As of now, the world produces sufficient food to feed everyone (17 per cent more calories per person today than it did 40 years ago, despite a 70 per cent population increase) which is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day, according to recent estimates.
But the world is not making progress toward meeting the goal of "Better Food for More People" as set by the 2018 World Food Summit. However, there has been progress in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean as well as Africa (even farmers across Malawi, struggling to harvest sufficient staple crops of maize and rice in changing weather conditions, are turning to crops they had never previously considered for food -- crop diversification gives farmers something to harvest even under the harshest conditions).
Though recurrent drought and volatile food prices have led to countries in Africa and the Near East in a hunger trap, there is definitely a way out. Prospect is there. Even in Africa yields can be dramatically increased provided farmers have access to improved technologies and markets. Exploiting this potential on a large scale would require a quantum increase in public investment in agricultural research and rural infrastructure, and definitely supportive policies for agriculture, inclusive of partnering with private firms to strengthen input-supply systems and food grain markets. This, in turn, would generate many productive jobs in agriculture, while at the same time aiding poverty reduction.
What is more, by securing family food supplies through higher yields, farmers will be able to free up land and labour for more profitable ventures, increase local demand for higher-value foods and non-farm goods and services, create additional productive employment, cater growing domestic demand for industries.
Former FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, while rightly calling upon the international community to work closely with dry land countries to break the cycle of hunger, admitted "…..We are losing the battle against hunger in Africa and the Near East …the number of hungry people in the regions has increased by 83 million to 275 million since the early 1990s. Natural resources degradation in dry land countries threatens more than two billion people."
Newer avenues must be located so that the growth and development wheels should move simultaneously and the existing gaps could be bridged. Example is not far to seek: in Bhutan about 65 per cent of population is rural and thus depend on the RNR (Renewable Natural Resources) sector for their livelihoods. Though a trend of positive growth in fruit and vegetable crops has been there, both high values, yet a decline in staple crops like cereals has been noticed. As of now, around 50 per cent of rice consumed in the country is imported. There's no option because there's not sufficient land and soil fertility needed cannot go beyond certain levels. As a result, the country will have to continue to import food in order to fulfill the food requirements of the population. Bhutan must work more on exploring its comparative advantages, including off-season, high value fruits and vegetables, to diversify and improve rural income. Investment flow to these newer directions is a must so that the overall growth is ensured over time.
Then, why not to attach more importance to the cooperative sector? Cooperatives help generate employment, boost national economies and reduce poverty, which, in turn, helps to improve food security. Cooperative units have been particularly important for farmers in the developing world - agricultural cooperatives provide small-scale food producers with what may be their best chance to help small and medium-scale farmers and fishermen add value to their production and gain access to wider markets.
It is good to note that FAO has been taking active interest on this score. FAO emphasises on fostering the growth of agricultural cooperatives around the world. It is developing approaches, guidelines, methodologies and training tools on organisational development and policy of agricultural cooperatives.
According to José Graziano da Silva, "Cooperatives follow core values and principles that are critical to doing business in an equitable manner, that seeks to empower and benefits its members and the community it is inserted in…..This is especially relevant in poor rural communities, where joining forces is central to promoting sustainable local development".
But there is the warning bell from the World Bank, "All nations will suffer the effects of a warmer world, but it is the world's poorest countries that will be hit hardest by food shortages, rising sea levels, cyclones and drought." It is definitely good to note that the global development lender has since launched a more aggressive stance to integrate climate change into development: "We will never end poverty if we don't tackle climate change. It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today."
The WB report (Turn Down the Heat) highlighted the devastating impact of a world hotter by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century -- a likely scenario under current policies. In this hotter climate, the level of the sea would rise by up to 3 feet, flooding cities in countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh. Water scarcity and falling crop yields would exacerbate hunger and poverty. This is likely to happen if all countries do not comply with pledges they have made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even assuming full compliance, the world will warm by more than 3 degrees by 2100.
Appropriate action is required urgently, specifically in three areas to feed into future policies, strategies and investments to boost agricultural production to enhance food security and increase resilience to future prices shocks. Priority is to be assigned to: supporting sustainable management of land and water resources; scaling up the sustainable intensification of agriculture and adapting production to climate change; building resilience in rural communities and strengthen global food security governance.
Dr B K Mukhopadhyay is a management economist and international commentator on ongoing business and economic affairs. [email protected]