FAO in North America

Agricultural cooperatives: means to food security

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on October 31, 2011

Today marked the launch of the International Year of Cooperatives at UN Headquarters in New York. Among the day’s activities was a side event organized by FAO, “Agricultural cooperatives: A means to achieving food security”, featuring Eve Crowley, Deputy Director of Gender, Equity and Rural Employment at FAO. Crowley described cooperatives as “a business model with a conscience” and said that they have a “critical contribution to make in sectors of the economy and in geographical places where other parts of the business world may not actually have a financial interest.”

“Over the last three decades, there has been massive transformation of the institutional landscape in rural areas,” Crowley said. “Basically public institutions in most parts of the developing world have withdrawn, so there is this big void. Cooperatives are an extremely important model in rural areas where there is an institutional vacuum.”

She added that they also provide an important channel for investment.

Watch a webcast of the event:

Oxfam, UN leaders stress joint action to address famine, food insecurity and food price swings

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on October 28, 2011

Warning that the situation in Somalia risked surpassing the reach of humanitarian agencies, Oxfam head Barbara Stocking said that the international community must muster all its political will to ensure that humanitarian aid can be safely distributed throughout the country.

Stocking made the remarks during her keynote address at a World Food Day commemoration ceremony in New York yesterday marking FAO’s founding 66 years ago.

“Today, it’s very clear that there are very significant numbers of people in Somalia who we cannot reach. The estimates in the UN are three quarters of a million people at the moment. There is a situation here which has gone beyond what humanitarian agencies can do,” she said. “Fundamentally it is only by the international community with its political will that this can be solved now.”

Stocking urged those in attendance, which included leaders from the UN system, Member State representatives, humanitarian and development agencies and the private sector, to use their influence to the extent possible to improve access in Somalia.

She also pushed for lobbying of G20 governments, meeting in Cannes on 3-4 November, to make a political commitment to tackle global food price volatility and thanked France for putting food security high on the G20 agenda.

“For the poorest people, if you are spending 70 percent of your income on food and food prices double, you’ve had it,” she said.

Price swings deepen food insecurity

Food prices – from crisis to stability” was chosen as the theme of World Food Day this year following five consecutive years of unstable and often rising food prices, which currently stand at close to record levels.

“Volatility in food prices challenges the fundamental human right to adequate food,” said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. “It also deepens food insecurity.”

“Research and development targeted on small producers’ needs must be stepped up,” he said, adding that more than $80 billion in additional investment is required annually in agriculture to ensure the 70% increase in global production needed to feed the world’s projected population of over 9 billion in 2050.

“To finance such investments, national governments will have to contribute significantly,” he said. “They also need, through good governance and sound policies, to promote an enabling environment for the private sector to invest in a responsible and fair manner.”

‘Radical collaboration’ needed

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized that guaranteeing sustainable food and nutrition security for all will require the full engagement of all sectors.

“It means pursuing comprehensive approaches, assisting the most vulnerable, listening to rural women, empowering small producers,” he said. “It means strong political commitment, predictable finance, and a focus on results. We have the resources and the knowledge to end hunger. We know how to protect the poorest from the impact of rising prices.”

This was echoed by WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran, who said that “nothing short of radical collaboration will turn the tide against hunger.”

Sheeran thanked FAO Director-General Diouf for “raising the clarion call” throughout his career and said that a coalition of leaders determined to end hunger is gathering momentum.

“We have to stand against cynicism,” Sheeran said. “Your efforts are making a difference. The investment in agriculture makes a difference. The investment in new ways of thinking and technologies deployed on the front line make a difference and lives are being saved every day.”

The event, which raised funds for FAO’s agriculture and livelihood recovery projects in the Horn of Africa, also featured a performance by FAO Goodwill Ambassador Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Buffet, Gates awarded for contributions to hunger fight

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on October 25, 2011

World Food Program USA awarded its George McGovern Leadership Award to philanthropists Howard Buffett and Bill Gates for their contributions to the global hunger fight. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented the awards, saying that “ending hunger is not only possible, but it is both a moral and strategic imperative.”  

