John Barrios

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What should be done about the world food crisis?

According to the World Bank, the globe is facing a food crisis. This means that less and less people have "secure food" and prices around the world will continually rise. What can the world do to help the cause? What can you do individually?

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    Jul 2 2011: .
    Invest in African agriculture.

    1. This will boost the local food supply and free Africans from the obscenity of being net-importers
    2. This will destroy food politics (and the perversities of the useless "aid" industry) and turn Africans into food-sovereign people
    3. This will save the African environment as shifting cultivation and other destructive techniques are abandoned
    4. This will introduce a beneficial demographic shift, as competition will drive many farmers to cities, where they automatically make less children and where women are more free (e.g. fertility rates in rural Congo are 8 children per woman; in urban Congo, 4 children per woman)

    We need:
    -small investments in seed programs, in micro-dose fertiliser, in rural infrastructures, and in the distribution of equipment.

    The investments are highly profitable, but the creation of a good investment climate is a priority, else nobody will take the risks.
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      Jul 3 2011: This is a great idea! Thank you for sharing it Laurens. Most people think farmers need to be subsidized or that the global superpowers need to send more food aid to poorer countries lacking adequate conditions for sustainable agriculture. In reality though, investing in African farms would defeat the problem right where it stems. By creating more efficient ways for growing food in those extreme conditions, the crisis would lessen and investors would definitely gain profit. Again, great idea!
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        Jul 4 2011: John really do you believe in the US Governement paternalism? Really do you believe that you live in the first world? ...Really do you believe in the figures and statistics from the "World organizations"...Have you seen the US status in the happines indicators from the Edhinburg University? ...Do you believe that you spend your life in the best land ever found? Really do you think that we in our third world are waiting for the US charity?...Really do you think that the world cant be without US aid? We have thousands of years history and practices in agriculture. In the very same moment that US decide to interfiere in our land we start a degradation status from the practices on invasion in aid and charity disguise. You are naive about. Be informed in your own country archives.
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          Jul 4 2011: Jaime, I think you are misunderstanding my opinion. I don't think the US gov't should. Again, they should NOT distribute food aid to the rest of the world. I detest US paternalism. Discrediting World Organizations is a whole other conversation. What does it matter how happy the US is? I'm not happy with my country at the moment. That's one of the reasons I began this conversation. You seriously have no idea what I am arguing for. I'm on your side. Until you see that though I will regard this as a misunderstanding.
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          Jul 4 2011: @ John when you say " Most people think farmers need to be subsidized or that the global superpowers need to send more food aid to poorer countries lacking adequate conditions for sustainable agriculture"
          Can you please define who are these "Most People" ?
          "Global Super Need To Send" gives the idea how informed those "Most People" really are , with a very serious subject that you opened up.

          Again saying something like " I don't think the US gov't should. Again, they should NOT distribute food aid to the rest of the world." above gives the notion despite all the facts or discussion of TEDsters here your idea is still clinging to a belief that US is doing a great help to the 3rd world & actually that's not the case.

          Jaime is pointing out that only.

          We 3rd world people don't see those as "aid" that's why at the begining I brought the point of "Food Politics" & "Food as Weapon" and gave a link how US is doing so. US never gave any "free lunch" anywhere ever & we from 3rd world don't want "free lunch" also.
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          Jul 4 2011: Most people refers to the voting majority of the United States. I do not think the US is helping at all. I can't be any clearer than that. I don't know why I'm being so misunderstood. My idea is that the US is not doing a great help. That's why I replied to your "Food as a Weapon" post with "I agree with you."
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      Jul 3 2011: This is something that even ordinary people can contribute a little to through for example microloans on
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        Jul 3 2011: Brilliant idea Kristofer. Micro-loans have proven to be very successful in fostering entrepreneurship in developing countries. Thank you!
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          Jul 3 2011: Oh signore Barrios you fall in contradiction with your own words. The brillant idea from signore Kristofer is about small things as you in your own garden, harvesting your own food. The new technologies could be as antique as all we know in a coexistence with the new ones. Please be informed well about the subject that you put on the table. New an small or old and big are not binomial factors for tha analysis.
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          Jul 4 2011: John how can you explain from your point of view the steal of the corn and tomato seeds by Monsanto and Asgrow and the CalTech. They patented the seeds as their own property. The name of that is robbery not aid.
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    Jul 3 2011: With my organisation Farmers For the Future, I'm working on the development of a micro-investment platform where you can support small African farmers.

