Camden Conference reaches global on food and water

By Dwight Collins | Feb 26, 2014
Courtesy of: Sarah Szwajkos Photography/Damn Rabbit Studios Professor Calestous Juma spoke to the audience at the 27th Annual Camden Conference about technological advances in farming to create disease resistant crops Feb. 22 at the Camden Opera House.

Camden — Increasing world population has some people concerned about the continued availability and production of adequate food and clean water.

The 27th annual Camden Conference tackled the topic with speakers on the “Global Politics of Food and Water” at Camden Opera House from Feb. 21 to 23.

Honorary Chairman and former Maine Sen. George Mitchell opened the conference Friday night with introductory remarks.

The Senator George J. Mitchell Center at the University of Maine is the home of Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative, as well as Maine’s congressionally-authorized Water Resources Research Institute.

Camden Conference President Sarah Miller welcomed the membership and those in attendance at the opera house and at satellite facilities at The Strand in Rockland and The Hutchinson Center in Belfast and introduced the moderator for the conference, John Piotti of Maine Farmland Trust. Originally Jonathan Foley was scheduled to moderate the event but was unable to due to inclement weather.

"John Piotti of Maine Farmland Trust served in his stead and did a wonderful job," said
Kimberly Scott Conference Director of the Camden Conference.

The keynote speaker, Fred Kirschenmann from the Leopold Center at Iowa State University gave a speech Friday evening titled “Two Pathways into the Future: Which to Choose?”

Kirschenmann has been on the forefront of sustainable agriculture and food issues for more than 50 years and serves as a Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center. He has also served as president of Stone Barnes Center for Food and Agriculture in New York and had a book of his essays published call “Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: essays from a Farmer Philosopher.”

The topics on Saturday were diverse and allowed the audience to take in several different ideas and theories on how to continue providing food and water to the masses.

Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, spoke on changes being made in Africa on just such a front. “Africa’s Next Harvest: Technological Leapfrogging and Sustainable Agriculture” was a narration on the advances in technology in creating conditions to create viable food sources.

He spoke of blight that affected certain crops in regions of Africa and the possible need for scientific intervention because traditional pesticides do not work.

The Maurca insect has become a major problem for cow pea crops in West Africa, according to Juma, and research shows the damage causes a reduced size and quality of the pea.

“We have these Mauruca pests in West Africa that destroys the cow peas and $350 million is imported in pesticides are not very effective,” Juma said. “These are diseases that are very difficult to control through conventional methods and probably the only way to do it is through genetic modification.”

Juma also spoke about the success of genome technology and the advancement in West Africa on aquaculture and ways to sustain agriculture in a changing climate. Juma feels that there are many ways that the individual African countries have been able to work together at the local level sharing resources, innovations in technology, improving the infrastructure and the increase of agricultural output.

Other topics and speakers Saturday were; “The Role of Agricultural Biodiversity in Adapting to Climate Change” by Ann Tutwiler, Director General, Bioversity International; “Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change” by Andrew Guzman, Berkeley Law School; “New Solutions for a Changing Ocean” by Andreas Merkl, CEO and President, Ocean Conservancy; “Opportunities for Big Climate Solutions from Small-Scale Production” by Kathleen Merrigan, former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Consultant; “What can we learn from China about Feeding the World?” by Jim Harkness, Senior Advisor on China, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; and “X-Farming: Coming to a Planet Near You” by Dave Gustafson, Senior Science Fellow, Monsanto Company.

Sunday the audience got a more local aspect of the issue from Chellie Pingree, Maine’s representative to the United States House of Representatives, who spoke about food security challenges facing Maine and the United States. Professor Robert Paarlberg spoke about his book titled “Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know” and the panel closed with Gus Shumacher, Vice President of Policy at the Wholesome Wave Foundation asking the question “Agriculture, Water and Nutrition: A Crisis or Will New Technologies Be in Time?”

A final panel discussion finished out the day.

The Camden Conference is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster education and bring to light world issues. The conference convenes the third weekend in February at the Camden Opera House to showcase leaders in foreign policy.

Post-Conference discussions about topics at the conference are scheduled for Feb. 25, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Rockland Public Library; Feb. 27, 7 to 8:30 Camden Public Library and March 4, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Belfast Free Library

For more information or to register for one of the sessions, contact the Camden Conference office at 236-1034 or


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