News / Africa

G20 Experts to Meet on Food Security Solutions

A young boy walks away with his food from a government-sponsored feeding center in central Turkana, Kenya, August 30, 2011
A young boy walks away with his food from a government-sponsored feeding center in central Turkana, Kenya, August 30, 2011
Joe DeCapua

Agricultural experts from the G20 countries will meet next week to find ways to match the latest research and technology to the growing demand for more food. It’s estimated the world’s population will grow to nine billion by 2050.

The meeting in Montpellier, France, stems from last November’s G20 summit in Seoul, South Korea. During that conference, France, Japan, Canada and Brazil were asked to focus more on food security.

For guidance, they called on U.N. agencies, the World Bank, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, known as CGIAR, and the Global Forum on Agricultural Research, or GFAR.

“It’s increasing the cooperation and coordination amongst the G20 and their agricultural research systems and how those are mobilized better into working directly in support of developing country needs,” said Mark Holderness, executive secretary of GFAR.

That coordination and cooperation includes looking at long-term solutions and not just immediate crises, like the drought in the Horn of Africa.

“In two days we’re not going to change the world,” he said, “But I think what we can do is start to look at some innovative ways to work together to really recognize the new architecture that’s out there and the relationships between countries, the capabilities of countries. Start to tap Brazil, China, India. They all have huge capabilities in their own right and they’re just beginning to reach out and mobilize those for other countries.”

Fresh look

Holderness said the goal is to turn the current food production and security system on its head – and take a fresh look at the role of research.

“Fundamentally, who are its clients? Its clients are the farmers. The products of research should be serving the needs, in particular, of the poor farmers. Helping to lift them from poverty, to sustain their productive environments, to enable food security needs to be met, while also ensuring rural development,” he said.

Too often, he said, advances in research take priority over actually using those advances to help farmers. “We’re trying to bring back that connectedness between society and research, to put it crudely.”

BRIC

Brazil, Russia, India and China make up what are called the BRIC countries – an acronym made of the first letters of their names. Their strong, emerging economies are expected to play a major role in meeting food security needs. Holderness said China’s agricultural production underpins its industrial revolution.

“China has put a massive increase in investment in their research and development in agriculture. And at the same time, their farming population has changed radically as young men, in particular, go to the cities to work in the factories and the industrial advance. The countryside is increasingly becoming an area where the farmers are now the women, the older people. And that in itself carries implications for ability to take up new opportunities or to make incomes from that,” he said.

In sub-Saharan Africa, women are also the backbone of the agricultural sector.

BRIC countries are also expected to become major providers of fundamental agricultural research, joining the U.S., Europe and Japan. Holderness says that knowledge becomes crucial with the world population expected to reach nine billion in less than 40 years.

That in itself carries huge implications for increased food production in particular from developing countries. Research doesn’t happen overnight. New knowledge doesn’t just happen. It’s an iterative process of learning, building on previous knowledge and so on. And if we don’t start asking the questions now about what kind of agriculture we’re going to need then to feed that population, to ensure that farmers have a viable livelihood, to ensure that environments are still able to produce that much, then frankly we’re letting not just ourselves down as researchers, but we’re letting the world down,” he said.

Time to act

In recent years, G8 and G20 nations have called for greater investment in smallholder farmers and herders in Africa and Asia. Both groups were hit hard by recent food crises triggered in part by higher fuel and commodity prices, biofuel production and climate change.

The executive secretary of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research says the G20 meeting must produce action and not more words about what needs to be done.

“Let’s start putting something on the table,” Holderness said, “What are we going to commit to make happen? Even if it’s small-scale to start with, what can we see that we need to do and that we need to build these processes towards?”

G20 agricultural experts will meet September 12 and 13.

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