The number of people affected by food shortages is starting to rise again. Is the solution a new biotech version of the Green Revolution, or a green Green Revolution based on organic farming? The New York Times brought together six experts to address those questions. Most fall squarely on one side of the fence or the other, but I'm interested in the more balanced opinion of Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. I've done a lot of research on agriculture issues recently, both for National Geographic News and Discover magazine, and Foley's "third way" seems to make the most sense to me, in context with what I've been hearing from global agriculture experts.
Currently, there are two paradigms of agriculture being widely promoted: local and organic systems versus globalized and industrialized agriculture. Each has fervent followers and critics. Genuine discourse has broken down: You're either with Michael Pollan or you're with Monsanto. But neither of these paradigms, standing alone, can fully meet our needs.
Rather than voting for just one solution, we need a third way to solve the crisis. Let's take ideas from both sides, creating new, hybrid solutions that boost production, conserve resources and build a more sustainable and scalable agriculture. There are many promising avenues to pursue: precision agriculture, mixed with high-output composting and organic soil remedies; drip irrigation, plus buffer strips to reduce erosion and pollution; and new crop varieties that reduce water and fertilizer demand. In this context, the careful use of genetically modified crops may be appropriate, after careful public review.