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CNHI/Southeast Iowa

October 18, 2013

Population growth examined at lecture

OSKALOOSA — Dr. Ronald L. Phillips provided those in attendance at George Daily Community Auditorium with the World Food Prize Lecture on Tuesday.

Phillips serves as a regents professor at the University of Minnesota's Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics.

At the onset of his presentation, Phillips talked of the impact population growth is having and is anticipated to have on world food supplies. He noted that in developing countries the impact of population growth related to food supplies would be much more apparent than here in the U.S.

Phillips pointed to instances of “food riots” in over 30 countries recently, as one example.

The price of food worldwide is also important to consider. Phillips noted that 1.3 billion people in the world live on less than $1 per day.

Around 124,000 deaths from hunger occur worldwide each day, said Phillips.

Phillips also pointed to what he called solutions to this “tremendous challenge” outlined by famed agronomist Dr. Norman Borlaug. They include education, technology and political will of governments, according to Phillips.

Genetics plays a very large role in productivity of plants, noted Phillips. This accounts for about half of increased productivity, he said. The other half comes from natural resource management.

During his lecture, Phillips also touched upon the science of genomics and compared it to genetics. He said genetics is can be likened to hearing one violin, while genomics can be compared to an entire orchestra.

In recent years, advances in genomics have been accomplished, noted Phillips. He said more than 50 plant species have been sequenced.

Phillips also talked of the importance of rice throughout the world, recalling the quote, “Rice is life.” He said rice is extremely important to the diets of half of the world's population. He noted that there is now a form of rice that is flood-tolerant, adding that flooding is a common agricultural issue in much of the world.

“Biotech crops” are considered a “green technology,” according to Phillips.

Phillips called Borlaug a “hero,” noting his numerous accomplishments and humility about earning those awards and honors.

“He was truly a humanitarian and was recognized for it,” said Phillips.

Borlaug created the World Food Prize, which Phillips said has garnered an international event, bringing in agricultural leaders from around the world.

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