Unprecedented challenges to global food security call for joint action

THE world is facing unprecedented food security challenges but several ongoing actions throughout the world to address hunger and malnutrition provide hope for the future, according to experts participating in the 2022 Borlaug International Dialogue. The event is considered the premier international conference on global agriculture.

The focus of this year’s theme, ‘Feeding a Fragile World’, is how to recover from the shocks that have destabilised global food systems. The triple threat of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the war in Eastern Europe, and the impact of climate change has triggered a severe crisis that has seriously affected the most vulnerable populations.

The main goal of the debates is to forge alliances in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. The event is attended by government officials, private sector representatives, international organisations, agricultural producers, academics, scientists, educators and students.

Barbara Stinson, president of the World Food Prize Foundation (WFP), and Cary Fowler, special envoy for global food security of the United States Department of State, gave the opening remarks at the dialogue.

“We are facing huge problems that are threatening food production, industrialisation, transportation and distribution. This is affecting the quantity, quality and availability of food, thereby impacting vulnerable communities. These threats are COVID, conflict and climate change,” said Stinson.

“In any case, incredible things are being done to address this in many places in the world and our job is to show it. We want to achieve the second sustainable development goal (SDG), which is to end hunger by 2030. Some say this is impossible, but we say that we must try and must do everything within our power”, she added.

Fowler, one of the creators of the largest global seedbank, who recently joined the State Department, referred to the impact of the food and energy price increases and the fertiliser crisis, but stressed that climate change is the issue of greatest concern.

He reflected that, “For a long time temperatures have been higher than average and this has had a profound effect on agriculture. We must be concerned not only about corn, wheat, rice and soybean, but also about minor crops. It is imperative that we make an accurate assessment of how climate change is affecting them.”

For three days discussions will prioritise the nexus between agriculture, food security and climate change, emphasising the search for solutions in the areas of mitigation and adaptation to facilitate the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Fowler indicated that projections of the future demand for food predict a 50 to 60 per cent increase by 2050. “Agricultural projections,” he maintained, “suggest that production growth can reach that level but this does not take into account the influence of climate change and other disruptions such as the conflicts and price increases that we are experiencing today.”

Thus, the expert pointed out that next month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) in Egypt will provide a great opportunity to discuss agricultural adaptation. “If we do not adapt crops to climate change we will not be able to meet the demand,” he warned.

Director general of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Manuel Otero was one of the speakers in the opening session of the event which is organised by WFP, in Des Moines, Iowa (United States).

Otero was participating in the discussion, ‘Dynamic Cooperation and Unusual Partners’, alongside other panellists including Godfrey Bahiigwa, director of the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Development of the African Union Commission; and Jyostsna Puri, associate vice-president of the Department of Strategy and Knowledge of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Barbara Stinson was the moderator.

Prior to his participation in the panel discussion Otero met in Des Moines with Fowler, with whom he exchanged perspectives on food security and the role of international cooperation. Otero and Folwer agreed on the importance of science and technology in agricultural transformation in light of the new challenges — both present and future. They also spoke about the scope of IICA’s work in Africa.

Speaking about the meeting with the US official, Otero revealed that, “We introduced Dr Fowler to our Living Soils of the Americas initiative, which is co-led by Dr Rattan Lal. We discussed the possibility of expanding it beyond our region. We spoke about Africa and about the relationship between IICA and our counterparts in that continent, and also outlined the IICA-Africa work agenda to define future joint actions including a policy observatory, the aforementioned Living Soils initiative, and efforts to incentivise the bioeconomy.”

Latin America and the Caribbean, as a key player

During the panel discussion Otero spoke of the importance of Latin America and the Caribbean to global food security, considering that it is the world’s major net food exporting region. “It is our duty to become a key player in nutritional food security, and moreover in environmental sustainability, given the wealth of our natural resources,” he said.

The IICA director general mentioned the heterogeneous make-up of the region as one with countries that are major food producers and others that are import-dependent, particularly in Central America and the Caribbean. He insisted that, “Haiti deserves special mention as a country faced with instability and serious concerns”.

Otero stated that food security is a top priority in the global agenda and called for the establishment of long-term policies, stressing the need to empower small farmers.

He pointed out that, “We have 16.5 million family farmers in Latin America and the Caribbean. We must equip them with the tools to enable them to be profitable, to implement proper environmental practices, and to be resilient to climate change. We have to help to keep them in rural areas. It would be terrible if they migrated to the cities.”

Finally, the director general pointed out that the institute is defining its role today by establishing new cooperation strategies; looking outward at the world from the perspective of the Americas; and promoting collective action, not only with governments but also with the private sector, civil society organisations and academia.

The session focused on the importance of global alliances, particularly between Africa and the Americas, placing particular importance on relationships between the private and public sectors and civil society.

Puri said that, “I would like to call attention to one number in particular. One-third of the total amount of food in the world is produced by small farmers. Food systems account for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. One third of the food that is produced is wasted. We need to stop making commitments and to become credible in our work.”

The senior IFAD official also indicated that, “We have to focus on the different food system stakeholders and also on the demand. Small farmers are the most important people in food production and also the most neglected.” She reflected that, “The challenges that we face today are global. It is vital that we concentrate on increasing productivity and building markets, which are essential. Stakeholders in the private sector today have no incentive to develop projects in rural areas.”

Moreover, Bahiigwa mentioned that Africa is a continent where most people are unable to access a healthy diet, which affects productivity. He insisted that, “It is imperative that Africa reduce its dependence on food imports that currently amount to US$45 billion annually, money that could be invested in the well-being of our people.”.

The African Union representative pointed out that he was representing 55 countries in “a continent whose food security is in a very precarious position. There are many challenges, including the need to increase food production, because that is the only way that we will be able to have a future. It is also fundamental that we reduce food waste”.

In closing, he said that, “Despite the complicated situation the message is one of hope since Africa is a continent of opportunities that is open for business. We need investments, and I invite countries to take an interest in Africa.”

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