Concerns around population growth and climate change mean that food systems are facing pressures to produce more food and do so while facing environmental adversities, changing nutrition needs and precarious food prices. If you’re like me, you might have been feeling more and more aware of the challenges and difficulties but feel at a loss to what might be done about it.
Today’s post will look at some practical options that can be applied to address what is a very complex situation spanning geopolitical concerns, sociocultural considerations, gender norms and poverty, and provide some real life examples of solutions in this worrisome climate.
Despite focussing on exploring solutions, we do need to look briefly at some of the central concerns to food security. The first being population growth. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be another 2.3 billion added to the current 7 billion people on the planet, and most will be in concentrated in countries that are already food insecure. That means sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
There are around 1 billion extremely poor people facing hunger and with the majority (80%) living in rural areas and relying on subsistence agriculture it’s important to find ways to establish food security. Moreover, agriculture in these locations lack irrigation, transport and storage infrastructure, and for this reason it is here where the rising numbers of people is expected to be most apparent and most devastating. The concern is not only to increase food production, a considerable feat in itself, (according to the FAO developing countries would need to increase their production by 100% to feed their growing populations) but to do it in a way that will benefit this bottom billion.
Climate change is another major obstacle in food security. Resources needed for producing food, such as water and soil are under pressure from degradation. 2.9 square kilometers are at risk of desertification (most of it in developing countries) and water scarcity could reduce crop yields by 25%. Bearing these facts in mind it is negligent to single-mindedly exaggerate food production in the current practice as it will certainly lead to environmental breakdown.
Critics have argued rightly that there is already enough food to feed all the people on the planet and it is the failings of the current food system which has resulted in these huge inequalities. The focus that this paper has on increasing crop production in an environmentally friendly way does not disregard this argument, but I chose to look at some of the initiatives taking place to improve farmers’ livelihoods.
Interestingly, I’ve come across several proposed solutions to food insecurity that have been presented by the Sustainable development solutions network and the sustainability in the 21st century report which include suggestions like introducing an increased number of crops into people diets to relive the pressures of the three main (rice, maize and corn) and improving the role of private firms in support of food security.
- promoting efforts to increase women farmers’ capacities, addressing food production, climate change concerns and poverty,
- investments made in agriculture and,
- innovative technologies
are some of the major players in the food security game.
Reducing poverty is one of the crucial factors in food security. Women are often the main providers of food for their families and run many of the small holder farms that produce much of the only food extremely impoverished people have access too. Despite their central role in food production, women have been undervalued in the industry. Social support investments can help to make farming an attractive economic opportunity for small holder farmers and should be inclusive of women farmers. There are over half a billion small farms and they produce lots of the world’s food and so re-inventing farming as an attractive local business and creating opportunities for farmers to increase their capacity is something that is being more thoroughly explored. One project in Cameroon is a good example.
Women are trained to employ measures that ensure their practices are environmentally sound as well as better for production. These include natural soil erosion control, organic compost and smart harvesting techniques which contribute to improved crop outcomes. In just two years some of the women have enjoyed double the yield from their harvests- producing more food and putting extra money in their pockets.
Money for projects like this can come from investments from bodies like the Green Climate Fund (GCF) which has pledged 10 billion for environmentally healthy and sustainable food production projects. The Namibian Environmental Investment Fund (EIF) signed a grant agreement with the Green Climate Fund in November 2016, making it the first direct access entity to sign with and the only African national entity to get accreditation with the fund. This means that Namibians can now apply for grants and loans from the GCF through the EIF to support their sustainable food production, clean energy or climate change resilience projects. I looked at the application form for these grants and the process is by no means simple (I couldn’t get my head around parts of it), so its not likely that a poorly educated, rural subsistence farmer would get a look in. So while its an excellent initiative it needs to be accompanied with support for people who wouldn’t be able to apply on their own.
Finally, technology and innovative products help to find alternative ways to sustainably intensify agricultural land. Some include data mapping for soil, very important in data-poor areas of developing countries, mobile apps for dairy farmers that run on even basic mobile phones and portable water pumps and can provide the life-changing boost to farming livelihoods. Some interesting trials hope to use solar powered, almost zero carbon emission drip irrigation systems which effectively uses very little water, essential for the sub-Saharan African farming populations that rely solely on rain fed crops.