Yesterday, today and tomorrow: women, food and poverty

event141016-familyfarmingA series of international days as observed by the United Nations has and is taking place over several days this month.

Yesterday

Yesterday was International Day of Rural Women, the first of which occurred in 2008. The day is about recognising “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.”

Rural women are crucial in attaining sustainable rural development but they often face inequalities in terms of access to productive resources, finance, health care and education. Women and girls are also more likely to be undernourished and to go without food despite the central roles they play in a household’s wealth and health. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are not only central to household welfare though but to rural communities, national economic growth and global food security. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, in her speech on the International Day of Rural Women, highlighted the message that rural women need to be at the heart of all development efforts.

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, in his speech marking the occasion, talked about the need to address discrimination and unequal access to resources in the first instance. Rural women often rely on natural resources for their livelihoods. For example, in developing countries, rural women represent approximately 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force. UN Women’s publication Realizing Women’s Rights to Land and Other Productive Resources, published with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), examines the factors affecting women’s rights to land and resources, presenting success stories and future priorities. UN Women also supports several initiatives that promote the leadership of rural women and has partnered with the FAO, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) for the “Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women” initiative, which “engages with governments to develop and implement laws that promote equal rights”.

Rural women are key to producing and providing food for their families. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and Farming First have produced the interactive graphic “The Female Face of Farming”, which shows the role women play in agriculture around the world.

Today

Today is World Food Day and the theme is Family Farming: “Feeding the world, caring for the earth”. This has been chosen to “raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farmers”, a key focus of the UN designated 2014 International Year of Family Farming. Family farms, the main form of agriculture in the food production sector, play a significant role in providing food and managing natural resources and thus contribute to the goals of ending hunger and poverty, protecting the environment and achieving sustainable development. 500 million out of 570 million farms across the globe are family farms, responsible for at least 56% of total agricultural production. This infographic was produced for World Food Day to highlight the critical role of family farmers. [Read more...]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Two billion people suffering from hidden hunger according to 2014 Global Hunger Index, even as levels of hunger in many developing countries decrease, IFPRI

The Pig Pledge, Farms not Factories

Countries agree on key policy commitments to fight malnutrition globally, FAO

Conservation agriculture and ecosystem services: An overview, Palm et al

GeneWatch UK PR: Second-generation GM crops: an environmental disaster, GeneWatch

Building a bridge from basic botany to applied agriculture, Eurek Alert

EU makes public its wish list for under-fire U.S. trade deal, Reuters

Grand Challenge: Putting Women and Girls at the Center of Development, Impatient Optimists

Participatory Land Use Planning to Support Tanzanian Farmer and Pastoralist Investment: Experiences from Mbarali District, Mbeya Region, Tanzania, EcoAgriculture Partners

Food security successes earn World Food Prize, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Sowing the seeds of stable agriculture, SciDev.Net

Thomson Reuters Foundation and FAO launch global food security news platform, FAO

Food labels can reduce livestock environmental impacts, Eurek Alert

GMO The Truth with Vandana Shiva and Deepak Chopra, YouTube [Read more...]

Yield gaps, trade liberalisation and biotechnology: three new reports on the way to tackle food insecurity

cover_6Three new publications investigate proposed solutions to global food insecurity, exploring the potential consequences of liberalising trade, increasing crop yields and introducing biotechnology. The first, written by agricultural scientists Tony Fisher, Derek Byerlee and Greg Edmeades, Crop Yields and Global Food Security, investigates the rate at which crop yields must increase if we are to meet global demand for staple crops by 2050. They explore how such targets might be achieved and what the consequences would be for the environment and natural resources.

Population growth, rising incomes per capita and growing biofuel usage mean we expect demand for staple crop products to increase by 60% between 2010 and 2050. This increase can either be met by expanding land area under agriculture or by increasing the yields of crops grown on current land. With land being in short supply and much potential agricultural land requiring deforestation and natural habitat clearance, the latter option has far more support. Indeed crop area is expected to grow only 10% between 2010 and 2050, with some of this increase originating from increased cropping intensity. To date yields of wheat, rice and soybean have been steadily rising over the past 20 years. The rate of growth, however has been declining and wheat yields are increasing at approximately 1% each year compared to 2010 figures (1.5% for maize). Crop models tell us that if we are to meet future demand and keep food prices at less than 30% higher than the low prices of 2000-2006 then yields of staple crops must rise by 1.1% each year. Of course these figures do not take into account the other resource challenges agriculture faces, climate change or tackling hunger and thus authors suggest a higher rate of increase of 1.3% per annum.

The book explains key concepts in crop physiology and yield, for example, a term often used when discussing agriculture in developing countries, “closing the yield gap”. The yield gap is effectively the difference between the yields obtained on a farm (Farm Yield or FY) and the yields obtained under field trial conditions (Potential Yield or PY). For wheat, although the book also explores other staple crops, the yield gap is on average around 48% of the FY. This varies by location with developing countries (and crops produced under rainfed conditions) showing a larger gap and Western Europe showing the smallest gap, some 30%. Progress towards closing this gap is worryingly slow, occurring at a global average rate of just 0.2% per year, and in Western Europe may actually be increasing. Yield gaps are difficult to close and on average closing a yield gap by 10% of FY takes some 20 years. Here authors highlight the difficulty of increasing Farm Yields through technology adoption and improved agronomic practices, and the importance of increasing PY to stimulate Farm Yield gains, likely through improved varieties.

