Stories tagged: food crisis

How on Earth Can we Feed Nine Billion? Live Online Chat hosted by Farming First Panelists

The Guardian Sustainable Business hosted a live online discussion this week on how to feed the world’s expanding population, called “Feeding the World: How on Earth Can We Feed 9 Billion People?”

The world’s resources are under more strain than ever before as global demand for water, energy and food increases. It is now crucial that the world adapts to create a more sustainable and secure food system whist using fewer resources.

A number of Farming First spokespeople were on the panel, including Robynne Anderson, the UN representative for the World Farmers Organisation, Santiago del Solar, an agronomist and farmer from the north west of Buenos Aires Province, and Dawn Rittenhouse, director of sustainability at the DuPont Company.

The issues around the global food crisis that were up for discussion were varied, and included food waste, choice editing (where retailers remove products that are harmful to the environment from their shelves), rising obesity and population rates, food production, diminishing resources, and climate change.

With the above challenges in mind, the panel discussion today aimed to focus specifically on:

  1. Changing consumer behaviour: looking at how to shift attitudes so that food is valued and not wasted
  2. Business response: the role of companies in aiding this change in behaviour and what it can do to help create a sustainable food system
  3. Innovative and efficient farming techniques

As the live discussion got under way, panel members were asked the question “why aren’t we feeding the world?”

Louise: Louise Fresco is a professor at the University of Amsterdam, specialising in international development, agriculture and food, replied:

 “Well, we are feeding the world in some sense. In quantitative terms we produce more calories already than are strictly needed for today’s 7 billion. Hunger is not a matter of production but of purchasing power. The areas of chronic hunger are those of failing states (North Korea, Horn of Africa, Great Lakes), or areas of massive natural disaster (Myanmar) or of persistent inequality (rural India)….”

The chat then moved on to discuss the benefits of local food purchasing. In response to a question about the effectiveness of the ‘locavore’ movement (where one eats exclusively local food), Dawn Rittenhouse replied:

“Our belief is that to accomplish food security, many food systems are going to be needed and we won’t be able to rely on any one approach. Locavore is one component and when local food is available then it makes a lot of sense to eat local, but trying to grow everything everywhere isn’t the right approach to accomplishing food security.”

Robynne Anderson added:

“Attachment to food is always an emotive question, and it is also health related with the need for diets that are diverse and healthy. Local food definitely has a role in production and can make the most of seasonal goodness. It is also key to maximize the impact of natural climate and geography. For instance, the efficiency of production of New Zealand lamb, for instance, is well researched and takes advantage of the available rainfall, food and water, that then allows it to be exported around the world.”

On the topic of scaling-up sustainable solutions for agriculture in an effort to create smarter systems to help address the multifaceted challenges of the food crisis, Robynne comments:

“There are very different audiences which may need to be reached. Scaling-up in a farmer context is often best done through farmer organisations and extension services. …Also key are community demonstration sites and risk insurance. Scaling up at a consumer level often requires retailer support or very different communications projects.”

When asked what the panellists would suggest be done to get the best and brightest talent running the farm businesses of the future, Dawn commented:

 “Engagement of youth is so important – this came out a lot in Rio+20 as people were talking about sustainable intensification. We need to provide the tools and the training and the ultimate markets so youth see farming as a viable career option.”

On consumer behaviour and food purchasing, Jan Kees Vis, global director sustainable sourcing development at Unilever in The Netherlands said:

“What Unilever finds in market research is that consumers are interested in topics like sustainability, but their purchasing decisions are not driven by it. Which means that we can and should make it part of our marketing (more for some brands than for others), but it will (most likely) not become a Unique Selling Point for any brand.” 

Finally, participants challenged panellists for some ‘out of box’ ideas to solve the food crisis, apart from technology and ‘consume less’. First, Dawn suggested:

Technology is important- I think that out of the box examples will be how technology can be used to sustainably increase yields and reduce waste. Just the ability to be able to get your product to market and be paid for it can be facilitated by use of technologies like mobile phones, mobile payments, etc.”

Richard Perkins, senior commodities adviser at WWF, added:

“There was a great out of the box solution provided in the comments on the original article. Educate women and girls. This is the best and most humane way to bring down the population side driver. We are getting on top of the global population problem and more control for women over their own fertility will help more, but tackling this head-on in male-dominated societies may not be the best way forward.”

