Andrea Leadsom is right – we need to get more young people into farming

Originally published in The Telegraph on 05 October 2016.

By GORDON CONWAY

CREDIT: ANDREW FOX/ALAMY

Eastern European workers pick strawberries inside a polytunnel on a farm in Shropshire CREDIT: ANDREW FOX/ALAMY

When recently appointed Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom suggested that young Britons could take over post-Brexit fruit-picking and farm labour, her comments were met with derision.

Speaking at a Conservative Party conference fringe event in Birmingham, she said she hoped that more young people could be “encouraged to engage with countryside matters”, and that “the concept of a career in food production is going to be much more appealing going forward.”

Her remarks inspired ridicule over the prospect that millennials might go back to working the land in the wake of the UK withdrawing from the EU.

Yet in truth Mrs Leadsom’s has successfully highlighted precisely why we need to do more to change attitudes towards agricultural careers and inspire more young people to get involved.

According to a Defra survey in 2013, the number of farm holders under the age of 45 fell from almost a quarter in 2000 to just 14 per cent in 2010. With an average age of 59, the population of British farmers is growing old.

And it is not just in the UK. Statistics in Africa revealed a similarly aging population of agricultural workers with an average age of 60 despite almost two thirds of the continent’s population being under the age of 24. Students in the UK choosing to study agriculture at university – some 19,000 – are dwarfed by the 280,000 school leavers applying to do business-related degrees. The question we must therefore as is: who will continue to feed the world if the world’s farmers are on the brink of retirement?

At the same time, a growing global demand for food is putting more pressure than ever on the family farms and smallholders that provide 80 per cent of the world’s food supply. With the UN stating that food production must double by 2050 to feed a growing population, it is essential that we encourage and enable a new generation of agriculturists both at home and around the world, or we will be left with food that is both scarce and expensive.

CREDIT: PAUL GROVER/TELEGRAPH

A woman picks Gala apples to ship to Tesco at the start of the English apple season at Hononton Farm, Kent, September 2016 CREDIT: PAUL GROVER/TELEGRAPH

On top of these challenges, climate change is expected to dramatically reduce yields across the world. In fact, the recent El Niño induced-drought, that left approximately 100 million people in need of food assistance, proves it already is. So increasing our global food supply with this added challenge, as well as scarcity of vital resources like water and land, mean that today’s farmers now also need to be scientists, engineers and web developers. That’s right! Technology-led, cutting edge career paths. This is where we can inspire the young to get involved with agriculture.

Fruit-picking in Europe and tilling the fields in Africa are both necessary and noble professions – but we need to dispel the myth that this is the only way to engage with farming. The global advocacy group Farming First has launched a campaign this week that seeks to show young people that the industry is not just about manual labour, but also about innovation, education and communication.

A career in agriculture could involve working with high-resolution satellite imagery to enable farmers across the world to better understand the health of their crops, allowing them to take steps to increase productivity or overall yield, like UK based company Digital Globe. It could involve developing state-of-the-art weather and climate-modelling technology to measure the risk exposure that retailers, buyers, banks and farmers will face in the future, like the Imperial College based initiative WINnERS. Or it could involve promoting sustainable and inclusive business models in the developing world, empowering poor farmers and catalysing economic growth, like the London-based NGO Twin.

Opportunities in agriculture have never been greater for our young people, both in the UK, and all around the world. Our future challenges need future solutions and only the next generation can deliver them. We must do all we can to help them do that.

Professor Sir Gordon Conway is Director of Agriculture for Impact and a Farming First spokesperson

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African policy to end hunger silent on climate risk

By Baraka Rateng’

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

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People digging an artificial pond to alleviate drought in Ethiopia. Photo credit@ UNDP Ethiopia

The African Union’s Malabo Declaration adopted in 2014 to double agricultural productivity and end hunger by 2025 underestimated the risk that climate change will pose, a report says.

The declaration failed to consider investing in Africa’s scientific capacity to combat climate threats, according to the report, which was produced by the UK-based Agriculture for Impact, and launched in Rwanda this month (14 June).

“Food security and agricultural development policies in Africa will fail if they are not climate-smart”, says Gordon Conway, director of Agriculture for Impact and chair of the Montpellier Panel, which is made up of African and European experts in fields such as agriculture and global development, in a statement.

“It is important that African governments have a voice in the international discussions and commitments on climate change.”

Ousmane Badiane, International Food Policy Research Institute

[Read more…]

Putting agricultural greenhouse gas emissions on the agenda, not just the menu

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

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Credit: Paul Keeris, 2015

The conference catering trolley: it’s usually piled high with unlabelled food, can be something of a taste Russian roulette, and is often left untouched. It can be a saving grace for the rushed conference attendee or keen networker, but can also seem like a terrible waste.

There will no-doubt be catering trollies at this week’s Climate Action 2016 meetings in Washington, DC, leading one to ponder if the menu and agenda will be in harmony. The summit comes just two weeks after the Paris Agreement was signed, and eight months since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed.

