Media Coverage 2011
Homegrown solutions to the global food crisis
By Tony Breuer
Published July 20, 2011
In developing countries, the global food crisis means people are struggling to make do with less. Kids miss out on going to school. Mothers eat less so there is more to go around for the family. Malnutrition rates increase. Babies aren't born as healthy.
In fact, UN agencies estimate that recent spikes in food prices have driven 44 million people into poverty. These join an additional 2.5 billion who were already living in poverty, for whom food can consume a crushing 80 per cent of their daily expenses.
When prices increase, families are stuck trying to make up the difference by cutting back on other things they need. One of the factors that led to this crisis is that while key crops are now seeing their highest prices in 30 years, donor investment in the agricultural sector dried up over the same period, plummeting from as high as 18 per cent of all aid in 1979 to a meager 2.9 per cent in 2006. This is surprising when you consider that agricultural activities provide at least part of the income for 80 per cent of the world's rural poor—or about a billion people—who live on less than $1.25 a day.
As one of the world's largest agricultural producers, Canada has a key role to play in mitigating the impact of the current global food crisis on the world's poorest. The key to solving the global food security dilemma lies not only in producing more on farms in Canada, but also in Canadians using their expertise to help increase yields on the 500 million small farms in developing countries that are currently feeding nearly a third of the planet's population.
Farmers in developing countries often lack access to the tools and technologies to see their crop yields reach their full potential.This is why it is so important to enable them to access these critically-needed inputs, such as basic farming equipment and drought resistant seeds, plus improved farming practices that reduce environmental damage and improve soil quality.
They need roads and transportation to get their products to market. They also need other sources of income to help them cope with shocks like droughts and floods that affect their farms and to gain the skills and technologies to adapt to an ever-changing climate. Roughly 2 billion people count on these smallholder farmers for food and supporting them results in a double dividend that means more food for the global community and increased incomes for poor farmers.
The good news for the global community is that some help is on the way. As a recognized leader in the sector, Canada has already identified agriculture as a development priority. Before the global food crisis peaked, Canada already provided US$169 million in bilateral food aid in 2009 alone—more than triple the efforts of countries like France and Italy.
Homegrown Canadian organizations like the Canadian Hunger Foundation are a key part of that support. A sustainable livelihoods approach respects and empowers local populations as architects of their own development, involving entire communities in designing and implementing projects and providing advice throughout the process. The majority of our work targets small-scale farmers to increase their asset base, diversify their income and be better informed to access markets and sell at higher profits.
Though the current drought has hit Ethiopia hard, the Partnership for Food Security there is one example of a project that has helped to improve people's lives. Efforts to improve farming efficiency resulted in the tripling of monetary income between 2005-2008. Income from annual crops has increased an incredible seven fold and income from vegetables has almost doubled. 50 per cent more families have access to irrigated land, and families are better able to cope with shocks like crop failures or the current drought.
The drought will be tough for the families we have been working with, but CHF and other non-profits were there before it and will continue to be there afterwards to find long-lasting solutions to keep families out of poverty.
Well-crafted projects can also help to reduce social inequalities and strengthen communities. CHF initiatives make special efforts to support women farmers and address the gender gaps and dynamics that restrict their mobility, access, control and decision-making power. Women are responsible for 60-80 per cent of food production in most developing countries, but are often the most exposed to food insecurity. These initiatives can also bolster community organizations, including local NGOs, community groups and farmers associations, so they can reach and support smallholder farmers—and often the entire community—better.
The time is ripe for nations to sharpen their focus and renew their commitments to funding sustainable growth on smallholder farms.With the right support, smallholder farmers can turn their innovation, dynamism and hard work into prosperity and food security for their communities, and maybe even the world.
Tony Breuer is the executive director of the Canadian Hunger Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to enabling poor rural communities in developing countries to attain sustainable livelihoods. With 50 years of experience, CHF has worked on close to 1,000 development projects in Asia, Africa and the Americas.