Paul Szauter, World Hunger, 2/5/2012
- Starting Project
- Statement of the Problem
- Work Backward
- The Four-Step Process
- Future Work
1. Starting Project: Open-Source Agriculture.
The techniques of crop improvement, including genome analysis and genetic modification,
have yet to be fully applied to improving indigenous crops in the developing world. The aim
of this project is to identify food crops that would be good targets for improvement in a
model where the work is sponsored by a public agency or foundation rather than by a corporation.
The project might include open-source collaboration and challenge awards, approaches borrowed
from collaborative software development and other crowdsourcing models.
2. Statement of the Problem
The project as stated above is too specific and does not define the problem. The general problem from which the project above was generated in class on 1/30/2012 was simply "Food."
As a more general statement of the problem, consider the first
Millennium Development Goal of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations:
Goal one: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
Here is the FAO's explanation of this goal and its role in addressing it:
The number of hungry people in the world remains unacceptably high despite
expected recent gains that have pushed the figure below 1 billion. FAO estimates
that the number of people who will suffer from chronic hunger in 2010 is 925 million.
FAO focuses on poverty and hunger reduction through: improving agricultural
productivity and incomes and promoting better nutritional practices at all levels
and programmes that enhance direct and immediate access to food by the neediest.
FAO helps developing countries to improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries
practices, to sustainably manage their forest, fisheries and natural resources
and ensure good nutrition for all. FAO promotes greater investment in agriculture
and rural development and has assisted governments to establish National Programmes
for Food Security aimed at smallholder farmers. In emergency response and
rehabilitation efforts, FAO's expertise in farming, livestock, fisheries and
forestry is crucial. FAO works quickly to restore agricultural production, strengthen
the survival strategies of those affected, and enable people to reduce their dependence
on food aid. FAO also plays a crucial role in prevention, preparedness and early warning.
One of the strategies recommended on page 85 of Conceptual Blockbusting is Separate.
Here we are going to separate components of the Food Problem.
I read more about the Food Problem and looked at the
map on the FAO site.
I came up with several components of the Food Problem:
- War and Bad Politics - Some of the worst affected contries, or countries
that have actually deteriorated over the past few years, are affected by war and political
instability. This seems to be an overriding factor no matter what is done in other
areas of the problem. Creating world peace is beyond the scope of the project and will
not be addressed.
- Climate Disasters and Crop Failures - This is a problem that will affect
the food supply even if crops and agricultural practices are improved. The current
solution to this problem is food aid from outside the country, and systems are in
place for this. Controlling the global climate to optimize agriculture everywhere
around the world is beyond the scope of the project and will not be addressed.
- Limitations of Current Crops - Current agricultural crops have limitations.
Some highly improved crops are best suited for large-scale mechanized agriculture
and are not suited for cultivation in all parts of the world. Other local and
indigenous crops have not yet been subjected to scientific crop improvement.
All crops can be evaluated for improvement in yield, ease of cultivation and processing,
and nutritional content.
- Food Preferences and Culture - Many people are reluctant to try new foods
that are not part of their culture. In this project, this problem can be taken on
as a problem in public education, or it can be accepted as a constraint that requires
that crop improvement should be applied to familiar, regionally accepted foods.
- Poverty - The FAO goal links poverty and hunger. The project that emerged
from class discussion acknowledged an economic component. If food is available but
people don't have enough money to buy it, the Food Problem is really a Poverty Problem.
In this project, ideas should be evaluated to see if they have a positive role in
- Suggestions from Class, February 6 - There may be other aspects to the
problem that emerge from class discussion. The class suggestions were:
Money, Politics, Population, Other Resources, Climate, Disease, Transportation (Infrastructure),
Education, Disasters, Workforce, Water, Food Preference.
One of the strategies recommended on page 85 of Conceptual Blockbusting is Eliminate.
Here we are going to gather some data and eliminate areas of the world in which to solve the Food Problem.
We begin with the
map showing world hunger by country from the FAO.
One of the elements that we decided was an obstruction was war and political instability.
With respect to hunger, some of the worst-affected countries in the world are in Africa.
These are areas of ongoing conflict and the breakdown of governments.