    With the right inputs (new seeds, not GM, but simply newer seeds, instead of the old, frail seedlines; some (organic) fertilizer, and basic farming tools), an average African farmer can *double* his output.

    You, as a micro-investor puts in some money, which goes straight to the farmer. We take a small part of that in order to do the following two, very important things:
    -organise the distribution of these much needed farm inputs (acquisition and transport of new seeds, fertilizer in bulk, tools in bulk, etc...)
    -organise farmers in groups, so they can sell in bulk, and pay less for transport and marketing

    Contrary to other funding organisations (like, ours would give you an actual return on your investment, of say 10 to 20%. You can decide to keep it, or to donate it to the program.
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        Jul 3 2011: I'm well aware of the many very bad models of micro-finance. There was an MIT-study about the effects of micro-credit in India over the past 10years. Not only positive results.

        In our model, there's no micro-credit; it's more an investment model. The farmers we invest in, don't borrow money. We take a participation in their surplus production, in exchange for farm inputs. This is a very different model.
        • Jul 3 2011: Laurens, I know that in many regions, praedial larceny is a major disincentive for small-scale farming. Is this a problem in the areas in which you work and how do the farmers deal with it?
      • Jul 3 2011: Sam Greene founded the Penny Foundation in Guatemala in the 1960's. There micro loans proved successful with a pay back rate of some 95%. The goal of allowing the villagers to pick the projects they wanted and pay for them a penny at at time proved very successful.
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        Jul 4 2011: Good questions, Richard:

        1. I'm already involved with my own cash, as much as I can. But forget loans. Banks in Europe will never grant you a loan for a project in the Democratic Republic of Congo -- they think you're crazy; the Congo, of all places! Banks in the DRC themselves are not interested in rural development either, unless you build your own mega-farm, well secured and with support of the government. They will never invest in a "fool" who wants to collaborate with poor illiterate peasants. Small investments via a micro-investment platform spread the risk. If you lose US$20 life goes on, doesn't it? If I lose US$2,000,000 life doesn't go on. ;-)
        2. Surpluses are sold, via cooperatives. The surplus is the production a farmer adds to what he obtained before the intervention. Say he is used to harvesting 700kg of maize per hectare. With the intervention he may harvest 2 tonnes. Surplus production: 1.3 tonnes. The farmer chooses how much of the total (2 tonnes) he wants to sell. Often, 50% of the traditional production (700kg) is kept to feed the family, the rest (350kg) sold. So this typical farmer will now, in all likeliness, sell 350kg + 1300kg = 1600kg. If the cooperative works well, he should also receive more cash per bag than before the arrival of the cooperative.
        3. The investment platform would be a non-profit organisation. Operating costs are the only money that will be withheld from the profits gained from selling the surplus.
        4. I have some experience with agricultural projects in very remote places in Congo. The cost per farmer, to organise him into a cooperative, to acquire and distribute seeds, fertilisers and basic equipment, can be US$ 100 per hectare, when done in bulk.
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        Jul 4 2011: I continue with point 4:

        Now say farmgate prices are $15/bag (100kg), that's about $150 per ton, or $200 for the surplus (1300kg), or $240 if he decides to sell the total 1600kg. We haven't touched the 350kg he keeps to feed his family. So the math is clear: if he sells 1600kg, he makes a profit of $140, we have recuperated the $100 we invested. If the program offers a return of 20%, the farmer has to pay $20. He keeps: $120. This is still much more than what he would otherwise make. Without this intervention he would make 3.5bags (350kg) times $15/bag = $52.
        The program would thus more than double the farmer's income, and at the same time offer a return of 20% to the micro-investor.

        Mind you, the starting point of improving production from 700kg to 2 tonnes is conservative. In reality it may be considerably better (3 tonnes is no exaggeration).

        In any case, the $100 needed to get inputs to the farmer is high too. As you scale up and have a bigger member-base, this cost will drop considerably.

