International Roundtable Theme and Background
Minnesota long has been considered an agricultural producer and processor of global importance, with several international agro-industrial firms headquartered in the Twin Cities. The state is also a hotbed for the organic and local foods movements, hosting one of the largest concentrations of organic farms in the nation. Nobel Laureate and plant geneticist Norman Borlaug received his education in Minnesota, and is considered by many to be the father of the Green Revolution program for addressing global hunger in the 1960s and 1970s. Macalester’s own Kofi Annan leads a new organization, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, which receives funding from the Gates Foundation to promote agricultural development in Africa.
Current estimates suggest that the global population will peak at around 9.5 billion in the latter half of this century, up from 7 billion in 2011. We do not know when global food demands will crest. This is because the quantity of food energy consumed globally and the amount of fossil fuel energy, water, land, and soil resources used to produce these kilocalories are only partially related to the size of the global population. Therefore, the issue is not just a question of human numbers, but as regions of the world become wealthier and more urbanized, their populations demand more and different types of food. In general, they consume more meat and processed foods, demand fruits and vegetables with fewer blemishes, desire fresh produce in all seasons, and import foodstuffs from increasingly distant locations.
All of this places strains on the food system. Growing evidence indicates that current food production and distribution systems will not sustainably meet rising consumption demands. For example, food prices climbed steadily from 2000 to 2008, rising over 50% between April 2007 and March 2008. Dubbed the “2007–08 Global Food Crisis,” high food prices were especially challenging for the urban poor who spend a disproportionately higher share of their income on food. This stressing of livelihoods sparked food riots in several cities across the Global South and led many Americans to worry about higher grocery bills. Food prices crested again in 2011 and many believe the famine in the Horn of Africa is at least partially related to this phenomenon (e.g., food prices are 300% of normal in Mogadishu, Somalia). Debates rage about the best way to improve the global food system, with some advocating genetically modified crops and others focusing on organic and local food production.
The theme of globalization, food, and agriculture links the global to the local in the very best of the Macalester’s International Roundtable traditions, and spans the fine arts, social sciences, humanities, and sciences. The overarching question for this year’s International Roundtable: How do we sustainably feed the world in the decades to come?