The View from Rome

On the 27th and 28th February 2013, Gordon Conway travelled to Rome to discuss the messages of his book, One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world? with the three Rome-based UN agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

On the 27th February, in a joint FAO-WFP-IFAD seminar, Gordon presented his vision for tackling global food insecurity. Director General of FAO, José Graziano Da Silva, President of IFAD, Kanayo Nwanze and Executive Director of WFP, Ertharin Cousins, discussed their opinions of the book and the issues they see as crucial for eradicating hunger. A press release for the event can be found here.


Graziano began by saying that he thought the book was a good contribution to linking hunger eradication with sustainable production. He took from the book a series of five conditions we need to meet to tackle hunger, namely we can feed the world…

  • If we save and grow
  • If we put smallholder farmers at the centre of our effort
  • If we have more effective food systems governance
  • If we bring farmers together and build partnerships
  • If we can link hunger, access and waste

He also agreed on the point that food security is political and that it is a political decision of society to not accept hunger. But he disagreed with regards to Gordon’s take on Food Sovereignty, stating that food has a cultural dimension and that a territorial approach to food security with local centres of production and consumption is critical. Gordon responded to this by saying he agreed but believed food trade and the development of farms as businesses was also crucial.

Nwanze stated that he “would like to doubly applaud this book” and that he valued it for its “holistic and nuanced approach”. He agreed that farmers in developing countries are skilled and innovative and need to be connected to business and he described the “terrible paradox of food security” we face: that there is no shortage of food and yet millions of people go hungry. Nwanze shares Gordon’s optimism that small farmers  can feed themselves and the world, and believes that this book comes at the right time. His full statement can be found here.

Cousins also agreed that unfortunately the book is still timely and that we have much progress to make on food security. She believes that the most interesting aspect of the book is its recognition of multiple ways forward and acknowledgement that significant work must be performed simultaneously. It is important now that we as a development community accept this multi-faceted way forward. Cousins’ criticism was the lack of adequate focus on access and nutrition. “We need to see sustained emergency response preparedness as well as resilience”. She stressed the importance of collaboration between the three agencies and that the Rome agencies are beginning to move beyond a ‘siloed’ response and are recognizing their role in political leadership. Giving an example of where the three agencies have worked together on the ground, she stated that this is the type of collaboration was needed to answer yes to the question, can we feed the world?

Gordon spoke to the WFP’s Food Factor Podcast after the event, which can be found here.

Directly following this, Gordon engaged with a relatively new forum, the Young Professionals’ Forum for International Development (YouFID). A session facilitator created the following graphics from the discussion.


On the 28th February, Gordon Conway discussed the impact of climate change on agriculture at IFAD, documenting some of the solutions for both adapting to and mitigating the negative effects of a warming climate. Kevin Cleaver, Associate President of IFAD, led the discussion with responses from Elwyn Grainger-Jones, Director of Environment and Climate Division, and Carlos Sere, Chief Development Strategist, as well as engagement from President Nwanze. A series of tweets tells the story of the event and pictures from the day can be found on IFAD’s Facebook page. Kevin Cleaver, who has published a review of the book on IFAD’s blog said, that “the book ties the gloom of climate change and the frustration at our political structures with solutions.”

IFAD are embedding climate change strategies within their organisation and following a systems approach. The focus of the meeting was on solutions particularly those that can benefit productivity, equity and climate change adaptation/mitigation at the same time or ‘win-win-wins’. IFAD noted the role it can play in aiding farmers through the technology adoption transition. A video recording of the seminar can be found here.

Staff seminar with Sir Gordon ConwayAlso on the 28th February, Gordon addressed an audience at WFP on the theme of access and availability. In particular he discussed the development of domestic markets and the need for targeting in attaining nutrition security at all ages and for all genders. Executive Director Cousins responded, pointing out the challenge of developing rural markets for urban diets or diets of those on a higher income. She also returned to the subject of the partnership between the three agencies, stating that they will be working together on the post 2015 Millennium Development Goal agenda and that building the separate reputations of each agency and tackling hunger are mutually exclusive.

For the future we hope the three agencies will not only to continue working together on the ground and in contributing to high-level political discussions but that they will advocate for tackling global hunger and raise the profile of this urgent issue.


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