Addressing these yield gaps, authors say, will require a combination of plant breeding of higher yielding and more resilient varieties, public agricultural extension to train farmers in improved farming practices and greater integration between farmers, scientists and businesses. While examples of yield gaps being significantly closed do exist, particularly where new technologies are adopted and markets are reliable – the One Acre Fund being given as an example, the rural transformation required to help subsistence farmers in developing countries close the gap will require substantial investment that as yet is missing. [Read more...]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Here’s Why We Haven’t Quite Figured Out How to Feed Billions More People, National Geographic

How Much of World’s Greenhouse-Gas Emissions Come From Agriculture?, The Wall Street Journal

Developing countries blast rich-world farm subsidies at Rome talks, Reuters

Unprecedented Case Filed at International Criminal Court Proposes Land Grabbing in Cambodia as a Crime Against Humanity, Huffington Post

Feeding the world. The ultimate first-world conceit, Triple Crisis

Nobel laureates call for a revolutionary shift in how humans use resources, The Guardian

When Can A Big Storm Or Drought Be Blamed On Climate Change?, NPR

A sign of things to come? Examining four major climate-related disasters, 2010 – 2013, and their impacts on food security, Oxfam

4 problems GMO labeling won’t solve, Grist [Read more...]

Promoting Agricultural Trade to Enhance Resilience in Africa, 2014

RESAKSS

Click to download the full report here

Released the 9th of October 2014, the latest Annual Trends and Outlook Report from the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS)  ‘Promoting Agricultural Trade to Enhance Resilience in Africa’, assesses the structure and performance of trade by African countries in global and regional agricultural markets.

The food price crises of 2007/2008 and 2010/2011 highlighted how trade in agricultural products can have serious impacts on the livelihoods of poor and vulnerable people in particular. For instance, some government responses such as safety nets for the vulnerable were instrumental in preventing people falling further into poverty, but protectionist measures restricting exports proved ineffective or costly for local farmers in terms of lost income.

This report highlights how trade is of particular importance as it affects the availability of and access to food and the rate at which the economy grows. It evaluates the extent of integration of African countries in regional and global markets but also investigates how further integration could be viable.

Nine key findings are laid out, which include how weather shocks are found to negatively affect trade performance. The good news however is that Africa’s share of world trade of goods and services, specifically for agricultural products, has increased since the 2000s and that regional trade in Africa is growing (albeit from a low level). Three key areas for progress are recommended in order to build resilience of both food systems and vulnerable communities and reduce food price volatility, allowing the full potential of global and regional trade to be harnessed: invest in social safety net programs, raising agricultural productivity and removing regional trade barriers. [Read more...]

Advocating strategies for agricultural transformation: FAO and AfDB

ID-100207881On the 29th September 2014 two events laid out global and African strategies for agriculture and food security. At its 24th session, the Committee on Agriculture (COAG), one of FAO’s Governing Bodies providing overall guidance on policies relating to agriculture, livestock, food safety, nutrition, rural development and natural resource management, met to discuss a wide range of issues, including family farming and sustainable agriculture.

Opening the event, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, emphasised the broad range of options needed to transform global food systems and that a paradigm shift is needed to make agriculture sustainable. In particular a departure from “an input intensive model”. We need to reduce the use of agricultural inputs such as water and fertilizer and look to new solutions. Such approaches as agroecology, climate-smart agriculture and biotechnology were used as examples of alternatives to the current system but that their use should be based on evidence, science and local context. The FAO’s director-general made the urgency of making agriculture more sustainable for the long term clear, noting that food production needs to grow by 60% by 2050 to meet the demands of a population of 9 billion people.

From some camps the conference was a step in the right direction towards embracing agroecology as too was the recent FAO International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security. Indeed about 70 scientists and scholars of sustainable agriculture and food systems sent an open letter praising the FAO for convening the event. Seen as both a science and a social movement, agroecology is gaining momentum, now helped by support from the FAO, in particular by their moving away from the one-size-fits-all approach to agriculture and agricultural research and support for the scientific evidence behind agroecology. The letter called for the FAO, its member states and the international community to launch a UN system-wide initiative on agroecology as the main strategy for addressing climate change and building resilience. The letter closes with a hope that the FAO will consider this proposal at the forthcoming Committee on World Food Security meeting on the 13th to 18th October 2014.

Danilo Medina, president of the Dominican Republic, also spoke at COAG 2014 of food as a universal right and of the dire need to transform the rural economy. The Dominican Republic has been particularly successful in reducing hunger from over 34% in 1990 to under 15% today. Since the current government came into power rural poverty has also been reduced 9%, linked to the doubling of the volume of agricultural loans and re-design of loan instruments to benefit smallholders, and the use of surprise visits to farming communities by officials in order to increase understanding and engage with smallholders, in particular around forming cooperatives. As noted by Graziano da Silva, this type of political commitment at the highest levels of government is critical to achieving national food security. [Read more...]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Closing the Gap: Towards a 2030 Wasting Target, Generation Nutrition

Making Headway Against Climate Change, Ban-Ki Moon, The Wall Street Journal

Companies take the baton in climate change efforts, The New York Times

GM agricultural technologies for Africa: A state of affairs, IFPRI

Ethiopian Enterprise Partners with New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, ACDI VOCA

Escalating the weed wars, Los Angeles Times

Fine-tuning plant cells for superior cereal crops, The University of Adelaide

Monsanto to spend $90 mln on corn seed research center in Mexico, Reuters [Read more...]

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