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. [Read more…]

Microfinance in Africa

ImageMicrofinance, “the supply of loans, savings, and other basic financial services to the poor”, has been hailed as a route through which those traditionally unable to borrow from banks can develop their businesses and ultimately escape poverty. The development of microfinance in its current form is credited to Dr Mohammed Yunnus in the 1970s, who went on to found the Grameen Bank in 1983 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006

The World Bank estimates that some 160 million people in developing countries are served by microfinance. In Africa, as of 2011, there are 8 million microfinance borrowers and microinsurance coverage has increased some 200% between 2008 and 2011.

The popularity and use of microfinance is growing in Africa, as can be seen from upcoming conferences in the continent. The Africa Microinsurance Microfinance Conference 2013 and the West Africa Microfinance Conference are set to take place in March 2013. In other parts of the world, the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development are hosting a seminar this month entitled “Joining the dots: financial inclusion for smallholder farmers.” The International Labour Organization this year has published a series of papers on microinsurance.

Microfinance provision has also expanded beyond business, and new initiatives such as Kiva allow individuals to provide microloans to projects in developing countries.

But experts warn that microfinance is not a panacea for poverty and is instead a tool that must be used responsibly. In some cases microfinance has led to people being trapped in a debt cycle and unable to escape poverty. A systematic review of the impact of microfinance in Africa by the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Coordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre) of the University of London lays out some of the pitfalls around microfinance.

For more information on microfinance, visit CGAP’s Microfinance Gateway, a comprehensive online resource on financial services for the poor.