Can Focus on Surviving Drought, Ending Hunger Help Conquer Ebola?

Ebola may thrive in "bush meat" -- bats and small monkeys harvested for food by the desperately hungry in times of disasters, including flood, drought

As Ebola Fever sweeps the U.S. – not REAL Ebola, mind you, just the fear of it – most of farm country is plugging along with real worries such as soybean cyst nematode, drought damage to subsoil biology and getting corn harvested between storm systems.

Where I am – Des Moines, Iowa for the next couple of days – there are also strong minds and capable hands devoting time to figuring out the problem of how to feed 9 billion people over the next couple of decades, something that pretty much requires mastering soybean cyst nematode and subsoil biology.

Among the speakers we will hear from at the Borlaug Dialogues are the President of Sierra Leone, and the Minister of Agriculture in Liberia, representatives of two of the three west African nations hardest hit by the out-of-control Ebola outbreak that is not a fear but a reality for their families, friends and neighbors.

Those leaders are at the Borlaug Dialogue not to focus on the deadly disease that has periodically wiped out villages in their countries since 1976 but on an even deadlier scourge that gets far less attention – hunger to the point of death by starvation.

It goes without saying that hungry people do desperate things, including the thing that is suspected of being the reservoir of Ebola that occasionally creates outbreaks in western Africa – a product called “bush meat.”

Scientists believe that jungle bats or perhaps small monkeys are the reservoir for deadly Ebola – and that outbreaks start when hunters unknowingly come across infected animals and become exposed to the contagious blood while harvesting the animals.

It is likely that purchasers of the meat also become exposed when handling it raw.

It seems to me that there is a natural intersection for people who are worried about soybean cyst nematode,drought,  improving yields, growing more plentiful and nutritious food and getting this year’s harvest in before winter hits, to think about people who are so hungry they are eating bats, rodents and small monkeys.

Maybe, just maybe, if we can all put our best minds together to solve problems like soybean cyst nematode and drought  and pave a path toward a safe, affordable and adequate food supply, we have taken the biggest step imaginable toward eliminating Ebola.

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