Ladies and gentlemen,
This is a great moment in the annals of the World Food Prize annual event: the celebration of the centenary of Norman Borlaug’s birth. For me, it is a pleasure and an honour to participate in this year’s symposium!
Those of us working in agricultural research and development owe Dr. Borlaug our thanks every day for his work as a scientist and an advocate.
During his Nobel Prize lecture in 1970, Norman Borlaug said: “It is a sad fact that on this earth at this late date there are still two worlds, ‘the privileged world’ and ‘the forgotten world’”. Even forty-five years on, that statement remains only too true. So today, I would like to talk to you about “the forgotten world” and the role it can -- and must --play in feeding the planet’s 9.6 billion people in 2050.
If, like Norman Borlaug, our sights are set on feeding those who most need food, we must look to the invisible and forgotten world – the rural areas of developing countries. Because this is where more than three-quarters of the world’s poorest children, women and men live, and most of the world's hungry.
They are deprived, they are underprivileged and they are very hard to reach because they live in remote areas, out of sight of the world's political and media centres.
It is easier to pretend they don’t exist. But they do. And in this ever-shrinking world – where desperation, disease and violent ideology know no boundaries – their problems are our problems.
Anyone who doubts this need look no further than Ebola, which was largely ignored when it was limited to rural Africa -- a neglected disease of the forgotten and invisible world.
Now that it has reached capital cities, and travelled as far as Europe and the United States, the visible world is trembling and we are beginning to see a collective global response. And if it continues to strangle regional trade and interferes with the next planting season, it could lead to a hunger crisis of epic proportions for western Africa.
In Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, farmers are leaving their fields to rot as they stay home in fear. In Sierra Leone, up to 40 per cent of farms have been abandoned in the worse-affected areas, setting the stage for a second wave of the crisis.
No part of our world should be forgotten, nor its people. We live in one world, not several, and we share its risks as well as its potential.
This is why we need a rapid collective response. First to deal swiftly with emergency. But also to invest in the long-term resilience of rural areas so that they are better able to weather future shocks and to rebuild once the crisis is over.
The international community needs to come together to act holistically to break the cycle of individual tragedies from becoming a collective disaster. This will require political leadership, robust policies, sound economies, infrastructure, social safety nets, healthcare and, of course, strong agricultural systems.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Feeding the world in 2050 has been described as the greatest challenge in human history. Yet it is, I believe, a challenge we can meet, provided that our efforts are inclusive and responsive to small-scale farmers in developing countries.
In fact, we already produce enough food to feed every child, every woman and every man on this planet. So why are there over 800 million hungry children, women and men on our planet? Why is it that over 6 million children under five die every year, and 45 per cent of child deaths are due to malnutrition?
The world’s 500 million small farms produce around four-fifths of food supplies in developing countries. Yet today, too many of those who work to feed the world – at least the developing world - are going hungry themselves. This is a terrible and tragic paradox! But it does not have to be this way.
For IFAD, the answer is simple: Invest in rural people, invest in smallholder producers.
Experience repeatedly shows – in places as varied as Burkina Faso, China, Ghana, India, and Thailand – that smallholders can contribute to food security and lead agricultural growth. In fact, in China’s small farms produce 20 per cent of the world’s food on 10 per cent of its land. So why are smallholders so frequently forgotten?
Not investing in agriculture is a false economy. Agriculture not only improves food security, it creates employment and wealth. Agriculture in its broadest sense – including crops, livestock fisheries and agro-forestry – is the main source of employment and livelihoods for the women and men who live in our planet's rural areas.
And we know that GDP growth due to agriculture is at least three times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors. In sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated to be 11 times more effective.
Some 2 to 2.5 billion people depend on small farms for their lives and livelihoods. That is around one-third of the human race.
Give them the means and the tools and they will lift themselves out of poverty and improve their own food security and nutrition status. And they can also help feed our rapidly growing cities. The answer to our greatest challenge lies within our reach – if we have the will to reach far enough.
Continue to forget about rural people, and they will follow a well-trodden path away from their farms and villages to the city in search of work -- contributing to waves of migration and swollen urban areas that are prey to hunger, economic and social instability.
Our challenge, as we work to sustainably feed a growing population, is to ensure that everyone committed to eliminating hunger is also committed to working towards transforming rural areas. And that the forgotten world is forgotten no longer.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Through my work as a scientist for 30 years -- and now as the head of an institution dedicated to investing in rural women and men -- I have seen time and time again how agricultural and rural development can transform lives and feed communities.