        What's more: we will never pay the farmgate price. We will receive the market price as it exists in Kinshasa, where that same bag is worth $40. If we control some of the export chain, or make better contracts in that chain, the profits will be substantially higher. And this can be done by grouping farmers.

        I believe this model may work.
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      Jul 6 2011: Hi Laurens,

      This is a great initiative you are working on. Admire your dedication. I think if you get the process, costs, return very transparent it will attract lot's of people, even me.

      a question;
      Machines and Energy are expensive, are you considering initiative for machines and Gunther Pauli Blue Economy innovations for energy?
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        Jul 7 2011: Paul, thanks for the reminder of the work of the Open Source Ecology people. They're pioneers in appropriate technology design. Central African farmers operate on a tiny scale, so its very important to begin by providing tiny tools, and then gradually build up.

        Forgot about Pauli's Blue Economy, but it remains a fascinating initiative indeed. I only wished they focused more on the poorest of the poor (less than 0.5$/day), and not only on the wealthy poor (around 1$ to 2$/day).
  • Jul 2 2011: Could we take back our food supply from large corporations and retailers and return it to the neighborhoods. I want to buy my food from the people that grew and prepared it. And I want to participate in it in a more meaningful way than just tossing dollars at it in an environment that jags my nervous system.
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      Jul 4 2011: You'd be really into the Locavore movement Deborah :)
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    Jul 2 2011: Divide 'Survival' and 'Luxury'

    Book some food, get basic survival out of the stockmarket, supply and demand price chain.

    here are 617 other ideas worth spreading;

    Individual : Make sure you buy 50% sustainable, try to highlight half of your weekly shoppinglist and put it on the fridge.

    Quest your shopping list to see this balance. Trick yourself into sustainable buying;

    - Week 1 ; 10% sustainable
    - Week 2 ; 20% sustainable
    - Week 3 ; 30% sustainable
    - Week 4 ; 40% sustainable
    - Week 5 ; 50% sustainable
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      Jul 3 2011: Paul, as usual your contribution to this topic is awsome in common sense. Thank you, and I'm glad to read your proposals.
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    Jul 2 2011: Stop food politics.
    Stop using food as weapon.
    Stop wastage of food.
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      Jul 3 2011: I agree with you. Many of America's foreign aid goes to food in third world countries. The American people/government don't seem to realize that once the food gets there, it's in the hands of a political party. Usually the political party in power is only in party because of the food they control. It's a sad, sad thing.
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        Jul 3 2011: Hi John, thanks for your awareness but there are more,

        In my country most US aid comes as food aid (?) though we are almost self sufficient in food !

        This aid does not mean it's free really (we don't want as well) , it's actually loan not aid with lots of strings attached.

        Last not least timing of food loan ..... mostly come just before Farmers starts harvesting .....sure I am you understand what that mean ....

        Well the issue is a global one , so don't want to focus on US only.

        I was in oil rich Middle East for sometime, was shocked watching the huge wastage of food during each meal by citizens over there, while just beside them Sudan ,Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia etc have lot of starving people, everyday !!!

        Wasting food is a symbol of luxury & affluence there !
        What disgusting psyche it is !!!
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          Jul 3 2011: I wasn't aware. That's horrible! Thank you for letting me know Salim. This only strengthens my political views regarding international intervention.
          You said that there are strings attached. Can you explain that to me?

          (EDIT: I was not trying to be sarcastic or rude. My comments are always genuine. I do not assume that others can sense sarcasm in plain text. Just to clear it up.)
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          Jul 4 2011: Salim its my pleasure to salute you. This is a unfair play with a subject very strong and serious. And painfull for some participants. A lack of respect is present in some answers and the ignorance and complete absence of real information is around here.
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          Jul 4 2011: The same is for Northern Africa. We just don't call it aid, we call it food dumping.

          The prices of EU food exported there are below local production costs, meaning pushing farmers out of business, meaning EU dependency on food, meaning Northern Africa people are forced to go and look for a life/work in EU.

          This is solvable, for the good of Northern Africa and EU, but takes some effort in bravery and integrity.
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        Jul 3 2011: Signore Barrios, why you affirmed that things? How do you know that?, Have you been in the" third world" to see and confirm your point of view? Or is just your opinion?

