Food for thought from the land of a thousand hills

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

By Gordon Conway, Imperial College London

Conversation pic

The key to Rwanda’s agricultural success is good partnership between nongovernmental organisations, the private sector and the government. Sam Thompson/DFID Rwanda

 

On my most recent visit to Rwanda, it was evident that farmers there are beginning to do well. I have visited the country on a number of occasions over the past ten years, and each time I am impressed to see significant improvements in the lives of ordinary people. With average annual agricultural growth rates reaching 5.7% between 2001 and 2012, and average annual gross domestic product growth of 7%-8% since 2000, the signs are looking good.

Farmland covers three quarters of all land in Rwanda, amounting to about 18,425 km². Of the agricultural land, half of landholdings are less than half a hectare in size, and two-thirds of all food produced is for household consumption. This indicates that the agricultural sector remains largely subsistence in nature, despite the fact that these small farms are becoming increasingly commercial. Rwanda is famous for its coffee and tea, which combined account for about 70% of agricultural export earnings.

Rwanda certainly lives up to the tagline “the land of a thousand hills”, with stunning mountain scenery at every turn. This is beautiful for the visitor, but it presents real challenges to farmers, who typically have a farm plot that is just 0.6 hectares in size. Plots also tend to spread over several locations, resulting in many households farming as little as 0.4 hectares.

A thousand hills

The flatter land is often used to grow crops to sell at local markets. The steeper slopes, which are more difficult to farm, are used to grow food for household consumption. But as the population swells, additional pressure is loaded onto scarcer land. This encourages people to move on to even steeper slopes, where farming is physically more demanding and the shallower soils are more prone to erosion and landslides. [Read more…]

Human innovation to feed the world

ID-10088298Professor Sir Gordon Conway and Katy Wilson highlight the need for innovative solutions to food insecurity

Article originally appeared on The Economist Insights

With global population expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 the world faces unprecedented demands on its resources – not least water, biodiversity and land. Add to this the likely impact of climate change, and the challenge of feeding a world where some 870 million people are already chronically hungry appears a difficult one.

Governments, NGOs, academia and the private sector are searching for long-term sustainable solutions to global food insecurity and future resource scarcity.  One solution, first proposed by Jules Pretty in the 1990s, and backed by the Montpellier Panel, a high-level group of European and African experts in the fields of agriculture, trade, policy, and global development, is sustainable intensification. At its heart sustainable intensification is about producing more food, more efficiently.

Achieving global food security will not be possible if food is produced at the expense of other natural resources such as water and soil. Instead we need to find ways of maximising both agricultural output and the health of the environments and ecosystems upon which farming relies.

Sustainable intensification is, at its core, about balancing the trade-offs between short-term gains and long-term sustainability. This is a shift in thinking that is not going to be easy but one that members of the Montpellier Panel think is achievable. A large part of their optimism results from historical evidence of human ingenuity in the face of challenges, as well as from the ground-breaking technologies and innovations being developed today.

While much can be achieved by using existing knowledge and technologies, the scale of the challenges we face will need innovation. In a new Montpellier Panel briefing paper, Innovation for Sustainable Intensification in Africa, we emphasise the importance of innovation to drive sustainable intensification and to overcome Africa’s hunger and development issues in general. As an example, a study by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture found that agricultural research in sub-Saharan Africa yields an estimated aggregate rate of return of as much as 55%. This same research also reduces the number of poor people by 2.3 million each year in the region, with about half of this impact originating from international agricultural research conducted by the CGIAR.

Since sustainable intensification is about reducing trade-offs and maximising benefits across economic, environmental and societal objectives we need to redesign our innovation systems to aid multidisciplinary and collaborative research. [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.

The amazing, surprising, Africa-driven demographic future of the Earth, in 9 charts, The Washington Post

Driving Agricultural Innovations to Improve Nutrition, Feed the Future

GM crops: Public fears over ‘Frankenstein food’ may be easing, Independent poll reveals, The Independent

Costs of Arctic methane release could approach value of global economy – study, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Can We Trust Monsanto with Our Food?, Scientific American

Climate Forecasts Shown to Warn of Crop Failures, Science Daily

Better evidence, better programmes, better outcomes, IFAD

Zimbabwe: Smallholders Feed a Nation As Land Reform Fails, Africa Agriculture News, IPS

Partnerships bear fruit in drive for Africa to feed Africa, Thomson Reuters Foundation

How (and why) Africa should solve its own problems, The Christian Science Monitor

The era of cheap food is over. Are we ready for that?, The Telegraph

Commentary – Who feeds Africa? It is the woman, Global Food for Thought

The ‘invisible’ farmer and the global hunger debate, Aljazeera

How To Prevent Hunger In Upcoming Decades? Try Precision Agriculture, Huffington Post

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.

Africa: Science Can Help Small Farmers Feed Africa, Africa Agriculture News

Why Don’t Farmers Believe in Climate Change?, Slate

International Food Security Assessment, 2013-2023, USDA

Once Upon a Village Value Chain in Africa, Huffington Post

Africa must partner to improve agricultural production, Ghana News Agency

Agricultural productivity and greenhouse gas emissions: trade-offs or synergies between mitigation and food security?, Valin et al

Looking for Ways to Beat the Weeds, New York Times

Global Food Security Index shows promise in developing nations, AG Professional

African Countries Come Up Short on Investment in Agriculture, Voice of America

A Gap in Organic Food Chain, Wall Street Journal

Address security issues for effective climate resilience – study, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Cover crops paying off, survey shows, Agriculture.com

Let’s Make Genetically Modified Food Open-Source, Slate