Our Primary Challenge: Defeat Hunger and Achieve Food Security For All (2)

As quoted in the previous part of this article, the fight against hunger is deeply related to other development targets (empowerment of women, child protection, economic growth etc.).

If we talk about protecting farmers and enhancing their productivity, the CGIAR research program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security gives us interesting insights on how to better this primary sector (the main source of income in all developing countries yet), stressing that – with proper planning and risk management policies – farmers can thrive in a world of shifting climates. For instance, experts say that Kenya has to expand its own adaptation plans, putting in place policies that will leave the country better prepared for any of the scenarios (or “climate models”) predicted by scientists, each revealing different outcomes for food production between now and 2050.  So, again, the focus is on national ownership of policies and public planning for development.

A different (and influential) voice is that of iDE’s Paul Polak, who argues that, when it comes to ending hunger, it is wrong to focus solely on food production (and all the variables involved in it): “The root cause of food insecurity is extreme poverty, not just shortfalls in food production.  When very poor people find ways to grow their income, they buy the food they need and the market finds ways to bring it to them more efficiently than disaster relief or food distribution programs. The most direct way to end food insecurity is to help very poor rural people increase their income from farming”. Thus, market-oriented capacity-building programs are the best means to reach the goal we aim at. This entails adopting a whole new approach to small farm agriculture, new research to optimize it, and a last-mile private sector mass dissemination and training initiative”. The same vision is well eviscerated in “Out of Poverty”, where Polak points out that -first of all – it’s feasible to make a lot of money from a very small farm (which is the dominant form of agricultural setting throughout the developing world) if farmers learn to grow valuable crops, find a market where they can sell them at a profit, have a good source of affordable plants and fertilizer, and if the crops don’t get wiped out by diseases and pests.

Eight hundred million of the people who earn less than a dollar a day scratch most of what they earn out of one-acre farms that are divided into four or five scattered quarter-acre plots. Creating new wealth on one-acre farms depends on opening access to new forms of irrigation, agriculture, markets, and design. Polak also points to the degree to which the various dimensions of poverty (as conceptualized by Amartya Sen) are all eventually linked to the economic side of it: “Bahadur and his family’s fondest dream was to find some way they could earn much more income from their small farm. With more income, they could buy the food they needed. They could give their children a better education. They could buy medicines, buy more land, and perhaps invest in a cow and a buffalo and start selling milk”.

What’s the fastest way to start this virtuous circle? The unique competitive advantage of small-acreage farmers in the marketplace is that at five to ten cents an hour, they have the lowest labor rates in the world.  So the farmers have to grow diversified, labor-intensive, high-value cash-crops.

Still, international cooperation on several fronts is essential to achieve large-scale results. One example is the kind of assistance that can be provided through the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and its Benefit-Sharing Fund’s projects, to ensure sustainable food security by assisting farmers to adapt to climate change through a series of high impact activities on the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. These include securing local seed systems and facilitating sharing of information on seed development. Farmers are involved in the collection, characterization, evaluation and development of new varieties in crops like rice, maize, potato, wheat and barley, as well as in the compilation of information on existing crop diversity. These activities are also consistent with national strategies and priorities. Great emphasis is also put on a wide array of capacity-building initiatives to keep farmers ahead of the climate change curve, working now to face future challenges by helping them produce seeds that will be adapted to the changing environmental conditions and challenges of the future.

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