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Achieving food security through sustainable agriculture

| Updated: October 18, 2017 05:43:43

Achieving food security through sustainable agriculture

At the very outset let us have a close look at the latest UN Report: 
l Globally, one in nine people in the world today (795 million) are undernourished; the vast majority of the world's hungry people live in developing countries, where 12.9 per cent of the population is undernourished 
l Asia is the continent with the most hungry people - two-thirds of the total [the percentage in southern Asia has fallen in recent years but in western Asia it has increased slightly]
l Southern Asia faces the greatest hunger burden, with about 281 million undernourished people
l In sub-Saharan Africa, projections for the 2014-2016 period indicate a rate of undernourishment of almost 23 per cent
l Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45 per cent) of deaths in children under five - 3.1 million children each year
l  One in four of the world's children suffer stunted growth; in developing countries the proportion can rise to one in three and 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.
Now, the issue of food security. Agriculture is the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for 40 per cent of today's global population. It is the largest source of income and jobs for poor rural households. About 500 million small farms worldwide, most still rain-fed, provide up to 80 per cent of food consumed in a large part of the developing world. Investing in smallholder women and men is an important way to increase food security and nutrition for the poorest, as well as food production for local and global markets. 
While better use of agricultural biodiversity can contribute to more nutritious diets, enhanced livelihoods for farming communities and more resilient and sustainable farming systems, some 75 per cent of crop diversity has been lost from farmers' fields since the 1990s. If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million. About 1.4 billion people have no access to electricity worldwide - most of whom live in rural areas of the developing world. UN rightly observes that it is energy poverty in many regions that is a fundamental barrier to reducing hunger and ensuring that the world can produce enough food to meet future demand.
Three disasters have taken place simultaneously - a heat wave in South America, an explosion of windblown wheat stern rust pathogen across Russia and a particularly strong El Niño southern oscillation cycle. The impact of this would be enough to cripple global food security.
A model created by Anglia Ruskin University's Global Sustainability Institute warns that "…..global society essentially collapses [in 2040] as food production falls permanently short of consumption." This scenario is based on a "business as usual" approach, one in which man-made climate change leads to a combination of increased flooding and increased drought. However, if carbon emissions are slashed and agriculture adapts, this scenario does not have to play out. A timely warning indeed!
It is beyond any shade of doubt that global food security is one of the most pressing societal issues of our time. Though advances in agricultural technology and expertise will significantly increase food production potential of many countries/regions, yet these advances will not increase production fast enough to meet the demands of the planet's even faster-growing human population. 
Population pressure would continue to tip the balance against proper land and water management in many developing countries. While agricultural production is critical for any form of sustainable future, focusing on the agricultural sector alone without regard for other important factors, which influence food production, is not the right way. But here lies the problem with the developing bloc. Population programmes require to be integrated into overall development objectives and be linked to other resource issues so that comprehensive development turns into reality.  
With falling per capita food production and resource degradation, a strategic plan is to be incorporated with population concerns like population growth, distribution and rural-urban migration patterns. For that matter community development strategy, which integrates essential social services as well as production resources, is welcome.
Side by side, sustainable development strategies has to gain ground. Adequate support has to be given to research on the integration of traditional and emerging technologies for food production. 
In a word, optimal resource management that is capable of increasing crop yields, preventing land degradation, while providing sustainable livelihoods for millions of rural poor should be developed. National population programmes, on the other hand, should include comprehensive and accessible maternal and child health care programmes and family planning services not only to reduce the size of families and improve the health and well-being of the entire community, but also to increase the crucially needed food production ensuring protection of the environment while easing the burdens of the poor. 
FAO has rightly noted that it is not only financial resources that are needed. Beyond the factors that exacerbate the current crisis, there is a whole series of fundamental problems that need to be resolved -  in particular, how aid is channelled and how to make it reach smallholder farmers effectively, reform of the world food security governance system for more coherence in the action of governments and development partners, the share of national budgets dedicated to agriculture and private sector investment. 
'It is vital, particularly in times of crisis, that support to agriculture not be reduced. Only a healthy agricultural sector, combined with a growing non-farm economy and effective safety nets and social protection programmes will be sufficient to face the global recession as well as eradicate food insecurity and poverty'.
In order to avoid the unpalatable consequences of widespread hunger and even starvation in the years and decades to come, a firm commitment is needed at this very juncture to increase crop yields of land area, nutrients applied, and  the amount of water used. The positive impact of such efforts will considerably lessen the severity of the food shortage and lift hundreds of millions of people out of a state of hunger and malnutrition, thereby preventing widespread starvation, premature death and social unrest.
When huge numbers of people still suffer from hunger and chronic malnutrition, coupled with economic and financial crisis, the consequences of climate change, and the decrease in the amount of usable agricultural land worldwide will exacerbate the situation.

Dr. Bibhas Mukhopadhyay, a Management Economist, is Principal, Eminent College of Management and Technology, Kolkata, India.


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