Rethinking Global Food Security

weforum-logo.db90160d8175c5a08cdf6c621e387d18At the World Economic Forum, held in Davos in January 2014, experts on food security, Ellen Kullman, Chair of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of DuPont; Michel M. Liès, Group Chief Executive Officer, Swiss Re; Shenggen Fan, Director-General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj (Farmers’ Forum India) and Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Nigeria came together to discuss how we can produce enough healthy food for everyone.

Moderator, Rajiv J. Shah, Administrator, US Agency for International Development (USAID), began the discussion by stating that the global population is at 7 billion, 850 million of which don’t get enough to eat. By 2050 the population will rise to over 9 billion and we need to find ways of producing sufficient food for this enlarged population whilst also coping with environmental changes. Every economy that has developed and reduced poverty significantly has transformed their agricultural sectors. Each speaker began by introducing actions we needs to take to ensure agricultural transformation addresses global food insecurity.

Akinwumi Adesina began by reflecting on the fear of the 1960s, that population growth would outstrip our ability to feed to the world. What we failed to understand then was the power of science and technology in meeting global challenges. So we need to invest in research and development as a matter of priority.

65% of the world’s arable land is in Africa. A major hurdle for Africa in reaching its potential to become the breadbasket of the world is the way agriculture is viewed in the continent. We need to view agriculture not as a development activity but as a business. We need to improve the marketing systems so that they provide safe, healthy and affordable food. We also need to build more resilient agricultural systems that can cope with shocks such as floods and droughts. Finally we need to address malnutrition, which is a huge problem and one that prevents children from reaching their full potential.

Ellen Kullman discussed the importance of a common understanding of food security. Agriculture differs between regions and countries so to create a shared framework of language around food security, DuPont worked with The Economist’s Intelligence Unit to create the Food Security Index. The hope is that by revealing differences between areas industry will be better able to target their work and make programmes more location appropriate, leading to more meaningful outcomes. Programmes such as the USAID’s Advanced Maize Seed Adoption Programme, with which DuPont work, which aims to facilitate hybrid seed distribution to smallholder farmers (over 35,000 to date). DuPont have also signed an MOU with USAID to extend this programmes beyond Ghana and Ethiopia, where it is currently in operation. We need an understanding of what’s happening on the ground to have positive impacts. This starts with understanding the different dimensions of food security and then designing projects for specific locations.

Ajay Vir Jakhar began by discussing some of the problems we face. Food security is like a jigsaw puzzle, he said, but most of the pieces don’t reside on the farm, they reside elsewhere. A lot of people (over 5 to 6 billion) by 2050 will live in cities and it is these people, rather than farmers, that influence food and agricultural policy. Urban populations want lower food prices and governments want to keep urban dwellers happy to be assured of their vote. Ajay gave this as one reason why governments in developed countries don’t even discuss the removal of subsidies, which would increase food prices, civil unrest and perhaps lower their numbers of supporters. But farmers want to (and should) influence policy, so how can this be facilitated?

Farmers also don’t think in terms of global food security but rather in terms of the food security of their household (localised thinking common to us all). If we help small-scale farmers become self-sufficient, we solve 60% of the food insecurity problem (because around 60% of the hungry are small-scale farmers). However, policy makers and others tend to think in terms of global issues despite farming being local. Localised solutions and help from the public and private sectors are needed. As Rajiv Shah agreed, the bulk of farmers may farm small plots of land but they have a critical role as engines of food productivity growth and social development.

Shenggen Fan, argued that tackling hunger and malnutrition (two billion people lack micronutrients in their diet) is not only a moral issue but one that makes economic sense. We lose 2 to 3% GDP per year because of hunger and investing $1 in tackling hunger yields a return of $30. He also discussed the post-2015 agenda, which is being debated right now. We failed to halve the proportion of people hungry (Millennium Development Goal 1) and need to make sure the post-2015 goals are people focused, particularly focused on hungry people. We need to link agriculture and food production to natural resource management such as water and other environmental issues. We can eliminate hunger and malnutrition by 2025 and this will be reflected in the post-2015 goals.

Michel Liès introduced the work of Swiss RE in helping smallholder farmers and pastoralists access insurance.  Since 1990, Swiss RE have been trying to develop an insurance market for agricultural risk in Africa. They cover risks faced by large-scale projects but also by small-scale farmers, risks that can threaten individual families’ livelihoods and sometimes force them from where they live. The goal is to establish a stable and open insurance market but they not there yet. They are working with communities and governments, using new technologies and working with the New Vision for Agriculture and Grow Africa to help build this market. They are committed to the end of 2017 to provide crop insurance cover to 1.4 million smallholder farmers, hoping to see a new generation of people who see insurance as simple and positive. From 2012 to 2013 the number of farmers they reached grew from 275,000 to 300,000 and are investing $2 million per year. They want to create something sustainable where their clients now will not be their clients in 30 years because they will be able to access normal insurance markets (as opposed to microinsurance).

Each speaker presented some important goals:

  • Transforming the agricultural sector, with the help of science and technology, and viewing it as a business
  • Creating resilient agricultural systems
  • Creating common food security dialogue
  • Understanding food security for individual farmers to help guide programme development
  • Developing localised solutions through the inclusion of farmers in policy making
  • Developing a post-2015 development agenda that is people and hunger focused
  • Establishing a smallholder farmer-focused insurance market in Africa

A lot of the focus of the discussion was on Africa, where many barriers to food security exist but also where much of the potential in feeding the world lies. To see more of the discussion, click here.





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