be highly educated professionals in technical fields. It’s not often that such a topic is tackled in Indian film is it?

Khan: Yeah, I think that Raju [Hirani] is a fantastic film maker but in this case he also picked up [on] a topic that I think a lot of people, not only in India but all across the world, [see in] our lives. And I think the core message of Three Idiots is “don’t chase success, chase excellence. And do what makes you happy, because if it makes you happy you’ll probably be good at it. And success will follow up somewhere behind. But don’t make your decisions based on what you think will make you successful because that might just make you really unhappy as well.” And, I think that core message really hit home in a big way with a lot of audiences. And again it’s a very funny film. It’s a film that is very entertaining but also is a film that rings true with a lot of people.

I’ve been very fortunate to work with a lot of talented people and films like Taaray Zameen Par which is about childcare, primary education, and learning disabilities and Three Idiots, which is about higher education — these films have been so satisfying to be a part of because not only have they been huge successes but more than that these are films that have actually changed lives. I have met so many people and so many have written to me about how the way they look at their kids has changed. And parents have changed the way they look at education, and kids have begun feeling differently about themselves. And that’s a very rare achievement for a film to have such a strong and immediate impact on society. And it’s so satisfying to see that. It’s really amazing.

Kolhatkar: Given how influential Bollywood actors are in India (just as Hollywood actors are here in the US), do you think it’s important for celebrities such as yourself to influence people in a positive manner or should movie stars never talk about social issues? I’m sure I can guess your answer but not all celebrities use their celebrite in a responsible manner.

Khan: I think my answer is fairly obvious. I think celebrities should, to the best of their abilities, use the kind of influence they have with people in a positive way and that’s always great and that’s what ought to be done and ought to happen. But having said that, I think each to his own. Celebrities are also human beings and I think we should understand if a certain person wants to stay away from stuff. Fair enough.

I really feel that each one of us, no matter which section of society we belong to, has to engage socially and politically in our own way. And each one can do it to a different extent. But each one of us CAN do it. And I think that’s what’s important. All of us should be aware of that and should engage in a positive way. That’s what I believe.

Kolhatkar: Bollywood flims have not always gotten too much recognition outside of South Asia, and the Gulf Arab States. But they do break through into the West occasionally, like your film Lagaan which was recognized by the Academy Awards — only the third ever Indian film to be nominated for Best Foreign Film. Do you think it’s important for the West to recognize the largest film industry in the world?

Khan: Well I think it would be nice if people around the world watched our films and enjoyed them but I don’t think we should load the West with this responsibility of having to watch our films and enjoy them. I don’t think that’s fair. And I don’t think that film-makers in India really have looked toward making films which are meant to engage a world audience. Because we have such a large and healthy audience of our own and we are very happy and busy engaging them and making films for them.

But I think every once in a way we do come across films that can break through. For example when I read the script of Peepli Live I immediately thought that here is a film that I really want to make first of all. Secondly it is a film that may have limited appeal in mainstream Indian cinema. But I’m going to try and push that. But I also believe it has the potential to engage world audiences. And so, with that in mind we’re trying to reach out to audiences across the world with this film. It’s not a big entertainer. It’s certainly not “Inception” or “Spiderman.” But it’s a film that is a human story which will connect with people.

So I think every now and then when there is material that organically has the potential to appeal to a world audience, it would be great if they would watch it!

Kolhatkar: You come from a family steeped in the tradition of Hindi film. Your father Tahir Hussein (who recently passed away) was a prolific film maker in India. What sort of mark do you hope to leave on Indian cinema, and indeed on international film making?

Khan: I’m not sure about that. I don’t know whether I think in these larger terms. I just want to be able to do work that I’m happy doing, that’s all. And I’m really happy with the kind of love and respect I’ve gotten over the last twenty years that I’ve been working [in film]. And I’m hoping that I’m able to do work which is good, which is challenging, which actually helps me to grow as a person and as an artist, and creative person.

Kolhatkar: Finally what lies in your future? I understand that you have a film coming up directed by your wife, Kiran Rao. Can you tell us more about that and any other projects of social or political significance or that are designed to appeal to an international audience?