Today, I would like to share three lessons I have learned in how to create the conditions for sustainable food security, and which we will need to apply if we are serious about sustainably feeding more than nine billion people on our planet in the next 35 years.
My first lesson is that we can only eliminate hunger if we take advantage of everything that science has to offer. And when I say science I also mean the softer sciences -- the social sciences, human behaviour and the dynamics of policies -- as well as biology, chemistry and physics.
Development needs to respond to the needs of the communities we serve rather than a scientist’s need to see her or his discovery in the field. Yes, it is exciting to develop technology in the lab; and even more exciting to see it implemented in the field. But why give a poor farmer in Africa a new seed that increases yields when that farmer lacks access to safe storage, or does not have access to markets to sell her surplus?
I have learned that no amount of high technology or advances in research and development will have the desired impact on people's lives unless the social aspects of a community are adequately addressed.
Let me give you an example.
This summer I visited three projects in Ethiopia, around 200 kilometres south of Addis Ababa. The first two had successfully responded to the local social conditions. Both projects were participatory and inclusive. The farmers – women and men – had formed strong organizations. They were growing and financing their business through rural savings and credit organizations. They were irrigating their crops. Yields and incomes were higher. Nutrition had improved.
But at the third project, social issues had not been addressed.
There were no farmers' organizations. The men dominated all discourse and women were excluded. These farmers had not even been able to box their produce properly. They had seen no real improvements in yields, income or nutrition. It was obvious that there was very little by way of community cohesion or social cooperation.
Of course, there is also a role for high-end, cutting edge technologies.
On a trip to India this past August I had the opportunity to visit the ICRISAT Genome Center for Excellence. I saw work in sequencing the pigeon pea genome. This has the potential to revolutionize the development of plants so that they are higher yielding and faster maturing, but also disease resistant, and tolerant to drought and other stresses. It is exciting work, and it holds tremendous potential. It confirmed to me that modern science for agriculture is not only about biotechnology, and that biotechnology is not only about transgenics and GMOs.
But sometimes the technology that farmers need isn’t a new seed, but a smart phone or a tablet.
At IFAD, we have recently joined forces with Intel to bring new tools to smallholders in Cambodia. The software will allow farmers to analyse soil and other conditions on farm so that they can use appropriate seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. The software will even help locate the nearest suppliers!
And for one farmer, it resulted in a likely 50 per cent reduction in fertilizer costs because the test revealed she had been actually over-dosing her rice fields.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As we strive for innovation, we must also remember that there's nothing wrong with thinking small. Take fertilizer micro dosing. This simple technology uses a bottle cap to measure out small, affordable amounts of fertilizer. It means that even illiterate farmers can safely administer the right amount of fertilizer and grow more food.
Scientific advances, large and small, are all important, but we must always remember that no amount of high technology or advances will have the desired impact on people's lives unless the social aspects of a community are also addressed. And when technologies and innovations are effective at the local level, we must see that they are scaled-up for wider impact.
My second lesson is that we need public and private actors alike to each play their allotted role, along with farmers themselves, if we want to feed the world.
My starting point is government. Countries need strong and consistent policies for inclusive growth in order to maximize the potential of food production to reduce hunger. In much of the developing world, there is a gross disparity between government investments in rural and urban areas.
It is time for governments to consider policies that offer incentives for investment in rural areas, and in agriculture. Policies that encourage inclusive business models. Policies that facilitate the ability of poor farmers to access finance and technology and to have rights to water and land. And, of course, policies that reduce the risks for private sector partners when they invest in agriculture.
Let me digress a little. It is known that agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa is largely subsistence. But Africa also has some 60 per cent of all available uncultivated agricultural land. And six or more of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa; GDP growth in some African economies dwarfs global averages.
Why is it then that Africa’s agriculture is mostly subsistence? Why is it performing at so far below its potential?
The answer is that for too many decades, Africa has neglected to invest in rural areas or agriculture. This despite the fact that the experience shows agriculture works. According to IFPRI, agriculture-led strategies contribute directly to reducing hunger and under-nutrition. The experience of China and Viet Nam show that in agriculture-based economies – where smallholders predominate – growth strategies focused on smallholders may do the most to reduce poverty and hunger. Between 1990 and 2013, China reduced under nutrition from 22.9 per cent to 11.4 per cent. Child stunting was reduced from 32.3 per cent to 9.4 per cent in the same period.
