Food Security on the Table at Chatham House

This year’s Chatham House Food Security conference saw some of the most influential speakers in agricultural development coming together to discuss the current pressures and challenges faced by farmers around the world.

The two-day conference held last week, of which Farming First was a media partner, heard from IFAD’s president, Kanayo Nwanze, UN Assistant Secretary General David Nabarro, IFPRI Senior Research Fellow Gerald Nelson, and UK Secretary of State RT Hon Caroline Spelman, amongst many other high-profile speakers.

Focusing on the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050, this year the focus was very much on the need for “sustainable intensification”.

Speakers focused on the need to support smallholder farmers, which they said required a concerted effort tackling not just productivity, but also governance issues, infrastructure, access to inputs and know-how, technology, trade barriers, micro-finance and gender inequalities.

Yet whilst these issues may help address supply side issues, they also spoke about matters on the demand side of food chains that cause insecurities – namely urbanisation, population and economic growth.

Commenting on the various food security funds set up over the years, Kanayo Nwanze, who was speaking on the record, called for an accountability framework that would ensure that promises were kept to. He stated, “Declarations don’t feed people, actions do.”

KEY DISCUSSION POINTS:

Food prices

Regarding recent food price spikes, the conference heard that underneath immediate, temporary price increases was a chronic crisis.  On the second day of the conference, representatives from the financial and banking sector provided their perspectives on food commodities markets. One speaker talked about a “supply side response” to higher prices, meaning that farmers gain from higher prices and are spurred on to grow more. As a result, it was suggested that no food price movement would be sustained, because of this supply side response. It was also agreed upon that trade is key to reducing price volatility.

Partnerships

There was a great emphasis placed on the vital role of public-private partnerships which, in helping initiatives go to scale, were said to be where the quick wins are.

Knowledge-Transfer

In addressing the uptake gap with agricultural technologies, many speakers reiterated that getting technologies to farmers was only one half of the challenge. Education and technical skills development were crucial to ensuring farmers know how to use new technologies efficiently and safely. The issue of who pays for the knowledge transfer that is involved in sustainable intensification was questioned.  It was also suggested that demonstration farms in every community could be a successful way of imparting new knowledge to farmers.

Markets

Agribusiness at all levels was supported to help countries take part in global markets. Indeed, it was said that no country had ever achieved economic growth without participation in global trade.

Gender Relationships

The majority of farmers in the developing world are women, yet women receive far less inputs and less income than men. Gender equality in agriculture was highlighted as a key concern.

Most speakers spoke under the Chatham House rule and therefore cannot be quoted.

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