Secretary Clinton then joined Buffet, Gates and WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran for a conversation on efforts to address global hunger and create economic opportunity by helping small scale farmers through initiatives like WFP’s Purchase for Progress program. (View the webcast.)

In his keynote address, Vice President Joe Biden recounted a story that his wife, Jill, heard during a recent trip to the Horn of Africa from a Somali woman who was forced to leave one of her two children behind because she could no longer carry them both.

“No human being should ever have to make a choice like that,” Biden said. “A tragedy like that is a stain on the conscience of the world.”

The event also featured a panel discussion highlighting private sector efforts to address global hunger. Participants included former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Cargill Greg Page, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. (View the webcast.)

The cost of hunger

Submitted by Rachel Friedman on October 24, 2011

According to the USDA, over 45 million Americans receive government assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. SNAP is the largest, but not only, food support program administered by the federal government. This figure is indicative of an underlying trend of families faced with the decision of whether to pay rent, utilities, medical bills or purchase food. The Center for American Progress (CAP) carried out an analysis to calculate the hidden costs of hunger in the U.S., resulting from factors like loss of economic productivity and avoidable health care costs. In a recent report, CAP estimates these economic and social costs of hunger in the U.S. – what it calls the ”hunger bill” - at $167.5 billion, above and beyond the $94 billion per year for government nutrition programs.

Measuring hunger

Submitted by Rachel Friedman on October 22, 2011

The International Food Policy Research Institute‘s Global Hunger Index, a metric accounting for undernourishment, underweight children under five years, and childhood mortality has dropped by 26 percent since 1990. But people still go hungry, and 26 of the 122 countries assessed still are considered in alarming or extremely alarming states of food insecurity. Released in step with the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011, the report draws similar connections between the persistent state of undernourishment and recent food price spikes and volatility.

Experts discuss price volatility, land tenure and farmland investment deals

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on October 19, 2011

©FAO/Alessia PierdomenicoThe UN Committee on World Food Security meeting at FAO Headquarters in Rome this week is discussing two new reports from its High Level Panel of Experts on food security and nutrition – one on Price Volatility and Food Security and the other on Land Tenure and International Investments in Agriculture.

In related news, Tanzania and other countries are piloting an innovative approach to assessing the economic value of land, which has been developed by the OSLO (Offering Sustainable Land-Use Options) Consortium. The objective is to fully measure the total economic value of land with its wide-ranging benefits for human development in order to stimulate investments and promote responsible land management.

Thoughts on World Food Day

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on October 16, 2011

As World Food Day winds to a close and, along with it, this year’s Blog Action Day (B.A.D.), dedicated appropriately to food, I had hoped to pen a profound post on world hunger. But I’m written out, so just a few thoughts.

Tonight, around one person in seven will go to bed hungry. Every year, 10 million children die before their fifth birthday. One-third of these deaths are associated with undernutrition.

Few of us can imagine the horror of being unable to provide a meal for our children and wouldn’t wish this fate on anyone. Yet these horrific statistics persist, even though the world produces enough food to feed everyone.

Without adequate food, people can’t lead healthy, active lives. They’re not employable. They can’t care for their children, and their children can’t learn. This hardship, multiplied by family upon family, creates a devastating ripple effect that jeopardizes national economies and imperils global development.

On most days this provokes feelings of frustration, makes me angry, and most of all, bewildered about our values as a global society.

But this past week in Iowa left me feeling somewhat hopeful. Countries like Brazil and Ghana – whose former presidents shared this year’s World Food Prize – are making enormous progress, and their efforts can provide a roadmap for other countries, both developed and developing.

The key ingredient: commitment at the highest levels of government to eradicating hunger once and for all. And not just words, but significant investment in agriculture and rural development.

As a wise colleague said a few years ago, trying to stimulate economic growth when a fifth or more of the population is chronically undernourished is like trying to drive a car with the hand brake on.