Despite the need here, we eliminate Africa and Asia from consideration in
the scope of this project to concentrate on Central and South America.
I needed to visualize the problem, so I overlaid data from the FAO map on an image of Central and South America, shown below.
Hunger in Central and South America
The countries colored in RED have High undernourishment (25-34%).
The countries colored in ORANGE have Moderately High undernourishment (15-24%).
- Dominican Republic
The countries colored in YELLOW have Moderately Low undernourishment (5-14%).
- El Salvador
The countries not colored have undernourishment below 5%.
Now that we have eliminated most of the countries of the world, we gather data
on the ones that are left. We look up the population of the remaining countries (
data from the United Nations, 2011), presented in the table below.
If we were to consider the extent of hunger and the population size alone, we might focus all of our effort on Brazil.
Brazil is a rapidly developing country with a vibrant economy and vast resources.
The population of Brazil (192 million) dwarfs the population of the other countries.
Even if only 5% of the population of Brazil is undernourished, that is 9.6 million people,
almost as many in all of Bolivia or Haiti, the worst affected countries.
At this point we should explicitly state our assumptions:
- War and political instability will thwart innovative attempts to address the problem of poverty and hunger.
- National boundaries are important, as crop improvement efforts must proceed country-by-country.
- Successful innovation in one country might spread to another country.
- We have not looked at differences of climate and culture that will affect what crops are grown.
- Any other assumptions that will emerge from class discussion on February 6 (none).
5. Work Backward
One of the strategies recommended on page 85 of Conceptual Blockbusting is Work Backward.
We will use this strategy on the Food Problem. We will work backward by assuming for
the moment that we have already got a good solution in terms of crop modification,
a change in agricultural practices, or the introduction of a completely novel crop.
With this innovative solution in hand, we turn to practical considerations.
What is the economic model that will be used to cause this innovation to be adopted?
These are not mutually exclusive strategies, and implementing our innovations might involve several strategies.
Here we use a bit of lateral thinking to consider all the ways that a change
in agricultural production might work economically.
- Large Corporate - Large agriculture corporations may have a role in research
for one or more solutions. Their research work will be their protected intellectual property.
They will pursue solutions likely to be profitable on a large scale.
- Government Grant - Researchers in universities and national labs from
a number of countries might fund research and development that looks promising if it is aligned to their goals.
In this case the intellectual property might be in the public domain.
- Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) - Non-Government Organizations,
including charitable foundations, might fund research and development that looks promising if it is aligned to their goals.
In this case the intellectual property might be in the public domain.
- Free Enterprise - Smale-scale entrepreneurs from start-ups to
street vendors can be counted on to take advantage of opportunities for profitable innovations.
- Community of Users - In the original concept of this project, we
collectively envisioned a community of users trading information through the global information network.
Such a community might put small amounts of money at stake, either because they profit from growing crops,
or because they are interested in the problem. There is room to explore whether this community could engage in research in some way.
- Other suggestions from class February 6 - A surprising suggestion from the
class was money from drug cartels. Perhaps they would consider investing in crop improvement.
6. The Four-Step Process
We have introduced Polya's (How to Solve It) method for solving problems. Let's review how we have applied the method here:
- Understanding the Problem - What is the unknown? What are the data? What is the condition?
- Devising a Plan - Do you know a related problem? Look at the unknown. Here is a problem related to yours and solved before. Could you use it? Could you restate the problem?
- Carrying Out the Plan - Carry out the plan, check each step.
- Looking Back - Can you check the result? Can you use the result, or the method, for some other problem?
Understanding the Problem. We have adopted a simple statement of the problem
from an outside source. We have tried to identify elements contributing to the problem of world hunger.
Devising a Plan. We gathered data on the extent of world hunger by country
from a reliable source. We reduced the number of countries for which we are attempting
to devise a solution by considering various other factors identified in the first step.
We began to consider how our plan would interface with various economic solutions.
Carrying Out the Plan. We used our initial considerations to focus
attention on Central and South America. Once the extent of undernourishment and
the population size of each country is taken into account, we reached the surprising
tentative conclusion that we should focus our entire effort on Brazil.
