Unlocking Senegal’s Agricultural Potential

By Katrin Glatzel

When I was in Senegal a couple of weeks ago to visit the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Dakar, I was not only stunned by the warmth and hospitality of the Senegalese people, but equally astounded by the huge untapped agricultural potential.

As you reach the outskirts of Dakar and travel north-east towards the city of Thies, one gets the impression that the country is on an upswing: streets are buzzing with people, highways to connect the city with the new airport and conference centre are being constructed, and there are hundreds of small plots of former agricultural land which people hope to convert into residential areas and larger farms.

However, the image of an ‘economic upswing’ in Senegal is somewhat misleading; there is in fact a lot of untapped potential for agricultural and economic growth.

Agriculture in Senegal

1Agriculture in Senegal constitutes the main source of income for more than three-quarters of the population, yet the rural poor have limited possibilities to take advantage of opportunities for improving subsistence farming. They largely depend on income from cash crops, non-agricultural wages, and remittances (in 2011, remittances were worth 11% of GDP). Most of the rural poor live in areas which have limited capacity for food production due to dependence on rainfall, vulnerabilities to pest infestations, and depleted soils. [Read more…]

Past, present and future: IFPRI’s 2014-2015 Global Food Policy Report

CAeEPQKUQAA9iSc.png largeIn the fourth instalment of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s annual report on food policy, launched on 18th March 2015, authors report on the major developments that have happened at a global, regional and national level in 2014 but also, and for the first time, discuss the challenges to tackling food insecurity we face in the near future.

Looking to the past, the report highlights achievements as well as setbacks. For example, achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015, of 64 countries meeting the MDG of halving the number of hungry people since 1990, of global undernourishment having fallen from 19% to 11% in the past 2 decades, the commitments made at the Second International Conference on Nutrition in Rome to end malnutrition, the African Union committing to end hunger by 2025 and membership in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement continuing to grow.

But 2014 also experienced shocks and disasters such as the largest ever outbreak of Ebola, continuing civil war and conflict in the middle east, extreme weather conditions such as drought in Central America and typhoons and flooding in the Philippines, and continuing distortion of the agricultural markets with the US passing the Farm Bill and the EU implementing the latest Common Agricultural Policy. And ongoing is a lack of food security and adequate nutrition for hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

While disease, conflict and climatic upheaval are expected to intensify over the coming years, this year could be a window of opportunity to mitigate and build resilience to future shocks, and to step up in the fight against hunger and poverty as the Sustainable Development Goals are shaped and come into force and as a new climate agreement is (hopefully) adopted.

IFPRI’s report highlights some key food policy aspects of hunger and malnutrition such as the importance of sanitation, social protection and food safety, which need to be considered in future policy making. The report also discusses the role of middle income countries in combating hunger and the future of small family farmers.

Middle income countries such as China, India, Indonesia and Mexico are growing fast economically but they are also home to almost half of the world’s hungry (363 million people). These countries must be part of any strategy to combat hunger and malnutrition and they also have the resources to make a huge difference as we’ve seen in Brazil. Although the challenges faced in these countries are diverse and nation-specific, the report identifies several shared factors affecting food and nutrition security such as rising inequality, shifting diets, rapid urbanisation and the absence of nutrition-focused policies. The report points to the examples of South Korea and Chile in reducing hunger and malnutrition while promoting inclusive and sustainable growth. As the report states, economic growth is not sufficient alone to tackle hunger and thus suggests that MICs use nutrition-specific and –sensitive interventions and value chain approaches to reshape the food system; reduce inequalities, for example, through providing education to the underprivileged and supporting women in accessing productive resources; improve rural infrastructure, expand effective social safety nets and improve south-south knowledge sharing.

2014 being the UN International Year of Family Farming, the report looks to the role of small family farmers in meeting a country’s agriculture needs as well as how such farmers can become more profitable or when they might need to leave farming for a more economically justifiable pursuit. Agriculture is mainly a family affair with family farms producing some 80% of the world’s food. As such family farmers play a significant role in global food security and nutrition in both providing the food we eat but also because many small-scale farmers are themselves food insecure. [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.

