To end hunger, we need systemic, agricultural solutions and global partnerships

By Richard Lackey, CEO of The World Food Bank

There is an old African proverb that says “Alone you can go fast. Together you can go far”. Like many proverbs, there is a great deal of sense in it, yet it is often lost in the grand planning we do as nations, non-governmental organizations, and even for profit enterprises.

It does not take a PhD in applied math or physics to know that the problem of hunger in our world is far to broad and far too deep to be solved by government agencies and/or non-profit groups alone. Recent estimates suggest more than 233 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and 795 million people worldwide suffer from hunger and malnutrition. The gap in food security hurts on both ends. Farmers don’t have access to dependable markets in which to sell their products or the financing needed to produce quality commodities that would be desirable outside their region, and processors and food manufacturers often have to shut down because of the lack of inputs that are of dependable price and quality.

The  inefficiencies in the agriculture systems of developing markets average between $800 million and $1.2 trillion. Simply put, there is no way to solve this problem without serious investment from private and institutional funds. With this much at stake, we must have more collaboration between public and private sectors, governments and NGOs, and for-profit and nonprofit agencies in order to eliminate risk and ensure that our collective goals are met.

It’s also estimated that smallholder farmers produce 80 percent of the food consumed across the world. In meeting the demands for food, smallholder farmers face myriad problems that require systemic solutions. These problems range from poor quality seed and unhealthy soil to a lack of fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide to unpredictable rainfall to unreliable transportation and storage facilities.

Most current efforts to solve these problems are approached programmatically. However, at the World Food Bank we believe that it is possible to create a viable, holistic, and systemic resolution that encapsulates all of these key agricultural components through the establishment of a detailed system backed by institutions from all sectors – from governments to NGOs to private sector businesses.

The World Food Bank has analyzed programmatic responses to agricultural issues in the past, and we have found most all of them to fall short toward creating broad and lasting economic change and reducing hunger rates. Even those that have been successful would have been that much more successful had the entire value chain for that geography been addressed concurrently.

Our approach centers on implementing a few key values to revolutionize the way that our global food systems are governed.

Some of these values include:

  1. Collaboration: Public and private sectors, if working together and in tandem, have the potential to provide diverse and effective solutions to global problems. It is through collaborative efforts that global partnerships can create global security. We can no longer approach solutions to issues as complex as hunger in silos and programmatically. While programmatic solutions can provide relief in times of crisis, for lasting change and to eliminate the suffering created by the broad issue of hunger altogether, we need all sectors working together to create new systems for food security that lift smallholder farmers out of poverty and allow for better distribution of higher quality food to those who need it.
  2. Sustainability: We need to create an agricultural ecosystem that thrives in the face of meeting the long term, global demand for food and includes solutions that will endure through climate change and other environmental challenges, as well as solutions that will enhance the economy and unite people in such a way that they are driven to actively participate in the new system. We must cultivate trust among all participants. As such, we require interdependent systems that are built so that each component relies on another—farmer, harvester, purchaser, consumer—safeguarding long-term social, economic, and environmental benefits.
  3. Trust: A thriving agro-ecosystem is a product of farmers who can make decisions confidently based on their own knowledge and the innovative ways in which they engage the environment. This kind of intimate relationship with the land and the way it is managed requires a kind of independence that is not available in programmatic initiatives alone. Further, problems that arise in agriculture, especially as environmental and economic elements are constantly in flux, require the inclusion of a holistic, systemic approach that include .

In 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations began the Farmer Field School approach in Burundi through the Transboundary Agro-ecosystems Management Project in order to improve the farming experience for farmers in the Kagera Basin. This well-functioning system focused on farmers’ interaction with the land and their ability to make decisions about how to improve their own farms. Farmers, then, actively solved problems which arose because of the knowledge they gained through the farmer field school system.

The success of the Farmer Field Schools is a fitting example of how a programmatic solution can have positive results, but still lack the proper capacity for replication and long-term success without proper access to financing for inputs, for processors (the buyers of their commodities), and sufficient aggregation to drive export into other regions.   A flourishing system like the Farmer Field School that encourages education, innovation, and interaction among those who will keep the system in place could see exponential success if there were no other gaps in the agricultural value chain.

That said, for real and lasting growth of these systems, we need to go a step beyond to provide sufficient linkage to markets, which includes access to reliable financing and farmers’ insurance. At the World Food Bank, we work to do this through an innovative finance and investment platform that empowers stakeholders across sectors to create efficiencies in food production and distribution with the end goal of ending hunger.

I’m curious – have you forged collaborative and global partnerships in efforts to create systemic change in global security or otherwise, and, if so, how have those partnerships contributed to better, longer-lasting solutions?

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