This is something Presidents Kufuor and Lula recognized, and the results speak for themselves: under President Lula, Brazil cut its proportion of hungry people in half and its poverty rate from 12 percent to below 5 percent. In Ghana, malnutrition has fallen from one-third to less than one-tenth of the population, and poverty has been cut by 50 percent since the mid-1990s.

How did this happen? By investing in agriculture and rural development, by boosting incomes and improving access to food and education, by putting money where the mouths were.

Some say we can’t afford the level of investment needed to free the so-called “bottom billion” from hunger. The truth is we can’t afford not to do so.

In today’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof sums it up perfectly:

Economists used to believe that we had to hold our noses and put up with high inequality as the price of robust growth. But more recent research suggests the opposite: inequality not only stinks, but also damages economies.

Lula rocks

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on October 15, 2011

Former President Lula da Silva of Brazil’s World Food Prize laureate address in Des Moines was a bravura performance without equal (watch it here).

Money quotes:

”Hunger is the worst weapon of mass destruction in the world.”

“There’s nothing easier, there’s nothing cheaper in the world than to take care of the poor. What is really tough is to take care of the rich.”

“A poor family with 100 dollars in their pockets can solve their problem for the month. But for a rich man or woman, if you give them a loan of 1 million dollars, they just put the money in the bank. If you distribute part of the surplus so that the poorest and excluded can become consumers, these new consumers will make the wheel of the economy turn.”

“Lending to the rich is investment, but giving money to the poor is also investment”

I’ll try to write more on the week’s events in the next day or so.

Roots of greener revolution lie in locally adapted knowledge

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on October 13, 2011

Sustainable agricultural production based on practices and technologies adapted to local conditions is key to ensuring food security in Africa and around the world, FAO Assistant Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said today in Des Moines.

“For agriculture, we cannot start with one-size-fits-all,” Graziano said during a roundtable discussion hosted by US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

The event was part of the World Food Prize Foundation’s annual Borlaug Dialogue and featured three ministers of agriculture from Africa – H.E. Kwesi Ahwoi of Ghana, H.E. Jumanne Maghembe of Tanzania and H.E. Jose Pacheco of Mozambique.

“We are in Borlaug’s house, and the Green Revolution has much to do in Africa and in many countries around the world,” Graziano said. “But we can’t go in same way.”

He cautioned against increased dependence on chemicals, especially fertilizer, as well as over-reliance on mechanization.

“In Argentina, 90 percent of their corn and soybean production comes from areas with no tillage. This kind of knowledge needs to be shared,” he said, advocating greater South-South cooperation and knowledge exchange between and within Latin America and Africa. “Africa is the new agricultural frontier of the world.”

New model of cooperation

“We need to avoid the traditional vision of international cooperation, of having donors and countries that are recipients,” Graziano said. “Cooperation is a process that both can learn from, especially in agriculture.”

Embrapa, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, was developed based on a concept of “tropicalization”, he said, taking the seeds, machinery and practices in Northern countries and adapting them to tropical areas. It is now developing crop varieties adapted to a range of tropical sub-climates and sharing this experience with other developing countries.

Adapting technology to local conditions, rather than “reinventing the wheel” is crucial, Graziano said, adding that deep local capacity was needed.

“South-South cooperation should be based on the principle of mutual work together not from donor country to recipient country,” he said.

Counting on girls in agriculture and rural development

Submitted by Rachel Friedman on October 13, 2011

A new Chicago Council on Global Affairs report, Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies, highlights actions that should be taken to support and empower adolescent girls to play an active role in society. The report serves as part of a larger effort of the Coalition for Adolescent Girls to advocate for and empower young girls in developing countries. One of the recommendations for action addresses women’s important role in food production, arguing for girls to be “major stakeholders in agriculture and natural resource management.” Shifting inheritance laws, land tenure rights, and access to financing and agricultural resources are all important elements in fostering the successful contribution of adolescent girls to agricultural development, and ultimately food security.

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