Thursday, 16 October 2014

Family farming feeding the world: World Food Day 2014

Today is World Food Day. While we acknowledge the number of people worldwide who go hungry everyday, we should not lose sight of the fact that the only acceptable number of hungry people is zero.

Food is one of humankind’s most fundamental needs — and is a basic human right.  Yet in spite of its importance, a staggering one in nine people worldwide go to bed every night hungry and chronically undernourished. The costs of hunger and undernourishment fall heavily on the most vulnerable.
  • 60% of the hungry in the world are women 
  • Almost 5 million children under the age of 5 die of malnutrition-related causes every year 
  • 4 in 10 children in poor countries are malnourished damaging their bodies and brains
It is possible to end hunger in our lifetime. The world produces enough food to feed every person on the planet. New figures from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) recently released 2014 State of Food Insecurity in the World indicate that global hunger is reducing – down by more than 100 million people over the last decade.

We are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.

Small oily fish, such as these herrings from Lombok, Indonesia, are nutritionally important as they contain highly unsaturated fatty acids and other micronutrients. Photo: Paul Jones
We congratulate the 2014 World Food Prize Laureate, the eminent plant scientist Dr Sanjaya Rajaram. He is being honoured for his scientific research that led to a prodigious increase in world wheat production – by more than 200 million tons – building upon the successes of the Green Revolution.

This year’s World Food Day’s theme is Family Farming: Feeding the world, caring for the earth. There are 570 million farms globally, of which 85% are family owned and have the huge responsibility of producing half the world’s agricultural production.

Family farming has a crucial role to play in eradicating hunger and poverty through providing food and nutrition security. Family farms also contribute to improving livelihoods, sustainably managing natural resources, and stimulating economic development through interacting with a range of input, market and processing activities that rely on agriculture, especially in rural areas.

The FACASI project is introducing two-wheel tractors to reduce drudgery (particularly for women) and help farmers sustainably intensify their farms in eastern and southern Africa. Photo: Frédéric Baudron/CIMMYT
While we focus on farming families, we should not lose sight of the fact that globally, women farmers provide 43% of agricultural labour, with percentages as high as 60% in some African countries and 70% in South Asia. They are on the front lines of ensuring food security for their families. Yet women farmers are greatly disadvantaged in this role. Key constraints faced by women farmers are insecure rights to land, poor access to inputs such as water, seeds, fertilizer, machinery and credit, and lack of access to extension services.

Empowering women farmers will generate significant food security gains. If women had the same access to resources as men, they could significantly increase yields on their farms and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by up to 150 million.

Today, on World Food Day, the Alliance for Agricultural R&D for Food Security announced its first project. It aims to ensure that new crop varieties better meet the needs of African smallholders and their customers. The official launch took place at the World Food Prize event in Iowa, USA.

The initiative brings together the Australian International Food Security Research Centre (AIFSRC) in the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) and the Crawford Fund.

Speaking in connection with the launch, SFSA Director Dr Marco Ferroni emphasised: “Progressing research and breeding results through to millions of smallholder farmers is essential. Today, plant science often fails to create impact at scale. However, solutions are within reach, and the private sector plays a central role.”

ACIAR is focused on agricultural research to support family farmers, particularly women, around the world. ACIAR works across the whole value chain with research focused on developing better crop varieties (such as Seeds of Life in East Timor), sustainable intensification of agriculture and strengthening market opportunities.
Thanks to Seeds of Life, farmers in Timor-Leste have access to new varieties of staple crops such as maize. Photo: Sarah Vandermark/ACIAR

In Laos partnerships have helped build vegetable research and extension capacity through activities such as farmer training and support for government extension services.

Women buying and selling vegetables at a market place in Laos. Photo: Tony Bartlett/ACIAR

So on this World Food Day, let us celebrate the critical work done by family farmers, both men and women, in feeding the world. Let us also celebrate and be inspired by the current and past World Food Prize Laureates – and strive to improve the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. And let us not lose sight of achieving zero hunger in our lifetime.

By Mellissa Wood and Bronnie Anderson-Smith, Australian International Food Security Centre, ACIAR

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