        Do you know, by real means that the situation in the" third world" is what you describe?.

        Are you in the first world, or in the second world?. Which are they?.

        Really do you believe that in other countries are expecting the "aid" from America. What kind of aid is that and what America is on your mind? ...The US? Theres another Americas Central and South america....What means America as a name?...Let me remind you that America is named by Amerigo Vespucci an italian capitano and explorer in the XVI century.
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          Jul 3 2011: I have not been to the third world, sir. I know what I know based on facts and figures through research. It would be unfortunate if everyone were expected to experience the knowledge they learn. You don't have to stand on Mars to know it is there. I know what the term "third world" means. I live in a first world country ( By America (notice that it is singular) I am referring to the United States of America. I am not implying that other countries expect aid from the US, it is a fact that they receive it. In this discussion, "aid" refers to food.
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        Jul 4 2011: Hi John, just check the link below........ you also can find lot more resource like this, had a long discussion on this issue in other thread here. To prove my comment I can be biased in my examples , so check more sources, this is just one example.

        Have a good day
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        Jul 4 2011: Thanks Jaime, for your compliment. Understand what you mean. I actually couple of times in some of my posts referred your concern which is so true here in many instances.

        Let's give a try together that's my motto to change.
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        Jul 4 2011: Hi Paul that's a better naming "Food Dumping" !!!
        As usual you came up with your great thoughts.
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    Jul 4 2011: JulieAnn, indeed, theft is a problem, but I wouldn't point at the farmers only. Most of the theft occurs when produce travels throughout the other elements of the chain: tertiary transport, secondary, and primary transport; at warehouses (often government-owned), and at final destinations.

    A partner of mine has tried to grow corn only once, deep in the interior. He wasn't present but relied on "friends and family" (and certainly some "fools" too). From a 100% at the field, he arrived with perhaps 25% at Kinshasa. Obviously a complete failure.

    The key to success is to organise farmers in cooperatives or other groups, not only to increase their bargaining power, but in order to increase control and security. Stealing 2 bags of maize from an individual farmer is a low risk crime. Stealing 2000 out of a ship is a different matter.

    Besides outright theft, post-harvest losses are a big issue too. These can reach up to 25%. Collective power pools resources for the creation of better storage facilities.
  • J Ali

    • +1
    Jul 2 2011: Food is plenty, Man is greedy.
  • Jul 2 2011: Food suply is not a problem of a big population (it could be in a future, but not right now), is not a problem of technologies, or productivity, it´s just a distribution problem! I live in Argentina, we have (just as Brasil, Usa, Australia and some more) the best lands, and produce food for more, much much more people than this country population, but we still have people starving.
    The same happens at global stage, we can produce food for everyone, but we only give it to the ones who can pay the price market say, when we, as humans, should, or must guarantee that everyone eat. I´m not being idealist or saying, we must guarantee high complexity surgeries, I´m just saying something that is completely possible.
    If we want to solve this problem, we need!!! to talk about international economic policy. If we sustain capitalism, and market rules, we depend just from our solidarity, and good values (also controlling corruption and participating in political issues at least as citizens).

    Keep in mind it´s not a problem of scarcity, technologies or productivity, it´s just an economic and political matter (distribution vs accumulation, monopolies, power, etc)

    Another stronge tip is to teach people to produce their own food. If you have a garden, even a balcony, you can produce more than you think, here we have a programm called "Prohuerta" that teach how to have your small farm or produce in pots, and really works!

