Proper nutrition is vital for child development. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
Malnutrition, or not getting the right balance of vitamins and minerals in one’s diet, can contribute to stunted physical development and shorter, less-productive lives. According to the World Bank, individuals suffering from malnutrition lose an average of 10 percent of their potential lifetime earnings.
Around 1.4 billion people, or 20 percent of the world’s population, live in extreme poverty, earning less than US$1.25 per day. One billion of these people also suffer from food insecurity and malnutrition. Children suffer disproportionately from malnutrition: 2.5 million children will die in this year alone from not getting enough food, and the development of 178 million children will be irreversibly impaired.
The report points out that reactive measures, such as early warning systems, safety net programs, and coordinated humanitarian responses have not been enough to eradicate the food crises and famines that result from drought and national disasters. A more preventative approach, beginning with increased investment in agriculture—and the financial and infrastructure systems that support it—is needed to increase incomes and eradicate food security.
Agricultural investment has proven to be the most effective means of lifting entire communities out of poverty. When connected to markets, smallholder farmers can generate income, send their children to school, and boost their community’s economy over the long-term. For this reason, investments in agriculture are estimated to be around two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than investment in other sectors.
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.
Achieving food security requires more than a continuous supply of food-the daily diet of humans needs to also offer nutrients, not just calories.
A Ghanaian woman harvesting palm oil fruit. Palm oil is one of the plant oils fortified with Vitamins A, D, and E to improve nutrition in Ghana and other low-income countries.(Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
Combating malnutrition in low-income countries is a critical part of realizing many of the UN Millennium Development Goals including reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, achieving universal education, and eradicating extreme hunger and poverty. One way of addressing the nutritional gap in vitamin A may be through the fortification of vegetable oils used for cooking.
Vitamin A—as well as vitamins D and E—are fat soluble meaning that the human body can only absorb the vitamin when fats are present during digestion. Fat soluble vitamins do not lose potency when heated or cooked and the addition of vitamins to vegetable oil does not increase costs for oil packaging or storage. Furthermore, vitamins can be added to different vegetable oils without a change in technology. This means enhancing the locally-preferred cooking oil—canola, palm, soybean, coconut or sunflower—instead of imposing an unfamiliar alternative which households might not use regardless of health benefits. (more…)
As world leaders gathered for the Millennium Development Goals summit at the UN headquarters in New York last week, there were also a number of important side events taking place. On Friday September 24, the Qatar National Food Security Programme (QNFSP) hosted “The Global Dry Land Alliance- Partnering for Food Security” event, which launched a global alliance aimed at strengthening cooperation among dry land nations. The event provided a much-needed forum to discuss challenges specific to dry lands which account for 45 percent of the world’s land area.
The newly formed Global Dry Land Alliance will constitute 45 to 60 nations with arid or semi-arid environments. (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollock)
The issue of food security in dry land areas is extremely crucial to the global fight against hunger—60 percent of the world’s food insecure population lives in dry lands and over 80 percent of the rural population in these areas are dependent on crop agriculture and livestock for both food and income. Dry land areas suffer from land loss due to erosion, salinity, desertification, disappearing vegetation cover, loss of biodiversity and increasing water scarcity.
In the Sahel, a band of land that crosses Africa at the southern fringe of the Sahara Desert, 10 million people are threatened by food shortages. Furthermore, the Middle East, with 5 percent of the world’s population, accounts for 40 percent of the world’s cereal imports and experiences the highest level of water scarcity in the world. The recent food and financial crises have highlighted the need to support domestic agricultural systems in order to reduce vulnerability to volatile global markets. In regions where extreme weather threatens food supply, the answer is not short-term aid, but a global commitment to strengthening long-term food security.
According to Fahad al-Attiya, QNFSP Chairman, the newly formed Global Dry Land Alliance will constitute 45 to 60 nations with arid or semi-arid environments, including countries in the Middle East, Africa, the United States and India.
In 2008, Qatar launched its own national food security program after the country experienced high food price inflation. While national country-led programs such as QNFSP play a significant role in finding solutions to enhance domestic production, responsible foreign agricultural investments and regional partnerships in areas of trade, research and technology offer tremendous potential in securing global food systems. IFAD, for example, has invested over $3.5 billion to support agricultural and rural development in these areas. Between 2000-2007, the Mauritanian government, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization, launched the Rehabilitation and Extension of Nouakchott Green Belt Project to improve sand encroachment control and protect the infrastructure of its capital city, Nouakchott. This project stands as a model of success in halting desertification.
Sharing knowledge and expertise, however, is also important among farmers. Faced with harsh growing conditions, small-scale farmers in dry land areas are working to mitigate land degradation through innovative practices. Many of their approaches offer useful models for larger-scale efforts. In Niger, for example, farmers are restoring the Sahel’s degraded land through Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). By pruning shoots that periodically and naturally sprout from below-ground root webs, farmers promote forest growth. While FMNR is a simple technique, it produces multiple benefits. This practice has helped improve up to 5 million hectares of land and is also practiced in other countries including Chad, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. To ensure that even more farmers know about FMNR and its benefits, the Web Alliance for the Re-Greening in Africa (W4RA), a joint project between African Re-Greening Initiatives (ARI), the Web Foundation, and VU Amsterdam, is helping to create web-based information exchanges between farmers.
