Chains, loops, pillars and bridges – building resilience into agricultural systems.

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

UN Photo Logan Abassi

Credit: UN/Logan Abassi

As meteorologists report that the El Niño Southern Oscillation is ending and a La Niña may be developing, spare a thought for smallholder farmers. Erratic rainfall, short growing seasons, prolonged droughts and flooding mean that crop yields suffer, and so do the livelihoods of those who rely on farming as their main source of income. And because agriculture does not only provide food, but also provides important environmental services, employment, and economic opportunities for local communities, it is not just the farmers and their families who feel the effects of the unpredictable weather that is becoming increasingly common all around the world. With increasingly global food systems, we will all suffer the consequences.

Despite the volatile weather, the food must grow on. Globally the growing population demands more, and more varied, food, to be grown with ever scarcer resources. However, current agricultural techniques have a voracious appetite for resources, consuming about 70% of all freshwater and using ever more land. But there are other viable ways of farming that are less resource intensive. In the recent submission to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 44), A4I advocated for the practices of Sustainable Intensification (SI) for agriculture. SI integrates innovations in ecology, genetics and socio-economics to help build environmentally sustainable, productive and resilient ways to produce more food with less, ensuring that the natural resources on which agriculture depends are maintained and even improved for future generations – also take a look at the A4I SI database where there are explanations and more than 80 case studies to highlight some of the best practices of SI. [Read more…]

Supplying the demand: growing food for growing cities.

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

Haiti earthquake: one year later

Credit, FAO

On April 26th 2016 The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released their new report, Growing Food for Growing Cities: Transforming food systems in an urbanizing world, as part of their Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, DC. According to UN figures, two-thirds of the global population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050, and this report looks at how such rapid urbanisation is changing the structure and functionality of the entire global food system, from the source of inputs to the farm and on to the consumer.

With urbanisation and the accompanying expansion of urban middle classes comes a shift in dietary expectations and demands. Traditional staple diets such as cereals, roots and pulses are increasingly supplemented with a wide variety of higher-value foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, or meat and dairy products. For example, in some African countries including Uganda and Tanzania up to 66% of urban household food expenditure is on foods other than staple grains.

Value chains have potential

valuechain, global panel

Chicago Council, 2016

According to the report, if agricultural and supply chains are to accommodate the growing demands of the cities, they will need to “lengthen geographically, increasing the potential to reach farmers in more and more distant areas.” No longer is ‘farm to fork’ a simple process that serves local populations; increasingly it is a complex and far-reaching chain, involving many actors that might cross borders and even continents. [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…]

Ghana’s Sustained Agricultural Revolution

Ghana is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa likely to meet both the Millennium Development Goals of halving the proportion of people in poverty, and the proportion of people who are hungry, by 2015.

In a study of Ghana’s story IFPRI experts have called the country ‘a prime candidate to champion economic transformation in Africa.’ They state that Ghana should grab the ‘unique opportunity for the front-running African countries to set examples on how to achieve economic transformation and prosperity on the continent’.

But there is a side to this narrative that deserves even more attention: Ghana’s quiet and steady agricultural revolution.

According to the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Ghana’s agricultural sector has grown by an average of about 5% per year during the past 25 years, making it one of the world’s top performers in agricultural growth. Further successes include:

  • Between 1990 and 2004, Ghana cut hunger levels by 75%.
  • Undernourishment went down to 8% by 2003, from 34% in 1991.
  • Child malnutrition declined, with the proportion of infants underweight falling from 30% in 1988 to 17% in 2008.
    • Political and economic reforms reduced the percentage of the population living in poverty from 52% in 1991-92 to 28.5% in 2005-06.
    • Rural poverty fell from 64% to 40% between 1981 and 2007.
    • By 2005/07, staple food production per person was more than 80% higher than it was in 1981/83. [Read more…]