    Ah, about food prices, they never rise for more than a couple of years, then, they get low more than they rose in the previous period. It´s historical since 1900, as technology increase productivity, food prices go down, more than manufactures.
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      Jul 4 2011: Luis you are correct. Is distribution.
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      Jul 3 2011: Signore Hrdlovic as I can see your posts in other conversations, as in this, are together with some links and videos from Youtube. Thank you for your contribution, but I really expect your opinion and I just see some slogans or isolated phrases. The topic is really important and I'm sure that you have something to said because as a TED Translator you are in touch with the toughts from a lot of interesting pepople who share and spread ideas really worthy. In italian we said : traduttore traditore.
  • Jul 2 2011: My freind and I were just talking about this. I was watching The Glen Beck show a couple of weeks ago (Im not proud of this hah, but every once in a while i like to check out what the other side is saying. Usually end up frustrated). But there was a man on talking about our nation's (USA) dwindling farmers. I think that the best way to encourage more people and families to pursue farming again, is to supply them with a competitive income. Personally, as a neo-nuclear/sustainable energy supporter, I am hoping that such energy innovations can drive down cost of production and bring down overhead in every market. I dont mean free energy, but I'd like to see lower energy costs, with lower emmisions. This, I believe, could change how economies work. Maybe with these steps; farmers, as well as teachers, police officers, and especially firefighters could be adequately compensated for their hard work and efforts. And we absolutly need to encourage other nations (like those of Africa), and supply them with the means. But as a world with a growing population, and limited resources, the classic view of money needs to be adapted from something which holds so much power into something which can reward all people from every nation for their efforts. After all, money doesnt reflect how much oil we have left. It does reflect its current value. Hopefully this will become something of the past. After all, in fifteenth century France, Tulips and salt were some of the most expensive imports. I remember learning this in high school, and it shocked me and stuck with me.
    I know i have gotten off topic, I apologize. We need to be able to reward those who choose to farm. Since the industrial revolution, farmers have moved from their farmlands into the developing cities. Now cities seem to just supply jobs, for the sake of making jobs. We dont NEED to live like this forever. It sure isnt sustainable. Reward the starving artists, farmers, and teachers
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    Jul 2 2011: John, this will get worse with the devastating effects of climate change. According to we are now at 394 ppm of atmospheric CO2. Even with cop16 temperature is certain to rise by 2 degrees with other scientists estimating 3-4 degrees.

    I think that in order to avert this and also solve food crisis, we need to implement our solutions strategies on global scale, like the ones recommended here. Laurens focused work on agriculture is also great just match it with patient investing by, this and many others I would like to see organized in an information system that should be possible now with our information age.
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    Jul 2 2011: One word... "Locavore". It might not permanently solve the world food crisis, but it would allow us to continue to grow exponentially for another hundred years. Why are we eating bananas in Canada? Why do the africans the reside near lake Victoria export their fish? It might solve some of the worlds economic crisis' as well.
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      Jul 3 2011: Beautifull word "LOCAVORE" ....Why we italians eat some lousy cookies from Texas?....
      Signore Tokarek your common sense is clearly and bright.

      With your permission I took the word "locavore" as part of my lexicon.
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    Jul 2 2011: Signore Barrios de acuerdo con el World Bank, ....????? el Banco Munidal no tiene la ultima palabra acerca de los alimentos, es solo una instancia influyente en la economia pero no asi en otros temas de interes mundial. Si usted quiere ayudar, cultive un huerto familiar, coma lo que cultive e invite a otros a hacer lo mismo. No dependa de lo que compra en los supermercados. Contra los pronosticos apocaplipticos del Banco Mundial esta la accion indiividual. Claro que ellos han desordenado la economia productiva forzando al consumo inducido por el comercio y logrando grandes masas de poblacion dependiente de las tiendas de alimentos. Pero eso puede revertirse si nos acordamos de nuestras herencias culturales y agriculturales. Usted dice que le apasiona soñar en lo imposible, pues bien, es mejor que despierte y realice lo posible.
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      Jul 2 2011: English translation?
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        Jul 2 2011: Hi Joe try Googole translation , just copy and paste :) I did a couple of time though not sure about quality but gives a bit idea.
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          Jul 3 2011: Thanks Salim, I did try and it seems that Mr. Vampa is doubting the report of World Bank, I'm not sure. If he does then I'm sure there are other sources like the analysis being done by Lester Brown - saying that wider global food shortage will be tipping point in forcing the world to really address climate change which is looming to aggravate food crises along with other global devastating effects.

          Mr. Brown also made an analysis of China's worsening climate seriously affecting their food production and hence will later demand more food from the US and maybe the rest of othe world using its financial resources.

          This is one of the reasons why many people are so concerned, hence the premise of my website.
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        Jul 3 2011: Signore Delsen maybe you need an english translation but let me tell you something. We live in an interfaced world with a lot of opoortunities in sources from knowledge and wisdom,
        The reality dont need translations or subtitles. We europeans dont have need to be in a subtitled world.