Khan: Well Peepli Live is going to be released on August 13th. And then the next film after that is Dhobi Ghaat which I’ve produced and I’m also acting in it. Dhobi Ghaat is written and directed by Kiran [Rao], my wife, and it’s set in Mumbai. It’s about these four characters whose lives kind of touch each other. And the fifth character in the film is the city of Mumbai. It’s a kind of “slice of life” film. Half of it is in English and half is in Hindi. So, we’ve been honest to the characters. People who would naturally be speaking in English are speaking in English and same for Hindi. And the third film that I have in the pipeline is a film called Delhi Belly, which is a comedy. This is actually a story about three kids living in Delhi and how they get into trouble with the mafia and the underworld and they don’t know why. It’s a bit like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels in its genre. It’s not that story but it’s that kind of film I guess. Again it’s a very unusual film for Indian cinema because it’s entirely in English. I think it’s one of the few times that an English [language] film will be coming out of India. All the films that have no hopes of working are the ones that I end up producing [laughs].

Can the World Feed 10 Billion People? – By Raj Patel

Can the World Feed 10 Billion People? – By Raj Patel | Foreign Policy.

The world’s demographers this week increased their estimates of the world’s population through the coming century. We are now on track to hit 10 billion people by 2100. Today, humanity produces enough food to feed everyone but, because of the way we distribute it, there are still a billion hungry. One doesn’t need to be a frothing Malthusian to worry about how we’ll all get to eat tomorrow. Current predictions place most of the world’s people in Asia, the highest levels of consumption in Europe and North America, and the highest population growth rates in Africa — where the population could triple over the next 90 years.

There are, however, plans afoot to feed the world. One of the countries to which the world’s development experts have turned as a test bed is Malawi. Landlocked and a little smaller than Pennsylvania, Malawi is consistently among the world’s poorest places. The latest figures have 90 percent of its 15 million people living on the equivalent of less than two dollars a day. By century’s end, the population is expected to be nearly 132 million. Today, some 40 percent of Malawians live below the country’s poverty line, and part of the reason for widespread chronic poverty is that more than 70 percent of Malawians live in rural areas. There, they depend on agriculture — and nearly every farmer grows maize. “Chimanga ndi moyo” — “maize is life,” the local saying goes — but growing maize pays so poorly that few people can afford to eat anything else.

If you arrive in Malawi in March, just after the rainy season, growing food seems like a fool’s game. It’s hard to find a patch of red soil that isn’t a tall riot of green. From the roadside you can see maize about to ripen, with squash and beans planted at the base of the thick stalks. Even the tobacco fields are doing well this year. But there’s a rumble in this jungle. Malawi’s swaying fields are a battleground in which three different visions for the future of global agriculture are ranged against one other.

The first and most venerable development idea for Malawi sees these farmers as survivors of a doomed way of life who need to be helped into the hereafter. Oxford economist Paul Collier is the poster child for this “modernist” view, one that he presented in a scathing November 2008 Foreign Affairs article in which he cudgeled the “romantics” who yearned for peasant agriculture. Observing both that wages in cities are higher than in the countryside, and that every large developed country is able to feed itself without peasant farmers, Collier argued the virtues of big agriculture. He also called on the European Union to support genetically modified crops and for the United States to kill domestic subsidies for biofuel. He was one-third right: biofuel subsidies are absurd, not least because they drive up food prices, siphoning grains from the bowls of the poorest into the gas-tanks of the richest — with limited environmental gains, at best.

Collier’s contempt for peasants seems, however, to rest on something other than the facts. Although international agribusiness has generated great profits ever since the East India Company, it hasn’t brought riches to farmers and farmworkers, who are invariably society’s poorest people. Indeed, big agriculture earns its moniker — it tends to work most lucratively with large-scale plantations and operations to which small farmers are little more than an impediment.

It turns out that if you’re keen to make the world’s poorest people better off, it’s smarter to invest in their farms and workplaces than to send them packing to the cities. In its 2008 World Development Report, the World Bank found that, indeed, investment in peasants was among the most efficient and effective ways of raising people out of poverty and hunger. It was an awkward admission, as the Bank had long been trumpeting Collier’s brand of agricultural development. Farmers organizations from Malawi to India to Brazil had been pointing out that access to land, water, sustainable technology, education, markets, state investment in processing, and — above all, access to level playing field on domestic and international markets — would help them. But it took three decades of lousy policy for the development establishment to realize this, and they’re not quite there yet.

