Number of Hungry Down

FAO's new State of Food Insecurity in the World report indicates that the number of hungry in the world has dropped, in part thanks to an increase in agricultural productivity growth, proving that the recent investment in agriculture is making a difference.

Some 842 million people, or roughly one in eight, suffered from chronic hunger in 2011-13, not getting enough food to lead active and healthy lives according to a report released by the UN food agencies.

The number is down from 868 million reported for the 2010-12 period, according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI 2013), published every year by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP). The vast majority of hungry people live in developing regions, while 15.7 million live in developed countries.

Continued economic growth in developing countries has improved incomes and access to food. Recent pick-up in agricultural productivity growth, supported by increased public investment and renewed interest of private investors in agriculture, has improved food availability.

Agricultural Innovation Prize

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced the launch of the 2014 Agricultural Innovation Prize in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. The competition is open to U.S. undergraduate and graduate students across all academic disciplines and runs through spring 2014, when teams will compete for the chance to win $215,000 in prize money, with a grand prize of $100,000; making this the largest agriculture-focused student competition in the world. The contest encourages student teams to develop innovative plans to address social and agricultural challenges within food systems, improving the standard of living and quality of life for the world's population.

Irrigation is Insurance

Weather variability is already affecting agriculture. Crop insurance is one way to think of managing this variability but it is rapidly becoming untenable as it is too expensive unless government subsidized national schemes. "The real insurance is irrigation," said Johnathon Lassers of Ariel Investment Management at the Global Ag Investing Conference in Singapore. Active in Uruguay, he notes growing variability in the rainfall patterns is impacting their farm.

"Water is one of the main risks in agriculture," added Tim Hornibrook of Macquarie Agricultural Funds Management. One of the best ways to hedge this is by being geographically diverse - across the span of a country and across the globe he suggests.

How are Ag Marketers Different than Those in Other Industries?

Millennium Research Inc. sent out some interesting facts on agricultural marketing:

They are focused on customer retention

The majority of agriculture organizations’ sales revenue (80%) comes from existing customers, which is the highest among all of the industries surveyed. Not surprisingly, one of their primary goals for content marketing is customer retention.

They rely heavily on print-based media

More than any other industry, agricultural marketers rely on print media. They are the largest users of both print magazines (69%) and print newsletters (56%). Perhaps not surprisingly, they also widely use in-person events (68%); the only other industry that has a higher level of adoption for in-person events is healthcare.

They have not widely adopted social media

Agricultural marketers use social media the least of any group (60% versus 79% on average). Related to this, they also have the lowest adoption rate for blogs (29%).

How to Navigate Spaceship Earth’s Food Security and Land-based Mitigation

The Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security team at the CGIAR system, do great work looking at the challenges agriculture faces in both adapting to and mitigating climate change. Below is a latest piece that shows how clearly demand side change is needed to help address greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the role for sustainable intensification to reduce ag emissions while meeting food demand:

Agriculture-Climate Letters: A Science-Policy Bulletin, September 2013

Buckminster Fuller wryly commented that the earth is like a spaceship that didn't come with an operating manual. As we come up against boundaries of our planet’s natural resources and capacity to absorb wastes, we urgently need to figure out what options will work best to manage competing uses for our global sources and sinks.

A new article co-authored by Pete Smith and a global team of scientists poses one of the most pressing questions: How much land-based greenhouse gas mitigation can be achieved without compromising food security and environmental goals?

This is tough to answer. The authors’ first helpful contribution is to distinguish and quantify the range of options for action on the supply-side (improved management of biomass, soils, livestock, and energy use in agriculture and forestry) and the demand-side (reducing food waste, limiting over-consumption, and shifting to less resource-intense diets). But the potential global total for land-based mitigation is not a simple sum, as there are interactions and trade-offs among the different options. For example, less consumption of animal products will mean reduced methane emissions from livestock, but could also result in increased emissions from cropland. Modeling studies provide our best current means of navigating the various sets of options.

By pulling together modeling results and empirical science, the authors find that changes on the supply side, in agriculture and forestry, could offer emissions reductions of 1.5 to 4.3 Gt CO2 equivalent per year at carbon prices of between USD20 and USD100. To put that in perspective, the International Energy Agency estimated 2011 emissions as 31.6 Gt CO2 equivalent. The concept of “sustainable intensification" captures the principles behind achieving supply-side emissions reductions: essentially greater efficiency in turning limited inputs into useful outputs, in an equitable and ethical way.

Promisingly, demand-side measures could reduce emissions three to four times more than supply-side measures alone, anywhere between 1.5 and 15.6 Gt CO2 equivalent per year. Moreover, reduced food waste and less resource-intensive diets have guaranteed benefits for food security, compared to some supply-side options, such as biofuel production, that under some circumstances reduce food availability. In theory this is wonderful: coupling demand-side measures with sustainable intensification could, at maximum, cut away half of all global emissions at the 2011 level, even without any actions in transport, industry or other sectors.

