Stories tagged: SDGs

Ann Tutwiler: We Need to Put More Biodiversity on the Sustainable Development Menu

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In this guest blog post, Ann Tutwiler, Director General of Bioversity International kicks off our brand new series “SDG2 Countdown“. For five weeks, we will count down to the United Nations’ meeting that will track SDG progress, by exploring the five targets related to SDG2: ending hunger. This week, we explore SDG2.5: protecting genetic diversity. 

When the UN announced its Decade of Action on Nutrition in 2016, hot on the heels of the Sustainable Development Goals, many media outlets used a picture of a child eating a bowl of white rice, to illustrate the promise of better nutrition for all.

There’s just one problem. Rice alone is not enough. Yes, it will prevent the most basic form of hunger but rice lacks many of the vitamins and minerals essential for good health.

Credit: Wagner T. Cassimiro

Credit: Wagner T. Cassimiro

Without these vitamins and minerals, this child’s growth will be stunted, his immune system weakened, and his intelligence lower than it ought to be, costing him a lifetime of lost income and productivity. That is why the Sustainable Development Goal’s Target 2.1 of “access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round” is so important, because it adds “nutritious” to “sufficient”.

I don’t want to downplay the importance of “sufficient”; we face a great challenge in ensuring enough food for everyone in the face of both climate change and population growth – a challenge that Bioversity International and agricultural biodiversity are helping to meet. For now, though, let’s concentrate on “nutritious” food.

The most important factor in a nutritious diet is diversity. That concept is enshrined in national dietary guidelines around the world, with their advice to eat fruits and vegetables, whole grains, pulses and so on. Research conducted by Bioversity International in collaboration with the Earth Institute shows that increasing food supply diversity is associated with lower levels of acute and chronic child malnutrition (stunting, wasting and underweight) at a national level. Agricultural policies and funding for research, however, generally focus on the four or five commodity staples that supply the bulk of calories. From the 5,538 known plant species, just three – rice, wheat and maize – provide more than 50% of the world’s plant-derived calories.

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And although people may be aware that they should make healthier choices, the food system that surrounds them – which is the product of both food industry and government policy – often makes it difficult to choose a more diverse and more nutritious diet.

Nutritious staples

One successful approach is to diversify staples – mainstay foods – in the diet to include more nutritious alternatives.

For example, bananas are the fourth most important food crop in Africa, which is also home to high levels of vitamin A deficiency, a major public health problem in many developing countries. Every year, a half a million children go blind from the lack of vitamin A, and half of those die from infections.

Orange-fleshed Fe'i bananas from the Pacific. Credit: Bioversity International

Orange-fleshed Fe’i bananas from the Pacific. Credit: Bioversity International

‘Mining’ banana diversity to find varieties with a higher content of vitamin A could be part of the solution. It is estimated that there are over 1,000 varieties of bananas in the world, which range from green to pale yellow to orange to dark red. The genetic diversity in these varieties determines not just these differences you can see and taste, they also determine micronutrient levels. For example, the orange-fleshed. Karat banana contains 1,000 times more of the pigment which the human body can convert into vitamin A (carotenoids) than the Cavendish banana, which is the variety of bananas most Western consumers see in their supermarkets.

Bioversity International is conducting research with partners in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to see how using this banana diversity can help increase the levels of vitamin A in diets.

In India, we are also working to bring different kinds of nutritious and resilient millets, which were once part of traditional diets, back to plates and markets. While widespread famine in India is a thing of the past, malnutrition is not. India has high levels of stunting in young children and, by contrast, equally high levels of overweight, obesity and illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.

Children in Kolli Hills enjoy eating millets. Credit: Bioversity International/ G. Meldrum

Children in Kolli Hills enjoy eating millets. Credit: Bioversity International/ G. Meldrum

Foxtail millet, for example, contains almost twice the protein of white rice, and little millet almost nine times the iron. In just three months of replacing white rice with millets in school meals, children gained weight and had improved haemoglobin levels.

Results such as these, and many more from Bioversity International’s work on neglected and underutilized species, helped prompt the national and state authorities in India to amend their food legislation. Millets are now included in some state school feeding programmes and have been incorporated in the national public distribution system. This is obviously a good thing for the poorer and nutritionally vulnerable people who receive subsidised food, and it also benefits the farmers who grow millet, which is much less ecologically demanding than other staples. Nutrition, local economies, the environment and food security: all thus gain from expanding the diversity of diet.

We can do it

There is no single solution to combat malnutrition, but using more diverse crops and varieties in our fields and on our plates must be part of the solution.

To make this a reality, we need to take action at multiple levels. Consumers can influence production by choosing nutritious, fresh, local and diverse foods. Agricultural research should increase knowledge on the use of agrobiodiversity to make farming systems more nutritious, resilient and sustainable. Governments can make the difference by creating food and agricultural policies that promote and integrate agrobiodiversity as an essential tool to achieve multiple Sustainable Development Goals.

Use #SDG2countdown to search for more content and share your own biodiversity stories on Twitter, or visit farmingfirst.org/sdgs for more!

Featured photo credit: Bioversity International/A. Drucker

JUL132017
Agriculture and Food Day to Implement the Sustainable Development Goals

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13th July 2017

New York, U.S.A.

Farming First is partnering with the International Agri-Food Network to host “Agriculture and Food Day to Implement the Sustainable Development Goals”, which will be held at the Yale Club in New York City. The event will raise awareness of the critical need for investment in Goal 2 on ending hunger and its interlinkages with the other SDGs under focus during the High Level Political Forum being held at the United Nations in New York the same week.

The day will include a thematically-focused plenary session, a series of roundtable discussions on interlinkages in SDGs, and a dynamic luncheon featuring youth in agriculture.

** REGISTER NOW **

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MAR142017
Sustainable smallholder development

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14-15 March 2017

London, UK

A two-day conference on how business can engage with small farmers to ensure supply security and resilience at scale. We will focus on the top priorities across commodities to provide high-level insight and practical, actionable guidance on how business can implement effective programmes that will boost the resilience of smallholders at scale. Read more >>

MAY222017
2017 ECOSOC forum on financing for development

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22 – 25 May 2017

New York, US

The 2017 Economic and Social Council forum on financing for development follow-up will convene from 22 to 25 May, on an exceptional basis, without prejudice to General Assembly resolution 68/1 and without setting a precedent for future discussions, and will include the special high-level meeting with the Bretton Woods institutions, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Read more >>

Sue Carlson: Why Agriculture is Essential to the Success of the SDGs as a Whole

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Farming First is at the United Nations today, addressing a session on Financing for Development and the Post-2015 process. The delegation is bringing agriculture’s central role in achieving several of the Sustainable Development Goals to the attention of negotiators, not just those relating to hunger.

Sue Carlson, Chair of the Women’s Committee of the World Farmers’ Organisation has also highlighted concern that access to inputs and extension is not currently featured in the draft outcome statement of the International Conference on Financing Development. Read her statement below. Continue reading

David Donoghue: Why Food Security and Agriculture is at Core of SDG Agenda

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As part of our ongoing series that explores the state of the negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals, Ray Jordan, CEO of Irish charity Gorta-Self Help Africa sat down with Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, Ambassador David Donoghue, who is acting as co-facilitator in the negotiations. Continue reading