In progress

Food SecurityDSC04798

With climate change increasing yield uncertainty and with growing populations increasing demand for food, food security is a growing concern. Current efforts to deal with this focus on increasing yield through inputs, crop modification (e.g. gmos) and introduction of high yield crops to areas of concern. While this has been met with some success, in general the results are mixed. While some activists may see this as evidence for the failure of “big ag” others instead focus on the issue still needing to be solved. In the past, introduction of new crops failed or was associated with serious health issues due to the decoupling of cultural knowledge from the actual crop (e.g. corn, cassava). While a particular crop can be successfully grown in another locale, to ensure nutritional, and not anti-nutritional outcomes (even when calorie needs are met; e.g. goiter, konzo, tropical ataxic neuropathy, pellagra), important processing techniques and/or crop combinations are essential. However this information does not travel with the plant itself, it must be learned from the people who have been using it. Additionally, cultural knowledge allows for individuals to pull from a reservoir of shared information to deal with rare (e.g. floods and droughts) or novel (e.g. crop pests) situations. Cumulative cultural knowledge and its transmission is a mechanism for dealing with both consistently and inconsistently encountered problems in the environment – and the concerns with introducing crops decoupled from this knowledge which limit adaptive responses in the face of environmental stochasticity. This approach offers an additional problem-solving tool in our efforts to combat global food insecurity and highlights that a one-size fits all approach while well-intentioned is likely to be less successful than a piece-meal approach that takes into account the interdependent nature of plant biology and cultural knowledge in dealing with the increasingly unpredictable nature of food production.