Looking Back. We will present this approach to class for additional thinking.
Another way of looking back is to consider which of the processes on page 85 of Conceptual Blockbusting we have used. We have used:
- Eliminate - We used the Eliminate strategy to greatly reduce the number of countries being considered in a solution to a global problem.
- Work Forward - In general, we Work Forward, with a faily linear plan once we have devised it.
- Work Backward - We have used Work Backward to broaden the possible number of economic solutions to any of our innovations.
- Classify - We used the Classify strategy to sort countries by size and need.
- Generalize - We have used the Generalize strategy to begin to define where to apply a solution by ignoring cultural, political, and economic differences between countries.
- Compare - We have used the Compare strategy to evaluate the relative merits of directing our efforts to specific countries.
- Relate - We have used the Relate strategy to connect agricultural and economic problems.
- Defer - we have used the Defer strategy to avoid focusing on specific crops, practices, or economic models until we have done more work.
- Focus - We have used the Focus strategy in that we are confident that innovations in a carefully restricted space will generalize.
- Release - We have used the Release strategy to temporarily abandon specific areas of research, specific crops, and specific economic models of which we are fond.
- Imagine - We have used the Imagine strategy to visualize a world in which our innovations are adopted.
- Incubate - We have used the Incubate strategy to leaving the problem with fuzzy edges for days or weeks at a time.
- Display - We have used the Display strategy in this summary, displaying maps and tabulated data to facilitate thiniking.
- Organize - We have used the Organize strategy to collect information and ideas form our notebooks and the web into this document.
- List - We have used the List strategy to arrange ideas, approaches, and data.
- Visualize - We have used the Visualize strategy to assing "weights" to countries despite fuzzy data.
- Recall - We have use the Recall strategy to gather information from our general experience and past reading.
- Record - We have use the Record strategy to present information on our thought process as well as our data and conclusions.
- Search - We use the Search strategy every time we use Google to collect information.
- Plan - We have used the Plan strategy to direct our work.
- Assume - We have used the Assume strategy to simplify several aspects of the problem temporarily.
- Question - We use the Question strategy to examine our assumptions at each stage of the process.
- Hypothesize - We have used the Hypothesize strategy to propose that there is a solution to our problem in the realm of the possible.
- Define - We have used the Define strategy to state our problem and its assumptions.
- Play - We have used the Play strategy in the real world by experimenting with various alternative foods and brainstorming techniques.
- Manipulate - We have used the Manipulate strategy by writing single ideas on cards and sorting them in various ways to gernerate and categorize ideas.
- Copy - We have used the Copy strategy to gather information and to imitate solutions to other problems.
- Expand - We have used the Expand strategy to increase the problem beyond the initial statement of the project.
- Reduce - We have used the Reduce strategy to limit the number of countires that will be the targets of our innovations.
- Exaggerate - We have used the Exaggerate strategy to limit the number of countires that will be the targets of our innovations.
- Understate - We have used the Understate strategy to reduce the difficulty and complexity of the problem.
- Adapt - We have used the Adapt strategy to let go of some of our fixed ideas that are not widely popular in the real world.
- Combine - We have used the Combine strategy to mix ideas borrowed from a number of different sources.
- Separate - We have used the Separate strategy to dissocaite the linked problems of poverty and hunger.
- Cycle - We have used the Cycle strategy in repeated application of Polya's four-step process.
- Repeat - We have used the Repeat strategy to apply problem-solving or idea-generating steps again and again.
- Systematize - We have used the Systematize strategy to organize information about aspects of the problem or the target countries in a fairly linear way.
7. Future Work.
We anticipate the follwing kinds of work on this problem over the next week:
- Political/Economic Considerations. We will gather and summarize information on the political and economic climate in each of the countries under consideration.
- Climate Considerations. We will gather and summarize information on the climate zone(s) in each of the countries in order to see what crops may be grown.
- Crop Production. We will gather and summarize information on the types and quantities of major crops produced in each country.
- Demographic Considerations. We will gather information on the undernourished in the target countries. Are they subsistence farmers or urban dwellers?
- Review. We will review the current work with interested parties to see if any additional ideas are generated.