Briefing serves up food for thought on global hunger

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By Philip Newell

At a Global Hunger and Food Security briefing held by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and the Interfaith Working Group on Global Hunger and Food Security, several experts offered a bounty of ideas to fortify food security around the world.  In attendance were representatives from United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and American Jewish World Service (AJWS), as well as keynote speaker and U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter.

Planting different kinds of crops in a field (multi-cropping) is a main tenant of Agroecology (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)

De Schutter was on hand to discuss his most recent report, Agroecology and the Right to Food in which he lays out a series of recommendations for national and international development policy.  “We are not facing a food crisis” explained De Schutter, “We are facing three crises,” poverty, environment, and nutrition. But according to De Schutter, agro-ecology can help address all these problems.

Agroecology can help alleviate  the poverty crisis by encouraging small farmers to grow a variety of complimentary crops to be sold locally, instead of growing grains exclusively for sale in the global market.  This transition to more diversified agricultural systems can also help alleviate the ecological crisis by helping to  reduce dependence on artificial fertilizers and other inputs.  And when farmers grow a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, their families eat better. According to De Schutter, governments and donor groups should increase investment in public goods. Instead of doling out seeds and fertilizer through subsidies, donors should be focused on helping to  establish markets and infrastructure, such as roads, that allow farmers to sell their produce. Regional and local markets need to be established, thereby “linking rural local producers with urban consumers” said De Schutter.

De Schutter also explained how investing in knowledge systems will help connect farmers with researchers, as well as helping connect farmers to one another. And, said De Schutter, aid and development programs need to include  the “gender dimension” to make sure women farmers are getting the resources they need.  In many developing nations, women lack the access to most means of production, notably land ownership and financing.

Susan Bradley, Senior Policy Advisor at USAID pointed to the organization’s commitment to helping countries reach the first Millennium Development Goal, the halving of the number of chronically hungry.  USAID is attempting to build capacity and supporting infrastructure development aimed at linking small producers directly with consumers. The key to addressing the nutrition crisis, according to Bradley, is to grow “not all maize or not all rice” but, as De Schutter suggests, to encourage farmers to grow a variety of indigenous crops that are adapted to local climates.

IFAD Director of the American Liaison Office, Cheryl Morden discussed IFAD’s just-launched Environmental and Natural Resource Management Policy.  This policy is designed to improve the wellbeing of smallholder farmers through various agroecological techniques. In addition to growing a variety of crops with reduced inputs, this program focuses on reducing the amount of risk involved with farming through microfinanancing and index insurance. Also, IFAD is looking into expanding forms of non-farm rural activitiesto help reach rural youth and alleviate the pressure on natural resources. “The Green Revolution,” says Morden, of the 20th century needs to be transformed into an “evergreen revolution which increases productivity while decreasing environmental degradation.”

Timi Gerson, from the AJWS, an international faith-based charity organization, highlighted the role religious organizations can and should be playing in the discussion of food security.  It is the job of faith groups to act as a “moral mirror,” she says, bringing attention to injustice and acting as a “global conscience.” According to Gerson, these are not issues of charity—food security and starvation are issues of justice.

What are your thoughts about the best ways to alleviate hunger and poverty? Let us know in the comments section!

Philip Newell is a research intern for Nourishing the Planet.

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