Dr Nwanze and fellow speakers at the event highlighted that 500m smallholders in developing countries are responsible for supplying 80% of the world’s food, yet are unable to feed themselves or earn a sufficient income to ensure their own nutrition and education.
These are the stark words of reality that underpin the extensive action currently taking place at a global level among governments, NGOs, industrial players and aid agencies alike. The consensus emanating from discussions at the conference is that, with the increasing international will, rapid change can be brought about to address not only the root causes of hunger and poverty in a sustainable way but also to contribute to the more long-term sustainability of our food supply.
“Hunger is no longer viewed as something endemic that will take decades to address through long-term economic growth and development, but as a problem that can be solved quickly if adequate responses are put in place”, says the High Food Price Challenge Review of responses to combat hunger by Frederic Mousseau of the Oakland Institute & UK Hunger Alliance.
The review highlights that a twin-track response to hunger – to meet immediate and long-term challenges – encompasses a wide range of different and sometimes conflicting approaches. “This calls for the expansion of policy dialogue on food and agriculture, using lessons learnt from successes and failures to develop models, policies and interventions that will be the most appropriate for every specific context”.
To this end, as part of the Obama administration’s ‘Feed the Future’ initiative, a new Bureau of Food Security was established in the US just weeks ago under the auspices of USAID (the US Agency for International Development), which will bring together all players in the US administration in a bid to tackle the issue of food security.
In the UK, a new private sector department will be established in the Department for International Development (DFID) to boost the role of private enterprise in the poorest developing countries, with business experts seconded in to advise the government on how best to do this.
And, in Switzerland, a joint initiative has been established between the Swiss Agency for Development & Cooperation (SDC) and the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG) that will bring the two organisations together to coordinate a platform for dialogue on agriculture and food security.
“In September, President Obama introduced what is the first development policy of any US presidency. It will invest $3.5bn over the next three to five years on development in the areas of smallholder agriculture, gender & women, and nutrition,” said William J Garvelink, deputy coordinator for development, Feed the Future Initiative, US Agency for International Development, who highlighted that the new Bureau of Food Security reflects a new ‘whole government’ approach that will coordinate all the resources available within the US departments of agriculture, health, treasury, peace corps etc.
It has already identified 40 agricultural specialists to join the Bureau and is looking for a further 40 experts from all areas.
“We’re going to provide broad guidance with technical assistance and research support, bringing in experts on water, climate change, governance etc to work together in a coordinated manner,” said Garvelink. “Bringing all these things together is a first and, we hope, will be able to make a real difference, and help improve agricultural productivity and increase economic resilience.”
Meanwhile, the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group, the government of Canada, and the US Department of the Treasury has pledged US$100m for a private sector facility within the Global Agriculture & Food Security Program to strengthen food security in low-income countries and specifically to increase private sector investments in agriculture.
“In poor countries, smallholder farmers, especially women, are the backbone of the agriculture sector,” said US treasury secretary Tim Geithner in October (when the pledge was made). “If they can have better access to new technologies, seeds and soil, they can grow more crops. If they can get credit and forge stronger links with markets, they can earn more. As President Obama’s new development policy recognises, private sector-led solutions are critical to achieving these goals. This facility will increase private sector investments to help transform small farmers into successful entrepreneurs.”
As was highlighted at the Food Security conference this week, “25 years ago, Vietnam was a net importer of food,” said Dr Nwanze. “Now it’s the world’s fourth largest producer of food, and the second largest producer of rice in the world. If profitable, environmentally led and sustainable approaches to the land have helped in Vietnam, and Brazil, it can happen in other parts of the world. We have to make agriculture an attractive place for business entry.”
Dr Nwanze explained that this involved setting up primary and secondary processing facilities for the transformation of produce and for storage in order to increase market opportunities, and transport infrastructures that will allow food to get to market. “Smallholders are part of the solution for global food security.”
Claire Rowan is managing editor of Food & Beverage International magazine. Subscribe here.
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