With our THRIVE campaign in full swing, we can’t seem to get away from talking about agriculture. And how could we? We know that growth in agriculture is on average three times as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other economic sectors, such as mining and manufacturing. We know that the industry employs nearly two-thirds of the workforce in sub-Saharan Africa. We know that 925 million people struggle daily with chronic hunger. Agriculture is a big deal and it deserves to be talked about.
A video overview of the new report
But you don’t have to listen to me talk about it: Researchers and agrophiles from the International Food Policy Research Institute released a report last week that gets into the nitty gritty of major food policy developments of the past year. The 2011 Global Food Policy Report identifies a host of factors as the year’s biggest influences on food policy. According to the report, here are some of the big challenges the world is facing:
- Food price levels and volatility: While increasing food price levels can actually help poor producers if they sell more than they consume, volatile prices hurt everyone — farmers, distributors and consumers alike. It makes it tough for families to stick to a budget and plan for shortages. Recognizing this, the G20 ministers of agriculture came together in 2011 to design a plan to keep prices stable and promote stable long-term agricultural productivity.
- Natural and human-caused shocks: 2011 brought with it some of the worst natural disasters on record. Earthquakes, massive flooding, stormy weather and extreme drought affected nearly 100 million people worldwide — and did not make things any easier on agriculture. In the Horn of Africa in particular, the worst drought in 60 years threatened the lives of 13 million people, mostly families living in rural farming communities.
- Climate change: We only have to look at the extreme weather that characterized the past year to realize that the climate is shifting. Farmers will need to reevaluate their practices to negotiate these changes. At climate conventions in Cancun and Durban, leaders developed the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which aims to bring both developed and developing countries together in a legally binding treaty by 2020.
Land value and degradation: An increasing world population requires increasing amounts of food and other agricultural products, like biofuels and cattle feed — which in turn puts a strain on land that is already tired from drought and other stresses. The Food and Agriculture Organization’s Global Soil Partnership and the Economics of Land Degradation initiative managed by Germany, the European Commission, and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification strive to strengthen land management through shared knowledge.
It’s no secret that mitigating these issues is hard, but it’s promising that agriculture is finally being considered a crucial item on the development agenda. Agriculture isn’t just about farming. It’s also about food, which is inextricably tied to nutrition. And nutrition is in turn closely linked to health. Recognizing that these issues are interconnected and interdependent is key to devising development solutions that work.
Looking forward, the report admits that there are challenges ahead in 2012 — but we’re not without tools to conquer them. The first step is to keep agriculture at the forefront of our leaders’ minds. Add your voice to our Thrive petition to pressure decision-makers at the G8 and G20 summits to make agriculture a priority!