2014-2015 Global Food Policy Report, IFPRI

Agriculture: Increase water harvesting in Africa, Nature

Middle Income Countries Play Key Role in Eliminating Hunger and Malnutrition, IFPRI

Agriculture bears major brunt of disaster impacts, new report says, FAO

Uganda’s plans for super bananas spark heated debate, Yahoo News

Contract farming and out-grower schemes, Action Aid

Political brief on the Principles on Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Foodsystems, TNI

The Path to Poverty: AGRA, small-scale farmers and seed and soil fertility in Tanzania, African Centre for Biosafety

Cropping Africa’s wet savannas would bring high environmental costs, Princeton University

The great land giveaway in Mozambique, Triple Crisis

Peak food? Can food tech supercharge crop yields and address global food security?, Genetic Literacy Project

Farming methods must sustain soil and be climate-smart, Daily Monitor [Read more…]

Tackling climate change from different angles

gadisymposium2014_625x333With the recent release of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, climate change has been a familiar topic in the news and media. More recently new publications have explicitly linked climate change to food security and they show that there is much to be done by governments, big business and the public sector, if our food and agricultural systems are to be resilient to predicted changes in the climate.

A new report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of Weather Volatility and Climate Change, which builds on the IPCC report, explains how climate change will undermine efforts to tackle hunger, limiting food production and putting food supplies at risk. Higher temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns and more frequent and severe natural disasters could reduce food production growth by 2% each decade for the rest of this century.  But, the report says, US government action can curb the risks climate change poses to global food security by integrating climate change adaptation into its global food security strategy. Recommendations include:

  • Passing legislation for a long-term global food and nutrition security strategy.
  • Increasing funding for agricultural research on climate change adaptation.  Research priorities should include improving crop and livestock tolerance to higher temperatures and volatile weather, combating pests and disease and reducing food waste.
  • Collecting better data and making information on weather more widely available to farmers.  There are significant global data gaps right now on weather; water availability, quality and future requirements; crop performance; land use; and consumer preferences.
  • Increasing funding for partnerships between U.S. universities and universities and research institutions in low-income countries, to train the next generation of agricultural leaders.
  • Advancing international action through urging that food security be addressed through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

Not only does the US, and other countries, have much to gain from maintaining and improving agricultural productivity and strong, stable international commodity markets but it is imperative they tackle climate change, in particular with a focus on adaptation, as part of their commitment to food and nutrition security. As Ambassador Ivo H. Daalder, president of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs stated, “For the first time since the Green Revolution, empowering the world’s poorest to improve their livelihoods is a high priority on the international agenda. But climate change puts the success of these efforts at risk.”

The report makes the link that the effects of climate change in reducing global food security and availability puts countries, developed and developing alike, at great risk in terms of national security and economic prosperity.

Yesterday, more than 500 policymakers, corporate executives, scientists, and senior leaders from international and nongovernmental organizations gathered to discuss the report, Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate (PDF), at the Council’s Global Food Security Symposium 2014 in Washington DC. Find out more about the presentations here.

A new Oxfam report shows it’s not just governments that need to consider climate change. The world’s biggest food producers and food brands need to do a lot more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The world’s largest ten food and beverage companies have been linked to an estimated 264 million tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2012, this is more than the emissions of Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway combined. If the group of companies were a nation, it would be the 25th most polluting country in the world. [Read more…]

IFPRI Global Food Policy Report 2013

WAB_GFPR_2013_370x82_orgLaunched this week, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Global Food Policy Report 2013 sets out past developments and future directions in tackling hunger and malnutrition. 2014 is an important year for food and nutrition security as the final efforts towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals and the development of the post-2015 agenda are put into action.

Progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals has been mixed. Globally we are on track to halve poverty, increase access to drinking water and reduce the incidence of malaria and tuberculosis but those goals relating to hunger, child mortality, access to primary education, reproductive healthcare and sanitation largely remain beyond our reach. The Sustainable Development Goals will, however, propose targets even more ambitious: eliminating hunger by 2025, for example. They will also be expanded in scope, as discussed at the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, to cover climate change, urbanisation, conflict and sustainable consumption and production. A United Nations Development Group report, A million voices: the world we want, which collected views and opinions from over 1 million people across the world, highlighted the need for a more holistic agenda that addresses the complex and interlinked challenges the world faces through an equality, justice and human rights lens. People also called for better measurement of progress to support greater accountability.