        Maybe you in the US live in a Hollywood subtitled brain system.
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          Jul 3 2011: I agree Signore Vampa, the reality don't need translations or subtitiles.
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      Jul 3 2011: No creo que el crecimiento de mi propio jardín ayudará a disminuir la crisis. El problema no es los supermercados. las técnicas de la agricultura mal, con una población sin educación es la problema. En mi opinión, tenemos que invertir en nuevas tecnologías e incluso la manera de enviar alimentos más. Lo siento si esto no tiene sentido, yo no hablo español con fluidez.
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        Jul 3 2011: Very good signore Barrios, then we have to expected your proposal to control the global food crisis.
        Please dont apologize for your spanish, wrongly I suposse that spanish was your lenguage.
        The main thing is not what we believe. Is what we are capable to do.

        Auguri e buon pranzo.
      • Jul 3 2011: El crecimiento de un jardín ayudará a disminuir la crisis, si su dueño pasa de ser pobre, a encontrar su propio alimento en su jardín. Esta no es LA solución, pero definitivamente es una acción positiva.

        Hechos - In facts (Argentine):
 (in english)
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          Jul 3 2011: Muy bien dijo, señor! Gracias por sus comentarios. No hay nada como el humor en una acalorada discusión. :)
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    Jul 8 2011: Well Mister Barrios this conversation is over, and we didnt receive your proposals to do something about world food crisis.

    Sincerely we hope that you have left the computer, and took the garden tools.
    The topic is so important and need more and better information to be studied.
    But first is indispensable to comprehend and understand the power of the living soil and the human will.
    In agriculture is vital to finish what we start. If not we loose the harvest.
  • Jul 7 2011: John, please read this!
    I think this topic could be continued.
  • Jul 7 2011: I am surprised noone has mentioned cutting back or eliminating animal protein yet. The higher the trophic level of your food source the more energy is wasted. Every kg of beef takes 6.5kg of grain, 36kg of roughage and 15500(!) litres of water (mostly to grow the crops). You could replace the animal protein with mycoprotein or beans and the like, and take supplements for any of the B vitamins you might miss out on. Now, I am not a veggie, and would find it tough, but it is one way to solve a potential shortage of food.
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    Jul 4 2011: Carisimi amici

    I have the same opinion that Jaime has. This is not serious.
    Andiamo via.
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    Jul 4 2011: In a gesture that seems "UI wash my hands" the exagerated US consume of meat for hamburguers has done a very great damage in all the agricultural world. Vary large areas to farming human food has used to cattle food changing not just the regular basis of farming, agriculture or food systems but a very disbalanced rates in human health. The US has the highly amount of fat people and all the diseases from that disorder. One US citizen could eat large quantities of meat, bread, fruit and vegetables sufficient to feed a family in other countries each week. The control of aliments and the codex alimentarius ordered from the US and the UN rules the food system. Is not a simple question of how we can deal with the "crisis". The World Bank appears in scene to justify the financial procedures from the codex alimentarius and the US have the power to open or close the gates and regulate the whole food system. The "aid" is just a smoke screen
    to elude the real scenario and take the consequences. In a deep dump the legislators in US (some of they) received big money from the food system companies (Unilever, Nestle) to keep the track and remain untouchables. Mister Barrios you have the civil obligation to study better this subject that you put in the table. Please dont elude this. And if you dont know about dont assume weak positions to claim ignorance. I note your response to our respectable friend Salim and you are not playing fare.
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      Jul 4 2011: I am not eluding this. We have the same ideas. I never aligned myself with the world bank nor did I commend the US in it's food aid policies. You sir are being the disrespectful one. The government in the United States IS corrupt. I know it. I did study the subject. By asking I am learning as well. That's how it works, right? Look back at my comment on Salim's. I was not being sarcastic or rude. I was being grateful and reverent. I find it ridiculous that I have to defend myself this way but even more ridiculous that an adult such as yourself could be so immensely rude and myopic.
  • Jul 3 2011: Promote urban farming. This means try to farm on Skyscrapers.

    Further, we have got a considerable part of the earth as dry land. We can establish infrastructure to change them into irrigated land for farming.

    As long as there is more demand than supply, prices will continue to rise.