Robynne Anderson continued on the theme of education for women and added:

“… Richard’s point regarding integrating women farmers in Africa into the solutions, it couldn’t be more important and thanks for raising it. World Farmers Organisation has many members who are female farmers in Africa. In working with them, I have been struck by the extent to which the solutions start on their small farms. Really it means breaking the poverty cycle. They need access to productive resources like the ability to own land; better knowledge sharing; and inputs such as tools and seeds to grow a crop….”

In the closing ten minutes of the discussion, panel members were invited to share a short comment on what they consider to be the most urgent steps for the next ten years.

Santiago del Solar contributed his first-hand experience as a farmer:

As far as I can see, agriculture is getting better, if we measure the impact of pesticide uses 20 years ago vs. the ones that we use today, or the soil erosion I saw when I was a kid, just to mention few examples. Of course we can do things better, but we are trying and learning. New tools like no till or biotech are helping a lot.”

In closing, Robynne Anderson outlined her five most urgent priorities:

  1. “address access to productive resources for women farmers
  2.  encourage young people into farming and improve intergenerational transfer
  3.  tackle post harvest losses and food waste
  4.  recognize and support a diversity of farming systems
  5.  increase the power of farmers in the food chain”

Finally, Dawn Rittenhouse closed with:

“Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this discussion…it has been great to read all the thoughts from the wide ranging conversation.
Food security is one of the most important issues that we need to tackle as a society and it will require that we find solutions for all the challenges along the value chain- from enhancing output from farms, educating youth so they want to choose farming as a career to reducing waste and improving the nutritional value of food. We look forward to being part of the solution.”

To view the full discussion click here.

The World Bank Open Forum on Food

At the World Bank Open Forum on Food, an expert panel addressed the issue of how to solve the global food crisis in front of an audience of about 120 guests… and streamed live to hundreds more viewers.

FANRPAN CEO and Farming First spokesperson Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda took part in one of the panel sessions, which included with Calestous Juma, of Harvard University, David Beckman from Bread for the World, World Bank Vice-President Inger Andersen.
Focusing on the solutions to the problem of rising and volatile food prices, the panel discussed the possible paths to relieving poverty and food insecurity.
Dr Sibanda spoke of the role of the private sector in helping to develop local agribusiness. She cited a case where treadle pumps were distributed to farmers, but that there were no local artisans to repair the equipment and make them affordable. The private sector, she said, have the opportunity to get involved to help communities be able to produce tools locally, and offer the services to repair and renew the tools.
On empowering farmers, Calestous Juma said that farmers need two things. Firstly, they need to be encouraged to organise themselves into enterprises, and be supported in this endeavour, and secondly, an expansion in technical training is needed to ensure farmers are up to speed with modern farming techniques.
David Beckmann emphasised that while these types of panel sessions can talk about the technological solutions, we need to make a commitment to get this done. In the US, he said, there are proposals for cuts that would harm the poor all around the world. This is not just technical problem, he said, it is a matter of mobilising commitment.
Much of the online debate accompanying the panel discussion revealed that people’s greatest concerns were with support for smallholder farmers. Dr Sibanda addressed the issues of access and affordability of inputs for smallholders. Malawi, she said, is one example where we saw uptake of hybrid seeds when subsidies were introduced. The subsidies were for 2kg of seed per farmer. Farmers who were producing yields of 500kg per hectare were later seeing yields of 3 tonnes per hectare. Through the introduction of the new seeds, an improved network of suppliers was built up, and on top of their subsidy, farmers then sought to buy additional supplies of seed of their own.
Dr Sibanda’s final plea was to put farmers first in efforts to deal with food crisis. She said that today in Africa, farmers do not have the food to feed themselves let alone their communities. The first port of call is to enable farmers to come out of poverty. Assisting farmers to feed themselves is the first step to the farmers being able to feed others.

FANRPAN CEO and Farming First spokesperson Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda took part in one of the panel sessions, which included with Calestous Juma, of Harvard University, David Beckman from Bread for the World, World Bank Vice-President Inger Andersen.

Focusing on the solutions to the problem of rising and volatile food prices, the panel discussed the possible paths to relieving poverty and food insecurity.

Dr Sibanda spoke of the role of the private sector in helping to develop local agribusiness. She cited a case where treadle pumps were distributed to farmers, but that there were no local artisans to repair the equipment and make them affordable. The private sector, she said, have the opportunity to get involved to help communities be able to produce tools locally, and offer the services to repair and renew the tools.

On empowering farmers, Calestous Juma said that farmers need two things. Firstly, they need to be encouraged to organise themselves into enterprises, and be supported in this endeavour, and secondly, an expansion in technical training is needed to ensure farmers are up to speed with modern farming techniques.