Happily, the agenda for this week’s meetings does include mention of agriculture, which is often strangely absent from high-level discussions about climate change. For example, the COP21 discussions were described as “‘Les Champs-Oubliés,’ or ‘the forgotten fields’” because they largely neglected to mention agriculture as a part of the problem or solution. Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from agriculture have nearly doubled in the last 50 years and currently account for one-third of all GHGs, or more than 5.3 billion tonnes per year. At the same time, agriculture and smallholder farmers are also particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially in developing countries.

Meat consumption is on the rise

meat production

Meat production by region. FAO STAT, 2016

Of particular concern should be the rise in global meat consumption. GHG emissions from livestock production represent at least 14.5% of all anthropogenic GHG emissions. Enteric fermentation, when livestock produce methane as part of digestion then release it by belching, accounts for 39% of the agricultural sector’s GHG emissions, and rose by 11% in the decade between 2001 and 2011. Despite this damning evidence, meat consumption is on the rise. For example, the global demand for beef is projected to increase by 95% between 2006 and 2050 despite it being one of the most resource-intensive and environmentally damaging foods. Beef production uses seven times more resources, such as water, energy, and food or inputs than pork or poultry, and 20 times more than pulses. [Read more…]

“We have a lot of work ahead” – IFPRI’s 2016 Global Food Policy Repot

By Alice Marks

On March 31st the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) published the 2016 Global Food Policy Report. The report highlights the scale of the challenged faced by the global food system, including that 1/3 of people in the world are malnourished, nearly a billion people go to bed hungry each day, and environmental degradation and climate change will only exacerbate these problems by making global food markets increasingly unstable.

In a previous blog series (part 1/part 2) agriculture’s role in underpinning all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was explored. Ahead of the launch of the new report, IFPRI’s director Shenggen Fan explained that to meet the SDG’s by 2030 “We have a lot of work ahead. We must promote and support a new global food system that is efficient, inclusive, climate-smart, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven, and business-friendly in order to ensure that no one goes to sleep hungry.” Looking through the lens of the global food system, IFPRI’s report highlights several challenges and opportunities to achieving the SDGs, including the changing climate, shifts in diets and food waste, and gender inequality.

Gender inequality

woman credit ifpri

credit: IFPRI, 2016

Women are more vulnerable to food price volatility, climate change, and natural disasters than their male counterparts. The reasons are complex, but in general boil down to a lack of access to resources. For example, try typing “women lack access” into a search engine to see a plethora of issues, including lack of sanitation, safe toilets, clean water, contraception and family planning, business capital, information, education and political participation, to name but a few. [Read more…]

International Women’s Day 2016

iwd.jpgToday is International Women’s Day and this year organisers are asking everyone to #PledgeForParity. Despite the contribution women make to social, economic, cultural and political development, gender parity, whereby men and women are equal in status and pay, has not yet been achieved and is unlikely to be achieved in the near future without significant support. In fact, progress has slowed in many places and where the World Economic forum was predicting that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity, they have now revised this to an estimate that the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2133.

Women are the largest emerging market in the world, account for half of the global labour supply and about 70% of global consumption demand. Failing to achieve gender parity will stunt economic and social development while meeting this goal will bring greater economic prosperity. Global studies have found the following outcomes when women are equal in business and politics:

  • Higher GDP
  • More productivity
  • Better share prices and financial performance
  • Better all-round performance
  • More prosperity

As one study puts it “Greater gender equality in educational and employment opportunities fosters faster, more inclusive growth, not only because women are half of the world’s population but also because they are more likely than men to invest in the human capital of their families”. [Read more…]

Remembering our roots: new books and resources

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Photo by Danilo Rizzuti

Now going for close to four years, this blog began as a platform to allow us to continually update and review the content of One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world? Between the publication of The Doubly Green Revolution and One Billion Hungry, the agricultural development and environmental landscape had changed so much that it was important to find a way to remain relevant in order to help to bring about the changes needed for a food secure world. As such we like to periodically bring you a selection of up-to-date, interesting and thought-provoking books and resources, and here are our picks for early 2016. If you know of any interesting or pertinent books or other materials we’d love to hear your suggestions.

Books

Otsuka, K. and Larson, D.F. (Eds.) 2016. In Pursuit of an African Green Revolution. Views from Rice and Maize Farmers’ Fields. Springer.

This book explores recent experiences in trying to bring about a Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), focussing on rice and maize. Authors find that an African Rice Revolution has already begun in many irrigated areas, using Asian-type modern varieties, chemical fertilizer, and improved management practices. The same technological package significantly increases the productivity and profitability of rice farming in rainfed areas as well. By strengthening extension capacity and providing management training to smallholders, African governments can boost productivity and accelerate the pace of Africa’s Rice Revolution. The story for maize is quite different, however, where most farmers use local varieties, apply little chemical fertilizer, and obtain very low yields, and thus the success of Africa’s Maize Revolution will require a different approach based on hybrid maize, chemical and organic fertilizers, and stall-fed cross-bred cows.

