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The Path to Global Food Security

Esther Ngumbi is an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana. She is a Senior Food Security Fellow with the Aspen Institute.

URBANA, Illinois, Oct 27 2020 (IPS) - This year, the Nobel Peace Prize recognised the inextricable link between hunger and conflict. With climate change as a further complicating factor, research, investment, and coordination with local farmers are critical for ensuring food security for all.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for “its efforts to combat hunger” and “bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas.” In a world with over 850 million people who are hungry, a number that has increased because of COVID-19, recognising and awarding a Nobel Prize to an organisation that toils at the frontline of the fight to end hunger is timely.

There are many reasons to celebrate this recognition. First, it brings visibility to the hunger and food insecurity issue. Secondly, it reminds us all that without food security, there is no peace.

For me, a food security activist, a scientist, and a founder of an agricultural start up that is working to ensure small holder farmers on the Kenyan coast achieve food security, the awarding of 2020 Nobel Peace Prize to WFP reignited my drive to continue doing my part to help solve hunger and food insecurity once and for all.

This year alone, I have helped organise over three small holder farmer trainings to share information about climate-smart agricultural technologies that are well adapted to the Kenyan coast. Our farm also serves as a demonstration garden, showcasing different farming techniques.

As a researcher, I continue to work on understanding how plants respond to multiple threats including flooding, drought, and insect attack, and whether beneficial soil microbes can help plants thrive under these climate-linked stress factors.

But as we celebrate, I still wonder if we can achieve food security for all, which means that all people, at all times, have access to enough food). If so, I wonder what we must do to make it happen.

To begin with, we would need to continue to ensure that we have accurate data of the problem. The WFP must be commended for its effort to keep the entire world updated on the status of food insecurity through reports like the annual State of Food report and World Hunger Maps. This must continue.

Complementing that knowledge is the need to know the root causes of hunger and food insecurity. According to UN, climate change, human-made conflict, economic downturns, and more recently, coronavirus are some of the root causes of food insecurity.

Climate-linked causes, particularly, are worth paying attention to. The farmers of many African countries continue to rely on rain-fed agriculture. Because of the changing climate, rainfall has decreased, become erratic, and undependable.

Consequently, farmers are unable to make adequate decisions about the right time to plant, which crops to plant, and how to time, inputs. And even when crops do grow, rains end up failing, leading to low crop yields or no harvests at all. As a result, many farmers are unable meet food security needs.

In addition, many of farmers are farming on nutrient-depleted soils. Degraded soils and dependence on rain-fed agriculture, coupled with planting the wrong crop varieties, are some of the fundamental problems that lead to poor harvests and then to hunger.

Knowing what causes hunger paves the way for governments, NGO’s, universities, research institutions, and private partners to continue implementing initiatives to meet food security targets. Because hunger and food insecurity are a complex issue, multiple solutions must continue to be rolled out. Both short- and long-term solutions are critical now and in the long run.

Short-term solutions must begin with investments to ensure that farmers have access to water and other climate-smart tools and technologies such as drought- and flood-tolerant crop varieties and drip irrigation technologies.

Complementing short-term solutions is a need for demonstration centers where farmers can learn how to use new climate-smart technologies by seeing them at work. These demonstration farms can also serve as research venues to test new methods alongside traditional ones.

This goes a long way in taking risks away from farmers that cannot afford the risk of trying new crop varieties, methods, or technologies.

Importantly, hunger and food insecurity can only be solved if countries where hunger is prevalent take action and prepare concrete plans and strategic documents outlining how they will achieve food security for all, both in the short and long term.

As such, they should come up with detailed, well-thought-out preparedness measures and national contingency plans of action.

At the same time as they invest in food security programs, they must invest in vulnerable groups, including women and children. Women are particularly important, as they produce over 90 percent of food in African countries.

Yet, despite their essential roles in achieving food security, women continue to face many barriers, including having less access to land, agricultural markets, recent innovations in farming technologies, agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilisers, credit, and training. It is important that they are equipped with the resources they need to continue being on the frontline as food producers.

Long-term solutions must entail improving infrastructure such as electricity, refrigerated transportation, and roads that connect rural areas to urban markets. When rural communities are connected with urban cities, farmers are able to access markets, sell their products, and generate income.

At the same time, there is need to improve agricultural research. In the end, all the challenges presented by climate change, challenges that continue to make achieving food security for all a difficult task, can be solved through research.

For example, efforts to address soil degradation can benefit from research on African soils, including researching the soil microbes that are prevalent in African soils. Armed with research-based evidence, scientists can begin to develop biologically based products that can be used to improve soil and plant health, and ultimately improve yields.

Achieving food security for all is the most pressing and urgent issue of our time. The 2020 Nobel Prize win by the UN WFP should be a wakeup call to all humanity, and should reignite the spark for all stakeholders that care about eradicating hunger. Time is of the essence.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.
Source: Australian Institute of International Affairs


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