Arthur C Clarke on the Future of Food: We need a smarter and kinder world

The leading Indian newspaper The Hindu has just published (on 4 May 2008) my article on the future of food, based on the views of Sir Arthur C Clarke. It can be found here.

I originally wrote this article in mid 2000, based on an interview with the late Sir Arthur Clarke. It was produced at the request of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which included it in an information pack to mark World Food Day in October that year. No doubt they circulated it among the charmed development circle, but as far as I know (or Google can find), it never appeared in a public media outlet – until now.

I came across this in the weeks following Sir Arthur’s death on March 19, when I was going through manuscripts of our collaborative essays and my interviews with him over the years. The Hindu‘s Sunday Magazine, which earlier printed my essay on Sir Arthur’s views on nuclear weapons in South Asia, agreed to publish it, which they did on 4 May 2008.

The essay, written in Sir Arthur’s first person narrative, makes a number of points that are very relevant to discussions on today’s global food crisis. In fact, these points are more valid today than when they were first made eight years ago.

An extract:

“Meeting everybody’s basic nutritional needs requires a combined approach of the mind and heart – of intellect and compassion. How can we explain the fact that one sixth of humanity goes to bed hungry every night, when the world already produces enough food for all?

“The short answer is that there are serious anomalies in the distribution of food. Capricious and uncaring market forces prevent millions of people from having at least one decent meal a day, while others have an abundance. For the first time in history, the number of severely malnourished persons now equals the number suffering from over-consumption: about a billion each!

“To adapt a remark that my late friend Buckminster Fuller once made about energy: there is no shortage of food on this planet; there is, however, a serious shortage of intelligence. And, I might add, compassion.

Sir Arthur then runs up his famous ‘crystal ball’ to gaze at the near and far future on how humanity can feed itself without damaging the planet. He offers some useful lateral thinking and suggests some unlikely new sources of food.

But all these are short term solutions, he says, because “eventually, the matter will be resolved when we are able to synthesise all the food we ever need, thus no longer depending on other animals to satisfy our hunger.”

Towards the end of the essay, he takes the big picture view:

“Improved communications and the free flow of information will not, by themselves, eradicate either hunger or poverty — but they can be instrumental in the struggle to create a world without these. And when the world’s collective conscience finally succeeds in mobilising sufficient political will and resources to banish those twin scourges, we will be left with another, far more insatiable but far less destructive substitute — the hunger for knowledge and wisdom.”

Read the full essay: The future of food – Arthur C Clarke talks to Nalaka Gunawardene

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