8 practices to minimize the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on agricultural development and food security
By Susan Karimiha, Fatemeh Malekian, Tatiana LeGrand, Mariano Sobalbarro, Cedric Habirayemye, Chuck Chopak and Russ Webster
The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on International Agricultural development and Food Security
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, lives around the world have become disrupted. Throughout the world, social distancing, curfews and, in some cases, stay at home orders, have become common practice. In addition to the immediate health risks posed by the virus, there will be significant impacts on the livelihoods of individuals in resource-limited settings and farms throughout the world. Previous research on epidemics and pandemics suggests long term social and economic impacts on agricultural livelihoods and food security (Gatiso et al., 2018; World Bank, 2019; Muzari et al., 2014; Asenso-Okyere et al., 2010). As an example, in the short term and on an individual level, in a recent interview aired on a Honduran news station, a female farmer cried, “We need to eat! What are we going to eat? My fruit over there is already rotten. They tell us to stay in the house. But how will we eat?” The impact of the virus on immediate poverty, malnutrition, and hunger, is especially apparent in resource-limited settings. The pandemic is a double threat to vulnerable communities—hunger and malnutrition further compromise the immune system—placing many in the highest risk group for COVID-19 with less resilience to fight the virus. Furthermore, the economic consequences of the virus on employment impacts the ability of people to purchase goods and produces an increase in market volatility.
Travel restrictions impact trade, international business, and training opportunities. Adjustments to social events are already taking place around the world, with cultural and religious gatherings which involve food traditions (e.g. Easter, Diwali, Passover, Ramadan, funerals, weddings). Just recently, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) experts suggested that the reduction in economic growth following the COVID-19 outbreak could increase poverty rates by 1.7%-3.0%, with varying magnitude in different regions, and prices are falling for many agricultural commodities.
Development initiatives may consider the following recommendations for minimizing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on agriculture and rural development.
Leave a comment or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to get in touch with the authors.
By Austen Moore
Senior Technical Advisor
Catholic Relief Services
As a Peace Corps volunteer, we were taught to “work ourselves out of a job” by the end of our service. In short, to develop programs, build capacities, and empower local people to take these initiatives and run with them. This approach makes sense from an educational, governance, and financial perspective, with the theoretical underpinning that local people are best positioned to enable their own sustainable development. USAID’s recent emphasis on the Road to Self-Reliance (link) borrows heavily from this thinking, in addition to positioning countries to do more with less external support.
Much of the work I’ve done in my career matches this methodology, focusing on the importance of capacity development and participatory approaches that create buy-in and empowerment. Emphasis tends to fall at the macro and micro levels: (1) the national level, where countries are guided towards enabling environments and participatory policy reform; and (2) the field level, where beneficiaries are reached with services and the “rubber meets the road” so to speak. Certainly these levels are worthy of focus and substantial impact is made here, which justifies the intense development attention and funding they receive.
But I’ve come to realize that local systems – i.e. the formal and informal structures that organize activity in countries and function beyond the timelines and budgets of development projects – may hold hidden potential to realize these goals in a way that we, as development actors, have yet to fully harness. These local systems – or the meso level, through which policy leads to field-level action and field-level issues matriculate up to influence policy – is equally crucial. Many a policy reform produces a well-designed, slickly printed document ready for distribution down to lower levels where it can be implemented, only to reside in boxes in Ministry offices. Likewise, reams of needs assessments, stakeholder-focused studies, and reporting highlight local needs and preferences, which struggle to substantially influence the national dialogue or research agenda.
As a member of the University of Illinois’ AgReach program, we directly targeted the meso level through the Strengthening Agricultural and Nutrition Extension (SANE) project in Malawi (link). SANE worked to strengthen the local structures that made up the District Agricultural Extension Services System, a series of stakeholder platforms that linked villages to higher administrative levels (where funding decisions were made) and ultimately the national level (where policy was decided). SANE quickly determined that these platforms lacked a basic understanding of their roles and responsibilities and needed strengthening in group formation and management practices, not exactly a novel approach but one that is often overlooked with local systems where a baseline of capacity is assumed even when no efforts are made to build it. Simply forming platforms, committees, or structures does not make them functional or capable, as the Malawi experience showed. As a result, local systems become a bottleneck rather than a conduit for development.
However, with the SANE example, when platforms were strengthened there was a decided uptick in the provision of agricultural services and better alignment between services and needs. Moreover, participants in the platforms – largely local farmers, field-level development actors, and small-scale private sector providers – were energized to continue advocating for appropriate services. Extension workers cited that it was “no longer business as usual” and that they now had to be responsive to farmers’ needs, as these needs were better prioritized and articulated, and that farmers had the advocacy power of the platforms to hold service providers accountable (link). Multiple cases thus arose where stakeholder platforms were able to mobilize resources locally – either from district development funds, NGO budgets, or community members themselves – to address local issues without external support. This shortened the feedback loop between needs identification and problem resolution, thereby strengthening local ownership and self-reliance. Where climate and pest-related issues arose – as in the case of Fall Armyworm in Malawi – it also enhanced resilience and lessened crop losses and food insecurity.