David Beckmann emphasised that while these types of panel sessions can talk about the technological solutions, we need to make a commitment to get this done. In the US, he said, there are proposals for cuts that would harm the poor all around the world. This is not just technical problem, he said, it is a matter of mobilising commitment.

Much of the online debate accompanying the panel discussion revealed that people’s greatest concerns were with support for smallholder farmers. Dr Sibanda addressed the issues of access and affordability of inputs for smallholders. Malawi, she said, is one example where we saw uptake of hybrid seeds when subsidies were introduced. The subsidies were for 2kg of seed per farmer. Farmers who were producing yields of 500kg per hectare were later seeing yields of 3 tonnes per hectare. Through the introduction of the new seeds, an improved network of suppliers was built up, and on top of their subsidy, farmers then sought to buy additional supplies of seed of their own.

Dr Sibanda’s final plea was to put farmers first in efforts to deal with food crisis. She said that today in Africa, farmers do not have the food to feed themselves let alone their communities. The first port of call is to enable farmers to come out of poverty. Assisting farmers to feed themselves is the first step to the farmers being able to feed others.

Farming First Launches New Guide to Food Security Initiatives Ahead of G8 Summit

Download Farming First’s Guide to Food Security Initiatives

foodsecurity_guideFood security is an immediate and future priority for all countries worldwide. Since the food crisis erupted in 2008, a large number of global and regional food security initiatives have been launched or strengthened in response. While these developments are welcome, improving policy and implementation coherence is essential to ensure programmes have the desired impacts.

As we move towards action on these food security policies, Farming First urges policymakers to:

  1. promote a clear joint focus on a common goal for food security at the global level through policy and operational coherence
  2. encourage increased transparency on how much of pledged funding has been committed and to what types of programmes
  3. engage a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that efforts are coordinated, clear, collaborative and ultimately successful.

map_final_smallReturning farmers to the centre of policy decisions is fundamental to sustainable development. Governments, businesses, scientists and civil society groups must focus attention on the source of our food security. Women farmers should become specially targeted recipients because of their vital roles in the agricultural workforce,
household food procurement and preparation, and family unit support.

Productivity levels in most developing countries have to be raised exponentially while considering environmental sustainability. Policies encouraging investment in developing countries’ agricultural sectors should be supported.

Governments should invest in their agricultural sectors and devise long-term agricultural development strategies supporting the development of local agricultural markets and farmers’ ability to answer market demands.

Local production should also be stimulated by providing farmers with the technology, the knowledge and the adequate financial services they need.

New UK Government Report on Food Security for 2030

defraA new report issued by the UK’s Department for Enviroment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) outlines how the UK government intends to address future food security. According to the Guardian, the ‘Food 2030’ report takes the most comprehensive approach to agriculture policy since the Second World War.

The UK food industry is worth £80 billion and employs 3.6 million people. Driven by the triple threat of a growing population, the threat of climate change and a vulnerable supply of natural resources, the new policy by Defra outlines what the UK government perceives to be priority actions for the future, including:

  • increasing the amount of food grown in Britain
  • reducing the impact of agriculture upon the environment
  • reducing agricultural emissions by the equivalent of 3 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020
  • reviewing the impacts of UK consumption on agricultural economies in the rest of the world
  • addressing the issue of waste through reuse, recycling or energy generation
  • informing consumers about healthy, sustainable food choices.

The policy also spells out plans to double its investment in agricultural research to £80 million by 2013, with a focus on helping farmers in developing nations.  Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State of Defra, said:

By turning research into practical ideas, and by learning from what the best are doing, we can achieve a lot more. Science will also tell us when nature is under strain.

‘Food 2030’ seeks to improve the UK food industry from production to distribution, providing better resources to farmers, whilst using natural resources sustainably to help the global food industry.  Benn said:

We need to increase food production to feed a growing world population – there’ll be another 2-3 billion people in 40 years.

The Financial Times reports that plans detailing how these changes will be effectuated, including any necessary new legislation, will be released in the coming months.

COP15 ‘Climate Thinkers’ Blog Features Farming First’s Thomas Rosswall

As part of its series of ‘climate thinkers’ blog posts, the COP15 website has featured an essay by Farming First’s Thomas Rosswall.

COP15 — as the 15th conference of parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is often referred — is where delegates will negotiate a successor protocol for reducing global emissions leading to climate change.  Its website has been a source of information and debate ahead of the negotiations themselves, which run from 7-18 December in Copenhagen.

Here is the text in full if you’d prefer reading it here:

Put Farming First

by Thomas Rosswall
Chairman, CGIAR Challenge Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)

Farmers are on the frontline of climate change.

