How do different crises impact on food security? What are the challenges which agricultural and food systems have to address – and what opportunities do they offer? Research seeks answers to these questions. At the World Food Day Colloquium 2020, held annually on the 16th October by the Food Security Centre of the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany, experts presented their perspectives, and discussed how food supply can also be secured in difficult times and the developments which are necessary in the food industry.
The 16th October is World Food Day, reminding people of the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 75 years ago. To mark this date, the German NGO Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide publish the World Food Index (see the corresponding report on the Rural 21 Website), also featured in a presentation at the World Food Day Colloquium (WFDC).
Bettina Iseli, Director of Welthungerhilfe, based in Berlin/Germany, focused on the dramatically worsening world food situation in all its facets and urged that food systems be redeveloped to ensure that they became fair, healthy and sustainable. In order to achieve this goal, programmes were required that above all included the remote rural areas.
Iseli noted that Welthungerhilfe had established new priorities in its development programmes, such as informing smallholder and family farms about nutritious food, promoting home gardens and hygiene in the family environment. Furthermore, Welthungerhilfe was supporting the process of democratisation in rural areas, Iseli explained.
Against the background of a world food situation that was worsening also because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Rico Ancog, of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Agriculture, Los Banos/Philippines, called for an acceleration of agricultural transformation. In Southeast Asia, agricultural production was worsening owing to a decline in the labour force, through mobility restrictions brought about by the pandemic, which had pushed many farms below the poverty line. The COVID-19 restrictions had also resulted in a disruption of food chains.
“What we need is the new farmer,’ said Ancog in his presentation. With this term, he is referring to agricultural transformation in accordance with business models enabling higher levels of productivity in agriculture. This transformation towards a modern agriculture had to be closely supported by innovations from science and the private sector. “We need an open collaborative partnership between academia, industry and government,” Ancog demanded at the Colloquium.
The deliberations of Dr Siboysio Moyo, from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, met with particular interest. To Moyo, livestock is an important element of food security and the global food chains. Livestock production, Moyo maintained, accounted for a significant share of GDP among African countries. In addition, livestock-derived food had an important nutrition status, in particular for young mothers and their children. Furthermore, world-wide demand for livestock products was on the increase and could represent an important source of income for farmers.
Addressing the negative environmental impacts of animal production, Moyo demanded that the framework conditions needed to be reoriented. This included improved pastoral systems no longer maintained at the expense of the forests, a greater focus on animal health and welfare, and enhanced breeding programmes not only for the wellbeing of animals but also to protect people against illnesses and the spread of pandemics, Moyo emphasised.
In the 21st century, animal husbandry without use of digital technologies was inconceivable, Moyo noted in her presentation. This applied not only to the Global North but also to the countries of the South, even in remote areas. Digital systems could make breeding programmes more efficient, improve linkages to regional and national markets, for example through digital price information systems, and thus enable better income opportunities also for smallholdings and shorten food chains.
Moyo drew attention to the One Health Triad Programme which ILRI was running in cooperation with the German Federal Government. The triad of this programme was: healthy people – healthy environment – healthy animals.
“We need a knowledge-based agriculture,” stated Professor Felipe Arauz, Dean of the University of Costa Rica’s School of Agrifood Science. Climate change and food were important influential factors for a major share of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). And agriculture was simultaneously a perpetrator and victim in this context.
If humankind were to study the linkages in the agro-food systems more thoroughly, it might succeed in reducing greenhouse gas levels in a manner enabling the extraction of beneficial nitrogen from “bad” nitrous oxide (N2O), which could then be used in fertilisers.
One further example of more environmentally friendly agriculture which the scientist referred to was precision farming. With appropriately practised fertilising, soil absorbability could be optimally exploited, enabling a considerable reduction of fertiliser doses.
In rice production, proper water management could significantly reduce levels of methane emission, Arauz explained in his presentation.
Professor Arauz’ conclusion is that in the future, too, agriculture will be able to provide people with sufficient amounts of food. Production has to become more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Arauz believes that science offers solutions, although he thinks that these now have to be implemented. And this in turn requires closer collaboration between science, industry, the farmer and politics.
Angelika Wilcke, Rural 21, Frankfurt/Main, Germany