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One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World? Yes We Can

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In a US presidential election year, optimism comes with intense scrutiny. I am by nature an optimist, and when I am asked if we can feed the world adequately and equitably, I do say 'yes', but I do not say 'yes' lightly.

Our global food security challenges are daunting: food price spikes and increasing food prices look set to continue unabated, around one billion are suffering from chronic hunger, and we must feed a growing population in the face of a wide range of adverse factors, including climate change.

Yet, as I set out in my latest book One billion hungry: can we feed the world?, I believe there is reason for optimism. Yes we can feed the world, but only if we accept that agricultural development is the best route to achieving sustainable economic growth in developing countries, and achieve an agriculture that is highly productive, stable, resilient and equitable.

But how can farmers, governments, investors, civil society groups, as well as the people that work with them, achieve this kind of agriculture? I believe there are four interconnected routes to achieving a food secure world: innovation, markets, people and political leadership.

Innovation

We need a global agriculture that includes a wide variety of technologies, where appropriate. These technologies could be conventional, traditional, intermediate or new platform; the key is that they must be effective, readily accessible, affordable, easy to use, environmentally friendly, and serve a real need. Beyond considering appropriateness, we must avoid claims that one form of intervention or technology is best whatever the circumstances.

We need greater public and private investment in agricultural research and extension. The goal should be higher yields produced on the same amount of land but with fewer adverse consequences on the environment, as task referred to as sustainable intensification.

Markets

Even though I am a natural scientist by training, I know that innovation is not enough. We also need to create and manage fair and efficient markets that link smallholders, as well as larger farms, to opportunities to increase their incomes. Environments that enable these links can be achieved through partnerships between public and private sectors.

My vision is for smallholder farmers to be linked to input and output markets both physically and virtually, and for benefits from value chains to be increasingly captured by smallholders while at the same time minimising the risks they face.

People

It is people who will drive and deliver agricultural development critical to achieving global food security. Smallholder farmers are at the core of achieving a highly productive, stable, resilient and equitable agriculture. Governments need to ensure policies and strategies reach those who are typically marginalised from the formal food industry including smallholders but also women, youth, ethnic minorities and the landless. To achieve sustainable food security, we also need to support an agriculture that contributes to ensuring people - particularly mothers and children - receive adequate nutrition.

Political leadership

Last but not least, we need visionary and continuing political leadership to deliver on the above agenda at international, regional, national and local levels. This involves honouring commitments to increasing investments to agricultural development and end global hunger, for example through the G8, G20 or the African Union. But it also means supporting ongoing national initiatives in a consistent and sustained way to encourage further investment and partnership.

Debate

To discuss these ideas and the themes raised in the book, I will be joined by Sarah Smith, Mo Ibrahim, Calestous Juma, and Molly Kinder at a public panel event in London on the evening of the 9th October. If you cannot join us, please participate online via our livestream broadcast of the event or through Twitter using #1billionhungry.

My optimism for the future is a qualified optimism. We can feed the world, but we have much to achieve and the task is urgent. I hope you will join me in campaigning for governments to prioritise this challenge. But I have no doubt that - in addition to political actions - we will also need all the commitment, knowledge and ingenuity of every one of you to feed the world in a sustainable and equitable way.