Moseley, W.G., Schnurr, M.A. and Bezner-Kerr, R. (Eds.) 2016. Africa’s Green Revolution: Critical Perspectives on New Agricultural Technologies and Systems. Routledge.

This book examines the dominant neoliberal agenda for agricultural development and hunger alleviation in Africa. Authors review the history of African agricultural and food security policy in the post-colonial period, across a range of geographical contexts, in order to contextualise the productionist approach embedded in the much heralded New Green Revolution for Africa. This strategy, supported by a range of international agencies, promotes the use of hybrid seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides to boost crop production. This approach is underpinned by a new and unprecedented level of public–private partnerships as donors actively work to promote the private sector and build links between African farmers, input suppliers, agro-dealers, agro-processors, and retailers. The chapters in this volume raise serious questions about its effectiveness as a strategy for increasing food production and alleviating poverty across the continent.

Brautigam, D. 2016. Will Africa Feed China? OUP USA

Over the past decade, China’s meteoric rise on the continent has raised a drumbeat of alarm. China has 9 percent of the world’s arable land, 6 percent of its water, and over 20 percent of its people. Africa’s savannahs and river basins host the planet’s largest expanses of underutilized land and water. Few topics are as controversial and emotionally charged as the belief that the Chinese government is aggressively buying up huge tracts of prime African land to grow food to ship back to China. In Will Africa Feed China?, Deborah Brautigam, one of the world’s leading experts on China and Africa, probes the myths and realities behind the media headlines. Her careful research challenges the conventional wisdom; as she shows, Chinese farming investments are in fact surprisingly limited, and land acquisitions modest. Defying expectations, China actually exports more food to Africa than it imports. But is this picture likely to change?

Lumumba-Kasongo, T. (Ed.) 2015. Land Reforms and Natural Resource Conflicts in Africa: New Development Paradigms in the Era of Global Liberalization. Routledge.

This book is a critical examination of the place and role of land in Africa, the role of land in political formation and national identification, and the land as an economic resource within both national economic development and liberal globalization. Colonial and post-colonial conflicts have been rooted in four related claims: the struggle over scarce resources, especially access to land resources; abundance of natural resources mismanaged or appropriated by both the states, local power systems and multinationals; weak or absent articulated land tenure policies, leading to speculation or hybrid policy framework; and the imperatives of the global liberalization based on the free market principles to regulate the land question and mineral appropriation issue. The actualization of these combined claims have led to conflicts among ethnic groups or between them and governments. This book is not only about conflicts, but also about local policy achievements that have been produced on the land question. It provides a critical understanding of the forces and claims related to land tenure systems, as part of the state policy and its system of governance. [Read more…]

The World Economic Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals

r2Hb2gvXThe Sustainable Development Goals, described as a social contract to transform the world by 2030, were the focus of a panel event at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, which aimed to introduce the advocacy work being done around the SDGs as well as discuss what needs to be done to ensure the SDG agenda motivates action.

Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon’s opening remarks introduced the goals as an ambitious blueprint to put the world on a more sustainable path, and as both a vision and a promise by world leaders. In order to deliver on the SDGs, and as quickly as possible, he affirmed that we need partnership and advocacy, introducing the SDG Advocacy Group (see below for a list of all members). Co-chair of the group, Mr. John Dramani Mahama, President of Ghana, was next to speak, further explaining the SDGs as a social contract to fix what is broken and to ensure all people have access to clean drinking water, sanitation, food, shelter, healthcare and education. In order for the world to see progress and peace we need to address the fact that many people do not have access to these goods and services as basic human rights, and we need to fix this fast. As global crises such as child hunger and malnutrition, the creation of refugees through conflict and the rise of terrorism show we do not have the luxury of time. President Mahama made clear that the SDGs cannot be a placebo that peddles false hope, we need to keep meeting, keep generating ideas and maintain momentum. “Our ability to effect change islimited only by our imagination.”

The second co-chair, Mrs. Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister of Norway, then spoke about the role of the SDGs as a call to action and a roadmap to the future we want. We cannot continue as normal without expecting social, economic and environmental bankruptcy. She also laid out the lessons we need to learn from the Millennium Development Goals:

  • Progress is faster with effective partnerships (and sustainable investment models can scale up financing);
  • The 17 goals are a coherent plan, not a menu and we need to get away from a silo mentality and start seeing the synergies between the goals.
  • Establishing the goals is not enough, we need governments to show political will and resolve in dealing with difficult issues such as eradicating tax havens, halting illicit financial flows and combating corruption. We also need to monitor data to measure how effective new policies are at achieving the SDGs.
  • Finally, it has proved difficult to make progress in areas of crisis and conflict so the international community must work together to improve situations in these locations immediately.

[Read more…]