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Plug holes in post-harvest pipeline, say food & ag experts

Solving global hunger needs to focus on the forces beyond the farm gate, according to experts speaking at a World Food Prize panel on Friday. 

Despite some progress in alleviating poverty across the globe, hunger is still a huge issue, said Jomo Kwame Sundaram, an official with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  There are 842 million people who are suffering from chronic hunger, and that’s using a strict definition of the term, he said, meaning that people have been suffering from hunger for at least a year.

Slowed progress can be blamed on biofuels subsidies, strong economic growth in the southern hemisphere, financial speculation, and more frequent food price spikes, Sundaram said.

Despite these issues, “There is enough food to feed everybody, but access to it is lacking,” Sundaram said. He called for more public sector investment in small holder farms, sustainable agriculture, and policies that promote more stable food prices.

Yemi Akinbamijo, a research leader from Nigeria, talked about the potential of Africa to address the world’s shrinking space for agricultural production. The continent comprises 60% of the world’s arable land, he said.

“Will Africa be the continent to feed the world?” he asked.

“The problem is that 50 to 60 percent of what we produce doesn’t get to the table,” he said.  "We need to plug the hole of post-harvest waste."

Policies already are in place for agricultural improvement in Africa, Akinbamijo said. “We have the policies, but there is not food on the table. You cannot eat policy.”

His call to action was simple: “Enough of the blah-blah, let’s start the do-do.”

Another of the panelists, M. Jahi Chappell, supported the idea that a root cause of hunger comes not so much from production shortages, but rather from a failed delivery system.  Chappell, director Agriculture Policy at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minnesota, said, “Most countries in the world produce enough food, but we still have hungry people.”

He called for public policies that would promote more diversity in agriculture, as well as “proper pricing” that might lead to more smaller farmers.

“Hard work is not the issue [in encouraging small holder operations], but hard work that is properly paid for is.”

Another problem in the food pipeline is that “only 43% of the world’s grain goes directly to people,” said Francis Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet and Cofounder of the Small Planet Institute. Moore Lappe, a critic of large-scale, corporate agriculture, blamed the powers-that-be for a “false diagnosis” of the hunger problem.

We’re in big trouble,” she said, "and we have got to get the diagnosis correct. A false diagnosis is that the problem is scarcity.”

What ails global food production, she said, is the concentration of power in too few hands. “Three companies control 53% of the global seed market,” she said.

Her criticism of mainstream production agriculture extended to biotechnology. “GMOs fail to address hunger,” she said, calling on policymakers and farmers to create and participate in agricultural systems that are interactive with people and nature.

“We need all hands on deck right now,” she said. “Farmers all over the world are showing us the way.”

Image: FAO Photo Library

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