Food security and agriculture information at our fingertips

ID-100125038This week we’ve been thinking about information. Specifically the type of information on agriculture and rural development that is available, how useful it is and to who. A lot of data and statistics went into the writing of One Billion Hungry and some was hard to find, out of date or non-existent. Indeed statistics, such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) estimate of the number of chronically hungry people in the world, are often challenged because there are so few rigorous and comparable data sets available on food security and agriculture.

Yet policymakers often base investments in international development around evidence and farmers too must have access to clear and credible information in order to be competitive in the market. Ensuring information is timely, relevant and reliable, therefore is an important challenge. A recent paper by researchers at Tulane University investigated the impact of Food and Nutrition Security Information (FNSI) and its shortcomings concluding that while more conventional forms of data must be expanded in coverage, greater types and sources of data that come with increased connectivity must also be utilised.

Greater access to information can also help solve global challenges. As discussed in Chapter 1, we face the threat of repeated food price spikes, of which we have seen three since 2007. In 2011, the G20, in response to increased food price volatility, established the Agricultural Market Information System, with the idea that if information on the production, trade, use and storage of four globally important crops, wheat, rice, maize and soybean, is more transparent then policy action in response to market uncertainty can be coordinated and potentially dangerous and inaccurate speculation can be avoided. The coordination of policies and development of common strategies is undertaken by the Rapid Response Forum, whose second meeting is to take place on 20th February 2013. [Read more…]

The State of Food and Agriculture 2012: Investing in agriculture for a better future

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) this week released its annual report, the State of Food and Agriculture, for 2012. This year’s focus is on “the accumulation of capital by farmers in agriculture and the investments made by governments to facilitate this accumulation.” Farmers are part of the private sector and their investments in developing their businesses can have large impacts on the wider rural economy. This, as the report asserts, is why farmers are crucial stakeholders in national plans to improve agricultural investment.

And developing agriculture is important. Improvements in the sector can have wide reaching benefits for reducing hunger and poverty. Given that 80% of the world’s chronically hungry are farmers, greater investment in agriculture, which has been stalling or declining for several decades, can significantly contribute to meeting the first Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger and poverty by 2015. Indeed the report finds that over the last 20 years, countries with the highest rates of on-farm investment have made the most progress in halving hunger.

But farmers are only part of the story; governments have an important role to play. In low- and middle-income countries, farmers’ own investments to farming outstrip investments made by governments or the private sector. This report shows that farmer investments can have greater social and economic benefits when undertaken in an inductive investment climate, an area controlled by markets and government. As the report states, “Governments are responsible for creating the legal, policy and institutional environment that enables private investors to respond to market opportunities in socially responsible ways”. Developing this enabling environment is a crucial function of the public sector, particularly in terms of levelling the playing field between smallholders and larger investors. Improving incentives for farmers to invest and reducing the barriers will aid agricultural development significantly. [Read more…]