Yet we seem to ignore these impressive gains when it comes to Africa. Consider that more than one-third of sub-Saharan Africa’s rural population lives five hours from the nearest market town of 5,000 people. Why? Because of lack of roads.
Consider that an estimated 20 to 40 per cent of crops are destined to be lost to pests, disease and spoilage because of lack of infrastructure.
Consider that irrigation alone could increase output by up to 50 per cent in Africa. That sub-Saharan farmers use less than one-tenth the amount of fertilizer used in East Asia and the Pacific.
Instead, Africa imports US$35 billion worth of food every year – money that should be invested in Africa to produce more food, create jobs and build rural infrastructure and provide social services. This money could be used to provide incentives for rural people and the public and private sectors to forge strong multiple-win partnerships.
Private sector partnerships need to be part of the equation. The private sector, after all, is an important engine of growth in many economies. Poverty alleviation needs market solutions.
And farmers do play their role by investing in their own businesses. What they need are opportunities, just like their counterparts in the private sector, to grow that business.
Those farmers, by the way, are our most important partners. As a group, they also have to be the biggest on-farm investors in agriculture in the developing world.
Development is not something we do for people, but what they do for themselves. Poor smallholders are not waiting for handouts; they are waiting for a supportive environment so that they can invest in their businesses with the prospect of making a profit.
As we look to feeding the 9.6 billion, we must not overlook the important role of women in both farming and household nutrition.
It was improvements in women’s status and education that led to more than half of the reduction in malnutrition between 1970 and 1995.
Women are increasingly the farmers of the developing world, but they have significantly less access than men to services, markets and assets. And rural women often lack authority in their homes, organizations and communities.
To quickly add one anecdote, in rural communities, you are what you eat. And what you grow is what you eat. Nutrition begins on the farm, with domestic gardens managed by women and their children. There is something to learn from Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move!’ campaign on child nutrition and kitchen gardens.
According to IFPRI, reaching 80% of the world’s 160 million undernourished children with key nutrition interventions over the next 15 years may require as much as US$10 billion a year. It would be far cheaper to make sure that all children had access to balanced, diversified and nutritious food right from the start.
Of equal importance is investing in rural youth. Our youth of today are justifiably alienated from farming. They see the hand-held hoe as a symbol of life-long impoverishment. Who would want to be a farmer?
But we can change the perception of farming. It is already happening in many developed countries. But it will only happen if rural areas offer more of the comforts and services that are found in urban areas -- including clean water, electricity and internet connection. Without our young people, who will feed the developing world in 2030 when their parents, uncles and aunts are no longer farming?
The mass migration of young people from rural areas to overcrowded cities in search of illusory economic opportunities has never been more worrying. Today’s generation of young people is the largest in history – 200 million in sub-Saharan Africa ages 15 to 24, with an additional 10 million per year entering the job market! Governments urgently need to harness their potential and create attractive opportunities for them in rural areas, before it’s too late.
My third and final lesson is that we cannot act alone. Partnership is an essential element, what we at IFAD call PPPP or the four Ps. This stands for public, private, producer partnerships.
These are partnerships that bring together the interests of all parties in ways that are mutually beneficial, equitable and transparent. And they work!
In partnership, governments can create favourable policy environments and provide the infrastructure to allow rural businesses to thrive.
And in partnership, we can build relationships between organized small-scale producers and private companies, negotiating and supporting inclusive and sustainable collaboration. After all, farming is a business, no matter the scale or size.
By creating inclusive partnerships, with each partner fulfilling their own role, smallholders can be better positioned to benefit from existing markets and new markets alike.
The private sector gains on the supply side, and farmers benefit from links to secure markets and access to technology, services, innovation and knowledge.
Our role is to make it happen – to facilitate, to support, to enhance. I repeat: Poor rural people are not waiting for hand-outs; they are looking for economic opportunities.
Ladies and gentlemen,
No amount of foreign aid. No amount of development assistance. No amount of science will create the future we want if we approach our work in isolation. The international community must commit to working together, the business community must realize that it is an integral part of the solution, and leaders must also do their part so that no person and no region is forgotten or marginalized.
The food on our tables started in a field. We can’t ask rural people to feed us but go hungry themselves. We can’t feed over 9 billion people without making sure our rural farmers have what they need—resources, knowledge, opportunity.
But we can overcome the greatest challenge of our time, as long as we face it together.