Smith and co-authors wisely advocate that we take action simultaneously on supply-side and demand-side options. Policies can provide multiple incentives for land managers to intensify resource use sustainably and to spare land and biodiversity. A much more stubborn policy challenge is how to bring about appropriate changes in consumers’ behaviors. We need somehow to reduce waste and over-consumption of food without forcing massive price rises, or greater problems with food safety, onto the poorest and most undernourished consumers. It will take much political ingenuity to implement the smart technical solutions that we are beginning to recognize in Spaceship Earth’s operating manual.

Lindiwe Sibanda wins Yara Prize

Advocating for impact has always been Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda passion. That passion was recognized this year when Lindiwe was awarded the Yara prize for her many years of work generating knowledge and facilitating dialogue to develop informed, research-based development through policy and advocacy across Africa as CEO of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), where she has served since 2004.

FANRPAN is perceived to be one of the most influential policy networks across the African region. Its focus areas include policy research and advocacy work on food policy, agricultural productivity, natural resources and environment, and the impact of HIV/AIDS on farmers’ livelihoods. Dr. Sibanda has played a global leadership role in increasing the visibility and importance of agriculture as a key development driver. In 2009, Dr. Sibanda led the global “No-Agriculture, No-Deal” campaign and mobilized African civil society organizations to push for the inclusion of agriculture in the UNFCCC climate change negotiations.

Dr. Sibanda has built the advocacy capacity of FANRPAN through her innovative use of strategic outreach and communication activities which help leverage and amplify the work done by the organization and its partners at the ground level. Through this multi-pronged approach Dr. Sibanda has effectively built recognition for FANRPAN as one of the most recognized and trusted voices on African agriculture and food security, including a strong focus on women farmers.

The Yara Prize Committee has selected a woman whose advocacy which has enabled change in the African agricultural sector. She has translated ideas on the development of African agriculture into impactful results, and it is her drive that is playing a vital role in transforming agriculture in Africa. Proof of this is the extension of FANRPAN's mandate to become Africa-wide in 2012, and has identified youth as an important stakeholder group to be further nurtured and included in agricultural policy processes, launching the FANRPAN Youth in Agriculture Award in 2012.

Having worked with Lindiwe many times over the past few years, during the Rio+20 conference, on the Farming First coalition, and in the Agriculture, Livelihoods and Landscapes day in the climate change negotiations, I cannot imagine a more deserving winner. She is such as effective facilitator - both behind the podium and behind the scenes - and has developed innovative programming to help farmers on the ground as well as at the United Nations.

Watch Lindiwe at:

Timeline for the Post 2015 and SDG process

Stakeholder Forum deserves a lot of credit for creating an interactive timeline of key milestones for three of the primary post-Rio+20 processes: the Expert Committee on a Sustainable Development Financing Strategy; the high level political forum; and sustainable development goals. It also outlines key milestones for the post-MDG process, which, along with the SDGs form the central components of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Stakeholder Forum will continue to update the timeline as these processes progress.

Seed Leadership

The Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA) has conferred upon myself an Honorary Life Membership in the organization. The CSGA, which represents over 3,700 seed growers, is an integral part of Canada’s agricultural sector. The CSGA monitors and certifies pedigree seed for every agricultural crop in Canada save potatoes.

The award, a reflection of my important work both in the sector and with the CSGA, is proof of the committal shared by them to sustaining Canada’s high-quality seed as well as continuing to work to improve the sector as a whole.

An announcement of the award can be found here.

Stand Strong Together

In my remarks to the opening plenary of the Global Youth Ag Summit, I focused on the importance of farmers speaking up and speaking together. Now is the moment agriculture is at the forefront of the global agenda and the people at the summit have the chance to use their leadership skills to make sure that agriculture remains at the top of the agenda.

Art Froelich and I had a lot of fun doing this presentation and even more fun answering questions and meeting people afterward. Watch a video of the presentation, titled "Day 2 - Tuesday, August 20 Youth Ag Summit" here: Our session starts at 45:40, and I start at 54:30 in the timeline..

Global Youth Ag Summit

On August 19th the Global Youth Ag Summit, kicked off with a challenge to create new ideas to Feed a Hungry Planet. Bringing together young farmers from 24 countries around the world, the celebration of the future of 4-H after its first hundred years is focused on sustainable agriculture.

Moderated by Canadian ag guru, Kim McConnell, the group has the honour and challenge of thinking about solutions they can implement in their home community and to develop an organizational structure that will meet the ongoing needs of youth in agriculture. It will be the foundation of the Summit Action Plan.

Leona Dargis welcomed a world of ag talent to Calgary as the kick off speaker. A former Nuffield scholar, she now works with the Commonwealth of Royal Societies. Growing up on a mixed farm, she and her four sisters used the strength of their rural upbringing to keep the farm going after the loss of their parents at a young age. They have a passion for new things, adventure, and education, that inspired the delegates to think about their coming week together and all the opportunities it will bring.

I have the honour of sharing the stage with Art Froelich in the Opening Plenary.

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