WRI hosts the inaugural Debate @ the Waite, 25 August 2011

Last week over 130 people attended the Waite Research Institute’s inaugural Debate @ the Waite, on the motion “Increasing agricultural production is the only sure way to feed 9 billion people by 2050”.

The event, held at Lirra Lirra Cafe at the Waite Campus of the University of Adelaide was moderated by Dr Paul Willis, Director of the Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus). The debaters on the evening were:

Team for the affirmative:

  • Prof Rick Roush, Dean, Melbourne School of Land and Environment, University of Melbourne
  • Dr Andrew Jacobs, Research Fellow, Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics, University of Adelaide
  • Prof Roger Leigh, Director, Waite Research Institute, University of Adelaide

Team for the negative:

  • John Webster, Chief Executive, Foodbank Australia Ltd.
  • Dr Wendy Umberger, Senior Lecturer, Agricultural Economics, University of Adelaide
  • Andrew Stoler, Executive Director, Institute for International Trade, University of Adelaide

On arrival the audience was invited to vote on whether they were for or against the motion. Speakers for each of the two teams had 5 minutes to present their team’s case, followed by questions and comments from the audience. Each team member then had two minutes to provide a final point before the audience was invited to vote again.

The affirmative team argued that increasing food production, in particular in less developed countries expecting the highest rates of population growth, is the only way to feed 9 billion people by 2050. They gave examples of how existing knowledge could be used to increase on-farm productivity. They argued that redistribution of food through trade, or targeting wastage would not increase food availability in the hunger hot spots.

The negative team argued although hunger is real, food scarcity is not. We produce enough calories to feed the population currently, but it is international trade policies and an inefficient food system (in particular post-harvest) that cause hunger. They also argued that wastage is a big problem and that overcoming this will further contribute to alleviating food shortages. They argued that without addressing these issues, increasing agricultural production alone will not feed 9 billion people by 2050.

The initial vote showed that 60% of the audience intended to vote in favour of the motion. However, at the conclusion of the debate, 73% of the audience voted for against, indicating the negative team had argued their points persuasively.

The event was recorded, and video of the event will be available shortly. The Waite Research Institute also used Twitter to engage with a broader audience during the event and a summary made using Keepstream and including the main points from speakers and audience questions can be found here http://keepstream.com/waiteresearch/debate-at-the-waite-august-2011.

The Waite Research Institute would like to thank all of those involved in the event, in particular the debaters and the moderator. Monitor our website, follow us on Twitter or ‘like’ us on Facebook to hear about future events.


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