This past week, two thoughtful voices from the United Nations suggested a new direction for global efforts to eliminate hunger. While both offered their own specific policy advice–advocating the need to eliminate subsidies in wealthy nations and invest in agricultural research internationally–they shared the opinion that producing more crops must go hand in hand with improving the incomes of those who are hungry.
Most of the world’s poor, roughly a billion people worldwide, live in rural areas and depend partly or entirely on agriculture for their livelihoods. So increasing food production can help boost farmer incomes, but it’s not the only thing that can.
“Increasing agricultural production must go hand in hand with increasing the incomes of the poorest, particularly small-scale farmers,” said Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. According to UN Wire, he called for a form of sustainable development that was “more about how to help the world feed itself” than “how to feed the world.”
Earlier in the week, in remarks to open the 17th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro pointed the delegations’ attention to Africa and seconded earlier calls for what some have dubbed a Doubly Green Revolution–raising yields and rebuilding agroecosystems. “In contrast to the original Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, which largely bypassed Africa, this must be a sustainable green revolution,” Migiro said. She emphasized farming practices that use diverse cropping systems and ecological conditions to preserve biodiversity, while also raising yields.
Part of the revolution in thinking is that there isn’t any one technology or quick fix that will work in all cases. At least the world’s farmers and agricultural researchers haven’t found one yet. There are innovations that can be harnessed in some fields that won’t work in others. And in some cases, an improved seed or crop rotation will only be most effective when farmers use it in conjunction with improvements in irrigation, or investment in processing crops for market, or changes in land ownership that make it easier for farmers to buy and invest in land.
In other words, the Doubly Green Revolution might benefit from the addition of an economic limb, including the need to guarantee African farmers equitable access to markets for their products. “Trade distortions that discourage agricultural investment in developing countries need to be phased out,” Migiro said. “An African Green Revolution must empower farmers, particularly smallholders, both women and men.”