A Vision for Combating Hunger

From left to right, Angie Tagtow, Hans Herrren, Dena Hoff, Francis Thicke, Alexandra Spieldoch and Mary Hendrickson

From left to right, Food and Society Fellow Angie Tagtow, the Millenium Institute's Hans Herrren, Dena Hoff of the National Family Farmers Coalition, Food and Society Fellow Francis Thicke, Alexandra Spieldoch of IATP and the University of Missouri's Mary Hendrickson

The following is a guest post by Mark Muller, IATP Food and Society Fellows Program Director. Mark has worked at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy since 1997, and has written on several domestic and global food and agriculture issues.

For several years now I have heard about this enormous, multi-stakeholder effort (aka, lots of different people coming together) to provide a comprehensive assessment of global food and agriculture issues, but never gave it much thought. The power of this report, “Agriculture at a Crossroads: International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development” (IAASTD), however, became apparent last month during World Food Prize week.

The IATP Food and Society Fellows partnered with the Worldwatch Institute and the Community Food Security Coalition to sponsor a lecture titled “What will the World Eat? US Impact on Global Food Security.” Angie Tagtow, a Food and Society Fellow based in Iowa, envisioned the event as a way of connecting the attendees of the Community Food Security Conference with the World Food Prize attendees, all of whom converged on Des Moines in the middle of October. The CFSC conference featured discussions on topics like farmers markets and farm-to-school efforts. The World Food Prize events focused on global crop production and the genetic potential to increase yields. Angie wanted to explore the compatibility of these two visions.

Approximately 400 people showed up for the discussion at the Polk County Convention Center, quickly wiping out the array of wonderful local foods appetizers.  The event featured Dr. Hans Herren, 1995 World Food Prize Laureate and co-chair of the IAASTD report. Dr. Herren provided some of the same sobering statistics that we often hear when discussing global hunger issues: the number of undernourished people in developing countries is increasing, the need for increases in future food production is considerable, and climate change and water shortages will make that increased production all the harder.

But Dr. Herren and the IAASTD’s vision for addressing global hunger go well beyond the commonly held premise that we need to do whatever it takes to increase yields; inequities really matter. In other words, part of the reason that people are undernourished is because of the disconnects between consumers and farmers, between policies and consequences, and between agriculture and the environment. The very uneven agricultural investment in different regions of the world has contributed to dramatic differences in yield, discrepancies in health and nutrition, and increased dependency on food imports.

Many of IAASTD’s proposed solutions come back to empowering the hundreds of millions of the world’s small scale farmers that produce the bulk of the world’s food and provide stewardship over a huge swath of cultivated acreage. If production on these farms can be increased sustainably, and commodity markets and other institutions be managed in a manner that supports small scale production, we can go a long ways toward addressing global food needs in future decades.

After Dr. Herren’s speech several other experts provided commentary about hunger issues and the role of the United States. University of Missouri sociologist and past Food and Society Fellow Mary Hendrickson pointed out the U.S.’s role in international investment and market power. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Alexandra Spieldoch commented that food reserves could help curb excessive market speculation and price fluctuations.

Nobel Prize winning economist Dr. Amartya Sen documented nearly 20 years ago that famine not only results from a lack of food, but from inequalities in food distribution and income. The IAASTD report provides further evidence that we cannot win this battle against hunger by solely focusing on yield increases. Farmers markets and other simple innovations that connect farmers to the larger local community are an important part of the solution.

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