'Millennium Goal' to End World Hunger Will Not Be Met


Currently, the developing world (what used to be called “The Third World”) is experiencing the effects of higher commodity prices and declining agricultural production. Chronic undernourishment now affects an estimated one billion people, most of whom reside in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

At current population trends, another 2.3 billion will be added to the world’s population by 2050. According to the findings of the World Summit on Food Security (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN), in order to feed this additional 2+ billion people, developing countries will need to increase their cereal crop output by 70%, nearly doubling current output.

One of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals–to dramatically reduce world hunger by 2015–will most likely not be met, given these current trends.

The UN’s Millennium Development Goal of ending global under-nourishment by 2015 will not be met, but a new set of “mega” initiatives are being implemented to achieve more efficient delivery of “research outputs” to speed agricultural development.

This Millennium Development Goal failure is predicted in a recent Science Magazine editorial by Uma Lele, former a senior adviser to the World Bank, and author of Transforming Agricultural Research for Development. The book was prepared for the first Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD), which was held in Montpellier, France this past April.

GCARD’s goal is to initiate far-ranging changes in global agricultural research and practices, building on the recommendations and reforms proposed by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). That group’s ‘Mega Programs’ business paradigm seeks to address the food security issue in a more efficient, results-oriented manner. Getting ordinary people–farmers in particular–to adopt more sustainable land management practices, and plant new varieties of crops, is a key component to these programs.

According to Lele, the new GCARD programs “will deliver research outputs to achieve scaled-up impacts on poverty…”

Most of the “food insecure” live in sub-Saharan Africa and face additional challenges due to more prevalent pests and diseases, nutrient-poor soil and regular droughts. This region is also woefully short of scientists to manage and conduct agricultural research. Added to this is a a shortage of rural roads, with less than half the amount in the whole of Latin America, and “1/4oth of the capital and 1/50th of the electricity supply per worker”.

According to Lele, “agricultural development requires a combination of enabling policies, secure land rights; and farmer’s access to knowledge, technologies, and markets.” One such crucial “technology” is new (hybridized or genetically engineered) crop varieties that can withstand drought conditions and poorer soils.

This access to new crops could be facilitated through an international, free seed exchange with seed banks in Western nations, many of which have utilized native African “landraces” (indigenous varieties) in the past to save various crop harvests from parasite and/or fungal infestations that are more endemic to the US and Europe (see my earlier article: Global Wheat Crop Threatened by Fungus – African Seeds May Offer Hope).

Above all, CGIAR hopes that its new focus and priorities will bring in partner countries.  A special fund has been set up to facilitate this ambitious program and to support CGIAR’s fifteen research centers. The G8 countries have already pledged 20 billion.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, food security “exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Food insecurity, according to Dr. Melaku Ayalew*, refers to a vulnerability to famine and hunger, and may be chronic or transitory. Chronic hunger is similar to undernourishment and is most often a function of poverty, and commonly found in poor countries.

Although, global per capita food production steadily increased during the period 1961-2005, in 2007, this trend stalled, and is now falling slightly. Explanations for this include: peak world oil prices, increased bio-fuel production (often utilizing food grains), peak water resource usage, population growth, import restrictions, currency depreciation and climate change.

According to the FAO, in addition to the 1 billion undernourished, there are another 2.3 billion that are “intermittently food insecure.”

For more information, see: Proceedings of the Expert Meeting on How to Feed the World

* Independent Consultant, Disaster Management and Food Security. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

photo: USDA – barley fields; barley is one of the most common animal feed stocks in the world.

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