Central to discussions on the agricultural development component of the SDGs has been the need to increase production without harm to environmental and social processes. Sustainable intensification and efficient food production will likely feature within the post-2015 agenda although it is recognised that sustainable intensification requires transformative change along the whole value chain and at the policy level, as well as widespread adoption of innovative technologies, and thus poses a significant challenge in both designing a goal and in putting into practice. Indeed, finding goals which will effectively reflect the multidimensionality of food and nutrition and their links to the wider environment will be a challenge. [Read more…]

Searching for appropriate technologies: IFPRI’s agri-tech toolbox

Rosegrant_book_cover_crop240Solutions to the world’s food insecurity and environmental problems are numerous. Some suggest it is the not the lack of a solution that hampers progress in addressing hunger, climate change and natural resource scarcity but rather the difficulty in choosing the most appropriate solution.

The International Food Policy Research Institute recently launched the results of a new research project (Food Security in a World of Growing Natural Resource Scarcity: The Role of Agricultral Technologies), which assesses the likely impacts of agricultural technologies on global crop productivity, hunger and economic development. Showcasing the project, is an infographic, produced by IFPRI, which outlines:

The eleven agricultural innovations investigated

  • No-till farming
  • Water harvesting
  • Organic agriculture
  • Precision agriculture
  • Drought tolerance
  • Heat tolerance
  • Integrated soil fertility management
  • Drip irrigation
  • Sprinkler irrigation
  • Nitrogen use efficiency
  • Crop protection

The data used

Global crop land was divided into cells, and data on physical characteristics such as soil, elevation and weather were combined with management information on crops grown and techniques used.

The research outputs

Each of the innovations were assessed in terms of their impacts on agricultural yields, food prices, trade, hunger risk, natural resource use and land use at global, regional and local scales.

Some of the results

No till practices in irrigated maize led to a productivity increase of 67%

Improving nitrogen use efficiency could reduce hunger by 12%

Using heat tolerant maize varieties reduced the price of maize by 15%

Using multiple technologies amplified the effects: food prices for maize were 49% lower, for wheat 45% lower and for rice 43% lower, leading to a reduction in the number of malnourished children by 12% and of the number of people at risk of hunger by 40%.

Of course this infographic only highlights some of the results of the project. Alongside the infographic, IFPRI have published a policy note and also created an online app that allows users to explore how agricultural and food security indicators will change in 2050 by selecting a country or region and a technology, climate scenario, crop and water management practice. The hope is that such a tool will lead to better and more impactful decision making regarding investments and developing policies. The toolbox also helps identify the technologies most appropriate to the conditions on the ground, although nothing can compare to direct knowledge from the farmers themselves. [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.

Act Now, or Food Shortages Could Become a Problem for Us All, Gordon Conway, Huffington Post

Eighteen Million Farmers in 27 Countries Chose Biotech Crops in 2013, Global Plantings Increase by 5 Million Hectares, ISAA

Agricultural Technologies Could Increase Global Crop Yields as Much as 67 Percent and Cut Food Prices Nearly in Half by 2050, IFPRI

Invisible Math: Accounting for the Real Costs of Big Ag, Civil Eats

Hidden crop pest threat to poorer nations revealed, EurekAlert

Feeding the World – or feeding the Corporations?, The Ecologist

New GM corn gets controversial EU go-ahead, EU Business

Agriculture Increasingly Spells Opportunity in the Arid Gulf, The Wall Street Journal

Food wars, Cosmos

Uganda takes stock of new climate information service, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Voluntary GE Labels Won’t Work, Huffington Post

The family farming revolution, Al Ahram

Developing a Sustainable Nutrition Research Agenda in Sub-Saharan Africa, PAEPARD

Who’s winning the battle against child mortality?, Devex

Vertical farming explained: how cities could be food producers of the future, The Guardian

From WEF 2014: Water shortage as global risk–now what?, Global Food for Thought