While not every country has a built-in local system for agricultural services like Malawi, more deliberate attention to the meso-level local systems that do exist in every context can produce similar results. A recognition of this exists in most organizations looking for sustainable change. For example, Catholic Relief Services includes building functional organizations/systems as one of our building blocks for agricultural livelihoods. The CRS SMART Skills package also focuses on group formation and strengthening as an essential component of the Pathway to Prosperity (link), yet recognizes that the potential of these groups will be best realized if they are tied into local systems, whether civil society organizations, local diocese advocating on their behalf, private sector buyers engaging them in market opportunities, or simply escalating levels of stakeholder platforms pushing their needs upwards as seen in Malawi.
Still, operationalizing this focus remains elusive. USAID’s Local Systems Framework (link) identifies potential strategies, but more direct programming targeting this meso level may be beneficial. One opportunity would be to closer link agricultural programming to democracy and governance efforts that focus on local systems and citizen advocacy. Sometimes – as in Malawi where the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Local Government often functioned in parallel – linkages can be made between existing systems that dramatically improve performance. Agricultural programming focusing on resilience and empowerment could also learn from governance literature and the experiences of decentralization and democratization, which could be components of farmer group capacity-building efforts.
Overall, local systems strengthening remains a key need but an area where successes are emerging that require closer investigation, especially when efforts to strengthen local systems are deliberate and central to programming. Through more focused efforts – either by incorporating local systems into project design or funding systems strengthening projects like SANE – I expect to see better impacts for farmers and countries overall. If self-reliance and local ownership towards poverty and hunger reduction are our goals, we would not go wrong making this a more deliberate priority.
By Bill Guyton,
Executive Director of the
Fine Chocolate Industry Association
Have you decided what gift you will give your loved one on Valentine’s Day? Perhaps the best option is fine chocolate. Two years ago, I was hired as Executive Director of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA), the only organization focused 100% on supporting fine chocolate professionals. The 300+ members include fine flavor cacao growers, chocolate makers, chocolatiers, suppliers of ingredients, packaging and equipment, pastry chefs, educators, marketers, and specialty retailers. FCIA members are dedicated to improving quality cocoa and chocolate products, representing the top tier of the market. They tend to be innovative, creative, and passionate about their products.
So, what is fine chocolate? FCIA defines it in terms of flavor, texture and appearance, as well as how its limited ingredients, high cocoa and low sugar content, are sourced and processed. A more complete description and list of our corporate company members can be found on our website. In simpler terms, if the chocolate has superior flavor, is ethically sourced, and has cocoa listed as the primary ingredient, you are probably eating fine chocolate.
Where does fine cacao grow? Cocoa quality depends on genetics, terroir, and post-harvest practices such as proper fermentation and drying. The majority of fine cacao is farmed by small-scale producers in Latin America, 20 degrees north and south of the equator. It is important to note, however, that fine cocoa can also be found in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa. Cocoa farmers typically grow other tree crops and food crops on their landholdings.
How is fine cocoa sourced? Fine chocolate companies are committed to sourcing the best quality cocoa and pay premiums to farmers. They also support sustainable farming practices and seek more direct relationships with their supply chain providers.
What are the partnerships with universities and fine chocolate? Leading U.S. universities are working with FCIA company members to achieve these goals through strategic partnerships. Many of the programs would not be possible without support from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who provide long-term resources for many of these important initiatives.
Here are three examples of ongoing partnerships:
Agronomy, Health, Sensory and Genetic Research: Pennsylvania State University’s (PSU) College of Agricultural Sciences has been supporting high quality cocoa research through their Cacao and Chocolate Research Network (CCRN). The College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State is globally known for its high quality cacao and chocolate science. The CCRN network was founded by the faculty, but it is enthusiastically supported and also driven by the graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Penn State faculty have conducted research on cacao and chocolate for more than 50 years on a wide range of topics including history, health benefits, different aspects of cacao production, plant genetic improvement, plant propagation, soil management, flavor and quality, sensory science, chocolate making, agricultural extension, gender and technology transfer issues. The Cacao and Chocolate Research Network at Penn State currently includes more than 30 members including international graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty that are actively conducting cacao and chocolate research supported by funding from NSF (National Science Foundation), USDA-FAS (USDA Foreign Agricultural Service), USAID, industry and others. Most recently, PSU has been supporting efforts of FCIA’s sister organization, the Heirloom Cacao Preservation (HCP) Fund to help preserve some of the finest flavor cocoa in the world.
