Food Security – helping to achieve MDG1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

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Representatives from more than 40 countries have gathered today to attend a day of presentations and debate. In a highly stimulating first session, a number of global thought leaders gave their views on food security into the future: can this be achieved and if so how?

 
CABI's Executive Director for International Development, Dr Dennis Rangi, indicated that in many countries close to 50% of crop production is lost to pests and diseases in the fields, or to post-harvest damages. He also described the issue of a retiring agricultural sector – both agricultural scientists and farmers are not followed-up by young recruits or descendents as the younger population associates farming with a non-rewarding livelihood. He closed his presentation with this message: people who live in poverty want a good life for their children, just as rich people, but above all, they want a good next meal. He closed by saying that CABI is committed to contribute to Millenium Development Goal 1 by helping farmers grow more and lose less.


Prof Rudy Rabbinge (started off by saying that food security is a pre-requisite to political stability in the world. He described mega-trends in agriculture. The controversy is that currently 1 billion people are suffering from hunger, whilst as many suffer from obesity, which illustrates the fact that the problem is not whether the world currently produces sufficient food, but access to food. By 2050 the population will reach 9-10 billion, and the only way to increase food production is through increasing productivity. We urgently need a green revolution in Africa to ensure improved food security there. Threats to food security include competing claims for bio-energy. He calculated that one tank of ethanol can feed one person for one year. He concluded: Food security is possible, feed security is problematic, but fuel security with biomass is an illusion.
 
He was followed by Dr Akin Adesina, from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), who stressed that good news is coming out of Africa: Food production in Sub Saharan Africa has grown in 2008 by 3.5%, faster than its population growth of 2%. This is not a temporary anomaly but the start of a long-term trend. He predicted that Africa's green revolution will enable African farmers to grow sufficient food and provide for the rapidly growing population. Local solutions are needed and are becoming available. AGRA is training village based agro-dealers as local small businesses to access and sell high yielding variety, certified seeds, fertilisers and pesticides and provide the necessary information to improve farmers' understanding of how to use these inputs. Now that Africa has the highest rate of mobile phone market penetration in the world, farmers in remote areas can now get access to market prices and are better able to negotiate. However, in terms of policy, African farmers are the least supported in the world. As a result, new farm support policies are needed in Africa. Growth enhancement support is needed, to help resource-poor farmers gain access to high quality seeds and fertiliser. This has helped Malawi move from a net food importer to an exporting country. African countries have agreed to increase support to agriculture to 10% of their GDP to obtain a 6% increase of agricultural production.
 
His Excellency Joaquin Chissano (the former President of the Republic of Mozambique) followed with a report that emphasized the need for proper research to improve crop productivity. He listed soil, water and fertilisers as the most important elements for production. African governments are developing response policies, but more is needed. Transfer of knowledge and resources are needed to adapt to climate change in the developing world, where its impact is hardest felt. He stated that about 70% of the African population are members of smallholder rural families. About 75% of these farmers are resource-poor and lack the means to improve productivity and income without external support. Only an integrated approach to production can be successful. A research-based approach is essential, with African countries producing their own, local solutions to agricultural production. In Mozambique, supportive agricultural policies have improved productivity, reduced poverty and unemployment. Peace is a synonym for sustainable development, hence the integrated projects at community level are needed.
 
From UNEP, Dr Richard Munang focused on agro-ecosystems and sustainable ecosystem management. He indicated the need for Green revolution in a Green economy – one that boosts yields by working with nature: UNEP has launched a Green Economy Initiative. Four strategies are needed: political commitment, investment, incentives, information. Complementary strategies include second generation biofuels based on farm wastes rather than on primary crops.
 
Finally, CABI's own Dr Julie Flood highlighted the importance of plant health to food security. She stressed that the steep increases in food prices in 07-08 have mostly impacted the poor and those in absolute poverty. She agreed with fellow panellists that more investments are needed in agriculture to achieve increases in productivity as well as other measures to improve food security. The recent food crisis has awakened many leaders. How should agricultural investments be used to effectively improve the situation? (1) access to high yielding crops and improved seeds; (2) address losses from crop pests and diseases. Plant health is often ignored, but threatens crop productivity worldwide. Plant health services are needed. CABI's Global Plant Clinic have started to address this need. She concluded that in partnership with national bodies, this work will make a difference and impact positively on food security.
 
Speeches will be uploaded here: http://www.cabi.org/globalsummit

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