Conway book urges united global action plan to end hunger

October 10, 2012

Global food security can be achieved for almost 1 billion chronically undernourished people by promoting strong political leadership, technological innovation, investment in smallholder farmers and efficient markets, according to a new book.

In “One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?”, author Gordon Conway, a professor of international development and director of advocacy group Agriculture for Impact at Imperial College London, emphasises the importance of reducing hunger and poverty by increasing food production within an environmentally sustainable framework, which  recognises climate change as a serious hindrance to future food security.

“Food price spikes, malnutrition and population growth, high costs of fertilizers and oil, degradation of land and water, and most importantly climate change must all be addressed,” Conway said at the launch of the book in London on Tuesday, where he said that policymakers need to tackle more than 20 issues to help solve the hunger problem.

“We know what’s going to happen more or less,” he said.

“Growing seasons are going to shorten in much of Africa, rising temperatures are going to decrease yields, and in addition to that we are going to get more intense and frequent extreme events,” Conway added, citing the impact of drought in Africa, North America and Russia over the past few years.

A key part of Conway’s proposal for achieving food security includes improving maternal and child nutrition in developing countries where 98 percent of the world’s hungry live. Smallholder farmers make up 70 percent of people who are chronically hungry, 43 percent of all farmers worldwide are women, and 38 percent of working youth in Africa are employed in agriculture.

The global population is projected to grow from 7 billion to more than 9 billion by 2050, so the problem becomes how to produce bigger crop yields on less land with less water, pesticides and fertiliser, while using processes that emit fewer greenhouse gases, Conway said. “If you put all those things together the challenge is enormous.”

Food production must be increased by 70 to 100 percent, he said.

HUNGER STATISTICS REVISED

New figures on hunger published this week in the latest assessment of global food insecurity by U.N. food agencies do not alter the magnitude of the problem because the numbers reflect a sedentary lifestyle, not the active lifestyle of a smallholder farmer, Conway said.

“If you talk about a lifestyle which is active, there are about 1.25 billion,” Conway told AlertNet.

The new figures from the FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), based on a revised calculation method and more up-to-date data, are lower than the last estimates for recent years that pegged the number of hungry people at 925 million in 2010 and 1.02 billion in 2009.

They show that in 2010-2012, 868 million people, or about 12.5 percent of the world’s population, were hungry.“The real problem is we don’t have enough real figures that come from household surveys,” Conway said.

“FAO has begun to do that, but what we desperately need are sentinel sites, specific sites, all around Africa and all around Asia, where you can track individual households over time and then you can be really sure that you’re getting a good picture of what’s happening. Until we get that, we rely a great deal on statistical extrapolation.”

The new report indicates that there are still one in eight people suffering from chronic undernourishment, Greg Barrow, WFP’s spokesman for the UK and Ireland, told AlertNet at the event, adding that 852 million of the chronically malnourished are living in the developing world.

“The clear message is that it’s not a moment for us to draw a breath and breathe a sigh of relief,” Barrow said. “It’s a message that the world really needs to remain committed to the task of fighting on the front lines of hunger.”

SUSTAINABLE TARGETS

“We also heard a message from those who compiled this report that over the past two decades there has been a downwards trend and there’s a possibility – just – that we can still reach that Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of hungry people around the world as we are counting down over the last couple of years,” said Barrow.

The crucial ingredient emphasised by many of the speakers at the book launch is the political will of both donor governments and the governments of the smallholder farmers’ countries, he said.

It is widely expected that the eight global U.N. anti-poverty MDGs will be replaced by Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.

“I think you can only really start talking about MDG1 for individual countries – the world as a whole is much more difficult because it’s biased by the figures from China – China dominates that statistic because of its sheer size,” Conway said.

In individual countries like Ghana, “we’ve got really good statistics, to see not just the decline in child malnutrition, you can see increases in rural incomes, you can see agricultural growth, so there’s a whole range of statistics Ghana’s got, which underline its real success, and I think the new MDGs ought to be reflecting that.”

Picture Credit: A boy waits for food during a food distribution from an international non-governmental organization  in Mogadishu June 30, 2012. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

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