Paths to Food Security

Global Food Security Symposium 2019 addresses the challenges and strategies to achieving global food security

Global population growth, increased water scarcity, stressed food systems, competition over resources—the consequences of inefficient land and water use are already manifesting, and we must act now to correct our course. As a global community, resource efficiency can satisfy the demand for water and food for years to come, even with the projected growth of our population, but this is only possible if we coordinate effectively. This was the sobering theme at this year’s Global Food Security Symposium 2019 hosted by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The event brought together experts and stakeholders to review promising strategies for achieving global food security. Issues related to water scarcity, private-sector engagement, and the role of smallholder farmers emerged as the dominate themes. A pervasive tension around the urgency for immediate action could be felt—the stakes could not be any higher. Global water scarcity, for example, must be addressed. It goes without saying that clean water is our lifeblood. We are running out of it. This is the thrust of the new report released by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, From Scarcity to Security: Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future.

It goes without saying that clean water is our lifeblood.
We are running out of it.

The report features water scarcity and its impact on global food security. By 2050, the population is expected to increase to 9.8 billion, with 86 percent living in low-income regions and 70 percent in rapidly growing urban areas. Expanding access to irrigation can increase both agricultural productivity and climate resilience. With the potential for severe economic, political, and humanitarian consequences, water management is an issue that demands immediate action.

In light of these challenges, the Symposium’s voices continued to stress the inherent responsibility of the private sector. There is a powerful business case for private sector involvement to transform food and water systems. In particular, this includes the introduction of new technology and the creation of widespread irrigation systems through public-private partnerships.

Roy Steiner, Managing Director at The Rockefeller Foundation called for private sector engagement driven by regional needs and systems change. “I think there’s a real dearth of vision. People are surrounded by dark feelings that things are going wrong and we need to start thinking about what it could look like if we made the right decisions… but we’re all quite narrow and we need to start thinking in terms of systems,” he said.

In collaboration with business, communities must take ownership of their development. Over and over, experts expressed the need for smallholder farmers to be equipped and empowered for the greater good. Interventions that provide training, mentoring, and community ownership are viewed as the clearest path to help smallholder farmers increase productivity.

A new partnership between Cargill and Heifer International—the Hatching Hope Global Initiative—was highlighted. Chuck Warta, President of Cargill Animal Nutrition, and Pierre Ferrari, President and CEO of Heifer International, presented the initiative, which seeks to improve the nutrition of 100 million people in at-risk communities by 2030 by promoting the production and consumption of chicken and eggs. There will be a particular focus on female smallholder farmers in India as the initiative launches, followed by Kenya and Mexico. Ferrari cut to the chase, saying “Let’s not talk about smallholder farmers anymore as problems but as solutions to their own problems.”

Let’s not talk about smallholder farmers anymore as problems but as solutions to their own problems.

The need to make the agricultural sector more attractive in places like Nigeria and Ethiopia was another issue raised. Khalid Bomba, CEO of Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency spoke about youth not viewing farming as a viable or compelling career path. “Part of the problem is how we define agriculture. If we’re thinking of agriculture purely as what happens on the farm, then for most youth what they see is not what they want to do,” said Bomba. He went on, effectively saying that if we help youth broaden their thinking, we’ll see that agriculture doesn’t start on the farm and that many compelling opportunities can be found in the agricultural supply chain.

At the conclusion of the Global Food Security Symposium, participants parted ways with an understanding of the work ahead and a new sense of urgency. The clock is ticking. Collective action across government, business, and the social sector is needed to execute the most effective strategies. Whether to advance water irrigation, agricultural productivity, or community development, the time for action is now.

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