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) released this year’s hunger figures, showing that the number of chronically hungry people has decreased from 1.023 billion in 2009 to 925 million this year. FAO’s Director-General, Jacques Diouf, says that the 98 million drop in hunger is “no cause for complacency” since the numbers still remain high and reaching the first Millennium Development Goal—halving hunger by 2015—will be a struggle. He calls on the world to implement policies that will initiate agricultural development and to look at success stories that can be replicated around the world.
The figure was released in anticipation of the World Food Summit, to be held in New York next week and will be included in of the FAO and WFP’s annual publication, State of Food Insecurity in the World, which will be released this October.
Abby Massey is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.
In this video produced by The New School Milano program for Management and Urban Policy in partnership with the United Nations, graduate students take to the streets of New York City as part of a social media campaign to educate the public about the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
In 2009 the total number of malnourished people rose above 1 billion. (photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
In September of 2000 after a decade of major United Nations conferences and summits, world leaders came together to adopt the eight MDGs, which range from halving extreme poverty to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing primary education universally by 2015 to meet the needs of the world’s poverty. But UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admits that the implementation of these goals has “been unacceptably slow.” In fact, in 2005-2007, the number of undernourished people had actually increased from the initial benchmark, with the total exceeding one billion in 2009 after the 2008 spike in food prices due to the financial crisis, according to the 2010 MDG report.
To galvanize support for reaching the goals, the United Nations created the MDG Awards Committee, a nonprofit organization with a mission to disseminate information to the public and to recognize and spotlight the successes of stakeholders who are making progress towards MDG implementation by the 2015 target date.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is providing quality seeds to 100,000 vulnerable farmers in an effort to improve food security in Burkina Faso. Much of the country lies within the Sahel, a biogeographic zone that runs between the Sahara Desert to the north and the savannahs to the south. The region is often hit by drought, decreasing food security in the country. The FAO’s efforts are in response to a food crisis that has left millions of people at risk of hunger.
The FAO projects that the provision of seeds will improve food production for 860,000 rural households, or 6 million people. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
The European Union pledged €1 billion to aid countries facing food security threats and has partnered with the FAO to develop projects. Burkina Faso is one of 50 priority countries to receive aid, along with other sub-Saharan nations such as Zimbabwe and Mali. The FAO projects that the provision of seeds will improve food production for 860,000 rural households, or 6 million people. The agency is also supporting some 900 seed producers in irrigated areas of southern Burkina Faso to help them increase revenues while contributing to improving food security in the rest of the country.
Burkina Faso stands to have its agricultural productivity decline dramatically with the effects of climate change , particularly the reduction in rainfall in a region that is already drought-prone. While the efforts of the FAO and European Union may help to increase regional food security, there is also a broader need to attain the Millennium Development Goals, another UN endeavor that promises long-term fixes for the pressing issue of food security.
Daniel Kandy is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.
According to Jan Nijhoff, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) “was born” as a result of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—the list of broad targets that the United Nations hopes developing nations will achieve by 2015. Nijhoff, who coordinates a project between Michigan State University and countries in eastern and southern Africa to promote regional trade, says CAADP was a response by COMESA (the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) to develop a program to “solve” the problems outlined in the MDGs.
The initiative is focused especially on MDG #1, the goal of halving both the number of people who earn less than a dollar a day and the number of hungry people worldwide by 2015.
CAADP works on four main pillars or programs: extending the area under sustainable land management and reliable water control systems; improving rural infrastructure and trade-related capacities for market access; increasing food supply, reducing hunger, and improving responses to food emergency crises; and improving agriculture research and technology dissemination and adoption.
But achieving these goals (and MDG #1) will require increasing agricultural growth across Africa by 6 percent per year, according to CAADP. To do that, African governments will need to spend 10 percent of their annual budgets on agricultural development—up from only around 5 percent currently.
The “beauty of the CAADP approach,” Nijhoff says, “is that it holds governments accountable” through agreements, or compacts, that they develop with COMESA. These compacts, which outline extensive government actions, can help countries achieve greater agricultural growth while also protecting the environment. Essentially, Nijhoff says, they are “game plans” that specify where a country needs to spend its resources, where donors and the private sector can play a role, and what policies need to be in place before an investment can happen. They can include actions like building more roads to reduce transport costs for farmers and other businesses.
COMESA has also launched a regional compact initiative with FANRPAN (which I’ll be writing about in future blogs) and other partners to identify interventions that are already common among member states, as well as activities that can have a regional impact.
By focusing on national and regional economic development, and by showing donors where to spend their money, both COMESA and CAADP hope to increase food security, improve livelihoods, and achieve the MDGs for millions of people in eastern and southern Africa. And although skeptics of the program claim that it’s “donor pushed,” Nijhoff says it should be viewed as “African led” because agriculture and trade ministers are working in collaboration with CAADP to develop policies.