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to increase from 6 to 9 billion people. Demand for carbon-intensive foods such as meats and oils is also expected to increase.

Meanwhile, yields from key staple crops are expected to decline, especially in many of the poorest countries, due to climate change.  Wheat yields in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to fall by 34% and rice output in South Asia by 14%.

In an earlier post on this blog, Kanayo Nwanze, IFAD’s President, outlines the link between food security and climate change.  Rather than repeating his message, I instead will focus on how this triple challenge of food security, rural livelihoods development, and environmental sustainability can be incorporated into future climate change strategies.

Silos are for farmers, not for climate thinkers.

Climate change impacts every link in the agricultural supply chain.  Smallholder African farmers already find new weather patterns undermining their traditional knowledge of when to plant and how to cultivate their crops.  Consumers, particularly in the developing world, still face high food prices and the threat of further price increases in the future.  Suppliers work around poor transport networks and unharmonised regulatory regimes. Scientists persevere in making their research relevant across disciplines and geographies as well as to farmers and policymakers.

The scale of this climate challenge requires all of these groups to work together with policymakers to find common objectives and solutions.  Farming First is a good example of an initiative which is already acting on this goal.  Farming First is made up of 124 organisations representing the world’s farmers, scientists, engineers and industry.

Farmers need roads; climate thinkers need roadmaps.

Agriculture generally, and farmers especially, are vital to mitigate and adapt to climate change.  Farmers are willing to play their part by adopting new practices which deliver our growing food needs in a carbon-efficient manner, but they cannot do so without our support.

Farmers cannot get to market without roads and other vital tools and technologies.  Effective infrastructure can help farmers improve their productivity, preventing deforestation and protecting biodiversity while supporting food security. We must also invest in knowledge sharing by creating a dedicated adaptation fund for agriculture which is accessible to farmers’ organisations in developing countries.

Addressing climate change through agriculture is certainly not beyond our capability, but it may well be beyond our current capacity.  Farmers need our long-lasting commitment if they are to achieve their true potential for sustainability based on the best local approaches.

The seeds of change must be nurtured and disseminated.

Many of the solutions for helping farmers address climate change already exist.  These successes need to be scaled up, and they must reach the farmers who need them most.   In addition to investments in road infrastructure linking farms to markets, solutions include integrated crop and pest management, no-till agriculture, intercropping, improved seeds, fertilizer best management practices and investment in storage facilities protecting crops after harvest.

But we must also use our current field of knowledge as the basis for further research and innovation to invent the necessary adaptation and mitigation solutions for the future.  For instance, researchers are beginning to use new satellite technology to determine what type of farming techniques are being used.  When matched with other agronomic and meteorological information, this mapping system can determine the amount of carbon being captured in the soil (the basis for a voluntary agricultural carbon trading scheme) and can supply farmers with more locally appropriate advice such as when to apply inputs, in what quantity to apply them, and when to harvest.

Copenhagen leaders should embrace the advances being made in measuring soil’s potential in sequestering carbon by including agriculture within multilateral financial mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI).  They should also advocate for further robust methodologies and field-testing to overcome remaining uncertainties around measurement, reporting and verification.  At this critical and fragile interface of economic markets, our environment and human welfare, science has much to contribute.  Let us make good use of it.

Thomas Rosswall is the former Director of the International Council for Science (ICSU).  ICSU is one of the founding supporter organisations of Farming First.  Mr. Rosswall is currently the Chairman of the CGIAR Challenge Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture & Food Security (CCAFS).  He writes here in his capacity as a spokesperson for Farming First.

UN Report: Low-carbon Farms Can Raise Food Output

According to a newly launched UN report, low-carbon farming can both curb climate change and boost food output in developing nations. The agency’s report, “Food Security and Agricultural Mitigation in Developing Countries,” suggests that because of this fact, low-carbon farms must be rewarded under a global climate deal due in December.

In a Reuters article, Leslie Lipper, FAO economist and co-author of the report said that financing remains a major hurdle to greater implementation:

“A key part of the problem is a lack of financing.  If adopted by farmers, many of these practices make them better off, but in the short run they may face reduced income,” Lipper said, using the example of removing cattle to allow grasslands to recover.

In terms of contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, the report estimated that farms accounts for 10-12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions directly.  It also estiamted that $210bn would be needed between now and 2050 to help farms upgrade sufficiently to meet future yield needs.

Developing countries could raise about $30bn annually toward this investment through carbon market financing.  Measuring such improvements to the carbon efficiency of farm production is currently being researched.