By Chelsea Diana
LONDON (AlertNet) - To combat the daily reality of hunger, the world must create a “virtuous circle” where rural farmers produce a better yield as an engine not only to boost rural economic growth, but to improve economic growth worldwide, said Sir Gordon Conway during a webcasted discussion with UN food agencies in Rome.
“Agriculture and food security are important not just to the rural economy but to the world economy as a whole,” said the international development expert at Imperial College London during the two-day discussion with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Conway’s recent book, “One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world?” looks at expected increases in hunger in coming decades and addresses the inter-related issues – climate change, food price spikes and a growing population – the world must overcome to maintain the global food supply and prevent a 2050 food crisis as the world’s population grows from 7 billion to an expected 9 billion.
But “the big problem is not population increase,” Conway said during the discussion.
Instead, it is trying to meet growing demand for Western-style diets – including everything from meat to bags of chips - in places like China and India as per capital income rises.
Climate change poses the second most severe hunger risk, as shifting rainfall, rising temperatures and growing drought hurt harvests around the world.
“We’re getting more extreme climate events coming along like London buses, coming not in ones but twos and threes, all at the same time,” Conway said.
To deal with the threat of growing hunger, Conway said, countries must try to create productive, stable, resilient and equitable agriculture through agricultural development efforts – the best way to achieve economic growth in developing countries as well, he said.
Conway and representatives from the FAO, WFP and IFAD said they were optimistic that agricultural reform could make a difference.
“I believe small farmers can transform the world because they are doing it. I believe it because I have seen it,” said Kanayo F. Nwanze, the president of IFAD, during the seminar.
For instance, smallholder farmers in Kenya, where agriculture employs 75 percent of the population, are using a mobile app called iCow to boost production from their livestock.
iCow was created by and marketed for women farmers to, among other features, help keep track of their animals’ gestation periods, as well as milk and breeding records and veterinary advice. The creator of the app, Su Kahumbu Stephanou, hoped the information would help lead to more sustainable productivity and incomes.
“Taking these kinds of programs and expanding them to include the tools farmers need access to is a big step toward innovation, “said Ertharin Cousin, the executive director of WFP.
Innovation is one of four routes toward reducing world hunger that Conway outlined in his book. Others focus on markets, people and politics. To form a “virtuous circle,” all four must work together, Conway said.
About two to three million billion people rely on crops from smallholders. To boost rural and worldwide economic growth, markets for smallholders must be broadened, he said, and infrastructure improved to help farmers better access fertilizer and get their crops to market.
Political leadership is important to all the needed changes, he said.
Chelsea Diana is an AlertNet Climate intern.