With 29 countries facing severe food shortages and the global population expected to increase over the next 40 years, experts have set a timeline to not only secure the world’s food supply, but also to end hunger.
Limited resources, malnutrition and the toll of agriculture on the environment will continue to threaten the chances of reaching that goal.
“We want to produce more food, but there is less water, [and] we are facing climate change, which makes it much more difficult,” Carlos Sere, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute, said on Monday at the University of Minnesota.
Leaders from two other internationally recognized agricultural research centers joined Sere to address the problems and solutions surrounding world hunger.
Shenggen Fan and Ruben Echeverria each lead organizations that are a part of a 15-member network called the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.
The experts spoke of the outlook of world hunger over the next 40 years, and the possibility of ending world hunger by 2050.
“[The year] 2050 is when we will see the world’s population plateau, and it will change the game,” Sere said. That means that by 2050, the world will have an additional 2 billion to 3 billion people to feed, which Sere called the “hunger challenge.”
This year, 29 countries have exhibited alarming levels of hunger. Fan, the director general for the International Food Policy Research Institute, said Africa has the biggest problem. Some Asian countries also been affected by serious food issues.
Over the next 40 years, food production will have to increase by 70 percent in order to meet the world’s demand, he said.
Ending world hunger is not something that the private sector or the public sector can do alone, Echeverria, director general of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, said. “This is a good time to really work together seriously.”
This is not the first time leaders have come together to try and solve the problem. In 1990, leaders of several international organizations set a common goal to cut hunger in half, “but instead of cutting hunger in half since 1990, hunger has increased,” Fan said.
Paying more attention to smallholder farms or small-scale farming operations in developing countries could help.
“Smallholder livestock systems are and will continue to be a mainstream of food systems,” Sere said. “There [are] lots of hype around large-scale commercial productions, but the reality is [smallholders] are highly competitive … the question is, ‘How do we link up with smallholders and make them more productive?’”
Experts agreed a good place to start is to carefully consider small farming areas in developing countries, start investing in them and find a way to do so in a timely manner.
“We can’t do it one farmer by one farmer,” Sere said.
Changing policy around food production is another factor that must be changed in order to end hunger by 2050, Fan said.
“We need a smarter, more innovative approach … which means investing in two core pillars: agricultural and social protection,”
Fan also said he wants to “bring new players to the game,” including emerging economies such as China and India. He said they need to be fully integrated in global food security agendas and help developing countries, he said.
But, Fan said, there’s a lack of involvement from those who are hungry.
“We need to involve poor people in the reform process,” he said. “We should be supportive of the researchers in those countries and really try to promote a country-driven process.”
In the area of policy research there is much more to be done, Echeverria said. All three of the experts agreed that research for the science and technology of agriculture cannot be left behind. Investing in agricultural research is ethically correct, Echeverria said.
“It’s also politically correct — food security reduces political conflicts — and economically correct because it produces high economic returns,” he said.
Echeverria said he believes one of the most important things to be done in the fight against world hunger is to greatly increase advocacy.
“We have to do it, we have to have much more advocacy,” he said. “I’m not saying go out and burn cars and throw rocks, but much more is needed.”
In the end, all three experts agree that of all the things that need to be accomplished, the most important may be improving smallholder farms. “Smallholders [are] the key,” Fan said.
“I’m an optimist,” Echeverria said, “I think we [can achieve global food security] in 40 years … we have the tools to do it.”
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