By Dr B K Mukhopadhyay
The very broad question that looms large before the entire world today is how to feed a hungry, growing population with climate change already knocking at the door.
At the very outset let us have a look at some specific observations made on the food front: “We have a billion people on the planet who are food insecure and a billion who are suffering from over-nutrition. We have possibly as many as a couple of billion more who are malnourished,” as opined by Molly Jahn [ the then member of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change and an agronomist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison]. At the same time, she reminds – a third of the food produced for human consumption is wasted. The FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] has rightly expressed ‘cautious optimism’ despite projections that global food production must rise by 70 percent by 2050 so as to meet the needs of the projected 40 percent growth in world population [from today’s 6.8 billion to 9.1 billion].
With another 2 billion mouths to feed by 2050, and an increasingly wealthy world eating higher on the food chain, the pressure on the food system has been on the rise steadily threatening to push past what the planet can sustain.
Situation Cannot Be Termed as Quite Satisfactory
Though an estimated 500 million small farmers – men and women – produce most of the global food, yet their families suffer more hunger than even the urban poor, continue to have higher rates of poverty and enjoy less access to basic social services and as such meeting international commitments to halve hunger and poverty in the developing world by 2015 means clearly reaching to these farm households
Is it not the immediate need to address how the biological diversity of life on earth – the vast genetic array of plants, animals and micro-organisms – can be preserved, adapted and at the same time shared to provide adequate food in a warming planet called earth? The biological diversity must be secured as we are dependent upon on this for ensuring long term food security.
What is more alarming is the fact that in the last century alone more than three-fourth of all known food crops have disappeared and as such the globe now relies heavily on just a few varieties of rice, wheat, maize, potatoes and other staples. The population monster, side by side, is not going to spare us, at the same time. Clearly, the ongoing food inflation very much emphasises on the need to build food and nutrition security system based heavily on these food crops, inclusive of oilseeds and pulses.
By now it is clear that the traditional approach to food production and tinkering around the same is not going to offer lasting solution. The sheer absence of a renovated farming system approach based on identifying key local, regional ad international priorities till now has virtually failed to tackle the situation.
Number of other factors is responsible for the incidence. The very ecological foundations which are vital for sustainable advance in the arena of productivity as well as profitability of major farming systems [viz. soil, water, bio-diversity and climate] are all weakening and so also is the case with quality of water.
Next, existence of cost-risk-return farming structure is no lees responsible – farm ecology and economics have to move and in hand in as much as escalation in inputs costs coupled to farm productivity decline lead to adverse economics. What is more the soil organic carbon content remains low. Technology is also not following the right path in as much as there has been a growing mismatch between post harvest technologies and production itself. Inadequate value addition to the primary produce and post-harvest losses cause concern. The full benefit is not reaped and then low storage capacities add fuel to the flame especially to a number of least developed economies. Next, small farm management techniques are also not alright since good farm management practises can actually help exploring the potentialities.
Lack of convergence and synergy in the delivery process of numerous Government programmes is another area that is responsible for inviting food insecurity. Absence of a governance structure that can effectively help generate synergy among all such programmes lead to situation where schemes proliferate while productivity and income stagnate. In the absence of firm governance negative direct influences on food security has been allowed to flourish – decline in the scale of investment in agriculture in the developing economies; exercise of inappropriate rules for trade and investment between rich and poor countries and then, our global tolerance of extreme inequality, which, in turn, smoothened the path of diverting from valuable food resources.
Heat is on
Obvious enough: no question of despair. The World Bank estimates are there on this score – growth of rural economies accelerates poverty reduction four times faster than other sectors. The World Bank [WB] activities are helping especially the least developed economies to counter the challenge posed by food insecurity through commendable measures. The WB also has been participating in thematic working groups with other donors and government on areas like: irrigation, development of commercial agriculture and forestry; to facilitate knowledge sharing as well as to develop coordinated programmes of investment support and policy development, among others. The land titling project is helping to improve the security of land tenure and facilitates the development of land markets. Such efforts have been resulting in boosting food production and at the same time strengthening the supply chain management efforts.
What is pertinent to note is the fact that World Bank’s poverty reduction fund have done a good job by extending the number of villages ‘ access to clean water; schools and health clinics built in remote villages; up gradation of rural access roads; construction of bridges; training imparted to people in the arena of infrastructure maintenance and usage plus vocational skills provided to participating villagers.
Side by side though the need is very much there to boost the productivity of small-scale farmers to increase food supplies and reduce poverty, yet productivity must increase without doing further damage to an already strained environment [growing more food without clearing more forests or over-using chemical fertilizers, contribute to climate change]. Jahn is quite right in opining that says a set of solutions to reach a food-secure world by mid-century that involves actions at all levels, “from very small-scale local action that will involve getting more and better quality food from the same or smaller patches of ground, to global outcomes that have to do with the way we manage, for example, trade of commodities.”
Can we, then, reasonably expect a better picture in the immediate future especially in the developing block as the situation calls for enormous actions in as much as complacency or dilly-dally policies would simply drive the globe to more danger level??
The writer is a noted management economist and an International Commentator on ongoing Business and Economic Affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org