Because of its colonial legacy, Malawi had long been following conventional economic wisdom: exporting things in which the country had a comparative advantage (in Malawi’s case, tobacco) and using the funds to buy goods on the international market in which it didn’t have an advantage. But when tobacco prices fall, as they have of late, there’s less foreign exchange with which to venture into international markets. And being landlocked, Malawi also faces higher prices for grain than its four neighbors — Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania — simply because it costs more to transport into the country. According to one estimate, the marginal cost of importing a ton of food-aid maize is $400, versus $200 a ton to import it commercially, and only $50 to source it domestically using fertilizers. Particularly at a time when food and fertilizer prices are predicted to rise, Malawi is wise to consider how vulnerable to the caprices of international markets it wants to be.

This partly explains why, in the late 1990s, almost a decade before it became fashionable, Malawi bucked the advice of its international donors and decided to spend the majority its agriculture budget on fertilizer, the first and perhaps most necessary ingredient in prepping the soil for producing viable crops. The government gave farmers a “starter pack,” with enough beans, improved seeds, and fertilizer to cover about a fifth of an acre. International donors weren’t pleased. A USAID official decried the program as consigning farmers to a “poverty treadmill” in which farmers would be stuck growing just enough maize to survive, but never enough to get rich. Although the program had modest success, it took off when Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika expanded the program over the 2005-2006 growing season, quadrupling the amount of fertilizer available. Although driven by domestic political promises, his international timing was perfect — he was embarking on a policy whose time had come. And this is why what happens in Malawi’s fields today matter so much beyond its borders.

To understand why, we need a quick history of agricultural policy in developing countries. Many developing countries were, especially before World War II, pantries to be raided by their colonizers. Post-independence, rural areas were often net contributors to government revenues, but there were some assurances of stability, with government schemes to buy crops at guaranteed prices. Internationally — especially in Asia — the post-war era saw governments pressured to feed a restive population that was increasingly wondering whether their lot wouldn’t be improved through socialism and a change in land ownership. In order to fight the Cold War in foreign fields, the U.S. government and key foundations invested heavily in agricultural technologies such as improved seed and fertilizer. These technologies were designed to keep land in the hands of its feudal owners, food plentiful, and communists at bay. In 1968, William Gaud, the USAID administrator, dubbed it a Green Revolution, because it was designed to prevent a red one.

For a range of mainly geopolitical reasons, the Green Revolution was implemented with less fervor and success in Africa than in Asia. The International Fertilizer Development Center observed in 2006 that $4 billion worth of soil nutrients were being mined from the African soil by farmers who, struggling to make ends meet, weren’t replenishing the nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous in the ground beneath their feet.

The prescription for declining soil quality lay, however, not in addressing the policy causes of farmer’s environmental panic — a systematic neglect since the 1980s to which the World Bank itself admitted in an internal evaluation — but to fix the soil with technology. So in 2006, the Rockefeller Foundation (the original sponsors of the Green Revolution in Asia) joined the Gates Foundation to launch The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, or AGRA. This is the second brave new development policy that hopes to feed Africa.

AGRA claims to have learned the lessons of history, rejecting Collier’s view and focusing on policies that “unlike the Green Revolution in Latin America, which mostly benefited large-scale farmers because they had access to irrigation and were therefore in a position to use the improved varieties … [are] specifically geared to overcome the challenges facing smallholder farmers.”

So did it work in Malawi? It depends on the goal. If the aim was to increase output, then yes. Although economist and Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs recently over-egged the data by suggesting that production had doubled because of the fertilizer subsidy (it only increased by 300,000 – 400,000 tons or up to 15 percent, the rest being mainly due to the return of the rains), the amount of maize in Malawi has undoubtedly gone up.

As the 50 million people food insecure in the United States know all too well, though, having enough food in the country doesn’t necessarily mean that all people get to eat, and Malawi still has more than its fair share of glassy-eyed and underweight children. Chronically hungry kids have low height for their age and the number of children malnourished in this way — “stunted” is the term in the statistics — has remained stubbornly high since the subsidies began.

Measuring increased yields of maize from fertilizer and starter kits doesn’t necessarily translate into a society that is well-fed and economically viable in terms of agriculture. Rachel Bezner Kerr, a professor of geography at the University of Western Ontario who also works in Malawi as a project coordinator for the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities Project, isn’t surprised. “Any nutritionist would scoff at the notion that increased yield automatically leads to increased nutrition,” she says.

Bezner Kerr told me that having more crops in the fields and bigger yields can actually be a bad thing, taking “women out of the home and away from domestic work. Particularly if they are doing early childcare feeding, this can lead to poorer nutritional outcomes.” What happens within the household is crucial in translating increased output into better nutrition.

