When I was studying agricultural science in the University of Melbourne in the early 1970s we all held the belief that we were well on the way to achieving a food secure world. What became commonly known as the Green Revolution was happening around us, international agricultural R&D aid was expanding to support developing countries and a strong “post-agricultural” mind-set was emerging as the mantra for economic decision-making in developed countries. On this latter point, there was strong support emerging for the contention that agriculture was a “sunset” industry. Food security all but disappeared from the public eye.
But the need to continue to achieve food security didn’t really go away – it merely fell off the radar. Undoubtedly, it is back now as a pressing global issue – the radar screen is full of reports, academic papers, publications, and social media and press activities. There is a lot of “noise” in a cluttered space making it difficult for most people to comprehend, and leaving the topic ripe for over-simplifications. Thus, much of the comment getting into the public domain has an element of “this is THE solution”. And it would be nice to have a magic bullet to solve world hunger, malnutrition and feed a future population of 9 billion.
Food security, however, is a complex problem and “there are no magic bullets”(i).
In his recent book, One Billion Hungry, Gordon Conway provides a compelling and accessible analysis of the acute and chronic crises at the heart of the food security problem. He presents an optimistic, but cautious, view that the world can feed 9 billion people. It is a book deserving of a wide readership and an even wider public discussion.
In the final chapter, Conway lists 24 qualifications to his contention that, yes, we can feed the world. I list these below...and urge you to read the book to gain a fuller understanding of the complex challenge we face across the world.
We can feed the world if:
- We recognise food security affects us all and the time to act is now
- We acknowledge the challenges we face are unprecedented and require concerted action
- The world’s leading donors of aid implement their commitments to food security
- The Doha Round is completed with satisfactory outcomes for developing countries
- There is explicit attention to the creation of enabling environments
- The appropriate governance for food security and agricultural development is in place
- Fair, efficient output and input markets are created on a countrywide basis
- Greater attention is paid to gaining increased value for farmers through producer associations and widespread availability of micro-insurance and microcredit
- We acknowledge the key role of agriculture in development
- We recognize the need for a new doubly green revolution
- There is explicit recognition of the critical role of smallholder agriculture
- More attention is paid to agroecological research and development
- There is a major focus on getting poor rural people out of poverty
- Technologies for agricultural development are developed and applied, providing they are locally appropriate, whatever the source
- We accept that biotechnology is an essential tool in attaining food security
- There is more funding for improving mixed livestock systems
- We recognise the role of farmers as innovators
- There is increased support for integrated pest management systems
- There is widespread adoption, in appropriate environment, of systems of conservation farming.
- We focus our investments on small-scale water harvesting and community water
- There is significant investment in agricultural adaption to climate change
- There is urgent attention to financing the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture
- We invest in scaling up as a route to rapid success
- We recognize that public-private-community partnerships are crucial to successful scale-up.
There are no magic bullets…. (p 347)
i. Gordon Conway with Katy Wilson (2012) One Billion Hungry : Can we feed the world? Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press; Itacha and London. ISBN 978-0-8014-7082-4 (pbk)