Indeed, gender matters when it comes to food and farming. Sixty percent of the world’s malnourished people are women or girls. Yet the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization recently pointed out that by increasing access to the same resources as men, women could boost their farm’s output by up to 30 percent, leading to a 4 percent increase in total agricultural output in developing countries. In Malawi, 90 percent of women work part time, and women are paid some 30 percent less than men for similar jobs. Women are also burdened with care work, especially in a country ravaged by HIV/AIDS. Even if they own land and have access to the same resources as men, women find themselves torn between the demands of child and elder care, cooking, carrying water, finding firewood, planting, weeding, and harvesting.

These problems are better addressed through social change — abetted by programs like the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities Project — than chemistry. Yet these are precisely the kinds of programs that are crowded out by fertilizer subsidies. The fertilizer program has been a jealous child, sucking resources away from other programs. The opportunity cost of fertilizer for farmers is money that might have been spent on something else — a serious concern when global fertilizer prices are going through the roof. Research by the World Bank in Latin America and Southeast Asia has suggested that it’s smarter for government to subsidize public goods like agricultural research and extension services and irrigation, rather than directing money at private inputs like fertilizer.

Again, this matters beyond Malawi’s borders, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The world’s population growth is scheduled to be driven by “high fertility countries” — most of which are in Africa. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, recently argued that the world might be better fed not by pumping the soil with chemicals, but by using cutting-edge “agroecological” techniques to build soil fertility, and using policy to achieve environmental and social sustainability. In a review of 286 sustainable agriculture projects in 57 developing countries covering 91 million acres, a team led by British environmental scientist Jules Pretty found production increases of 79 percent — again, far higher than the fertilizer subsidy in Malawi, and with a far broader range of ecological and social benefits than increased food production.

These programs succeed, in part, because they don’t see hunger as the consequence of a surfeit of peasants or a deficit in soil, but as the result of complex environmental, social, and political causes. You don’t just need chemists to solve hunger — you need sociologists, soil biologists, agronomists, ethnographers, and even economists. Paying for their skills is the opportunity cost of spending precious dollars on imported fertilizer. Of course, agroecology is an entirely different paradigm than one in which technology is dropped into laps from foreign laboratories accompanied by a sheet of instructions. The programs require much more participatory education work, and much more investment in public goods, than the Malawian government and donors currently seem inclined to provide.

Agroecology is the third development vision battling for the future. In Malawi, it works. By growing cowpeas and groundnuts with maize — expanding the range of crops — Bezner Kerr’s program has beat the fertilizer program’s yield by 10 percent and increased nutrition outcomes too. Yet even agroecology has its limits. Fifteen percent of Malawians remain ultra poor, living on less than a dollar a day and unable to buy enough to eat. They tend to be people who are landless, or who have poor quality land and have to sell their labor at harvest time, just when they need it the most. They remain untouched by the Malawian miracle.

The future doesn’t look terribly promising for agroecology. Concerned about the financial sustainability of its fertilizer subsidy program, the Malawian government is about to embark on a Green Belt project, in which thousands of acres will be irrigated to induce foreign investors to begin large-scale farming of sugar cane and other export crops. The foreign exchange brought in by this program, it is hoped, will bankroll the fertilizer spending. The result will help balance the country’s current account, but as a consequence, thousands of smallholders are scheduled to be displaced to clear lands that will attract the kind of large-scale agriculture of which Collier would approve.

Particularly in the light of the new population projections for the 21st century, it seems foolish to stick to 20th century agricultural policy. Recall that the agroecological interventions in Malawi turned on women’s empowerment. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has famously argued that there are few policies better placed to improve individual, family, and community lives (and lower fertility rates) than education — particularly the education of women and girls. The prophesies presented to us by demographers vary widely — change the assumptions, and you end up with a world of between 8 billion and 15 billion people. No matter what the future holds, though, it’s clear that a world in which everyone gets to eat depends on women’s empowerment — and rather than treating that fact as something irrelevant to feeding the world, agroecology puts it right in the middle.

A great deal of past agriculture policy has been designed either economically to bomb villages in order to save them, or to administer a technological quick fix in order to postpone politics. Collier wants to get rid of peasants. New fads want to keep them, but keep them knee-deep in chemicals. Yet if we are serious about feeding the hungry, in Malawi or anywhere else, we need to recognize that the majority of the hungry are women, and that we need more public, not private, spending on those least able to command rural resources. Because when it comes to growing food, those who tend the land are anything but fools.