Fine Chocolate Business Surveys: Lead researchers from Oregon State University, the University of Washington and FCIA conducted a 2019 business survey of nearly 300 company respondents involved in the trade, manufacturing, and sales of fine chocolate products in the US and abroad. Findings provide important insights into the challenges and opportunities faced by FCIA members and aim to improve member experiences.
Education, Sensory and Research: Through an affiliation with Harvard University, The Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) is helping to identify, develop and promote fine cacao and chocolate. The institute provides an array of educational programs and organizes a regional chocolate festival in the Boston area.
As you purchase fine chocolate for Valentine’s Day, you can hopefully gain a greater understanding of the many partners who have contributed to quality improvements. If you would like to learn more about the fine chocolate industry or how to support efforts, please feel free to reach out to Bill.
About the author:
Bill Guyton has been an AIARD member for over 15 years. He is an agricultural economist with a Master’s Degree from Michigan State University and an undergraduate degree in Agricultural Business from Colorado State University. Bill was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Democratic of the Congo and has worked in agricultural development for over 25 years with public and private sector groups.
By Russ Webster
President-Elect, AIARD and
President, Food Enterprise Solutions
Throughout the course of my career in international development, I’ve been continually reminded about how interconnected the world is. Not only does information technology bring us instant updates on what’s happening across the globe, but numerous networks – some formed through neighborhood, community or college-campus friendships, others through business relationships, others through following major social institutions like sports, others through the workings of large public sector institutions – link people from all walks of life through common interest or common cause.
This phenomenon holds just as true in the cases of agriculture and rural development – the key themes that bring us all together through AIARD. Farmers – the caretakers of resources and technologies that produce the food we all need – are interdependent on other key actors operating in rural areas. These include input suppliers, extension agents, cooperative managers, storage operators, post-harvest processors, truckers, purchasing agents for commodities – not to mention all of the people who work to build and maintain vital infrastructure: roads, energy, water, and telecommunications.
All of these actors, and the jobs they perform, go towards ultimately benefiting all of us – consumers. And, without the farm-to-market-and-everything-in-between system, we wouldn’t be able to carry on with our lives, our work, our contributions to society.
This is why I like to refer to agriculture as the job of fueling EVERYTHING we do. This is also why we need to be ever-mindful of supporting research, capital investment, policy and regulatory streamlining, and financing for all aspects of the system – production, processing, storage, distribution, retailing and even final preparation – towards the multiple goals of improved efficiency, reduced loss and waste, improved environmental sustainability, better retention of nutrient content, and improved access for consumers living in food deficient regions.
This year’s AIARD conference is designed to focus on a crucial dimension of this system connecting producers and consumers: food safety. We’ll hear from researchers, industry experts, development professionals, and donors on how they view both the challenge and the opportunity for improving food safety practices that can reduce loss, waste, and the incidences of foodborne illness. There will be plenty of time for networking, dialogue, and learning from new and old friends. We will celebrate our more-than-fifty-year history by recognizing the valuable contributions of students, members, and others who have furthered the cause of reducing global hunger and malnutrition, while also looking towards the future of our esteemed organization and exploring ways that we can grow our membership, facilitate ongoing opportunities for dialogue and learning, and further strengthen our support for future leaders in international agriculture and rural development.
Come and be a part of this network. I hope to see you there!
By Russ Webster, AIARD President-Elect
and Tatiana LeGrand, Chair of the Communications Committee
Safe food is a foundation for nutritious diets and is crucial for enabling producers to gain access to markets. We would like to bring to your attention several recent publications that emphasize more than ever the importance of the theme for our next conference, "Making Food Safe: Meeting the Global Challenge", that will take place at the Hamilton Hotel in Washington, DC at the end of May - beginning of June 2020.
The challenge of producing, trading, processing, and distributing safe and nutritious foods in developing countries is gaining importance in the ongoing dialogue about food systems strengthening. And attention is being drawn to the importance of non-farm businesses – formal and informal food enterprises of all sizes – in connecting producers with consumers, reducing food loss, and guaranteeing quality:
“Agricultural value chains are becoming more urbanized and consumer driven, with a greater emphasis on quality and food safety." Status Report 2019 by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), The Hidden Middle: A Quiet Revolution in the Private Sector Driving Agricultural Transformation, examines how the food systems are changing and what role the private sector is already playing in this process. The report also looks at how the private sector can further contribute to a thriving food sector. Among other issues, it highlights the role of regulations in this process:
“Governments should recognize that research shows that many traders sell substandard or fraudulent seeds, fertilizer and pesticides. This is also a developing issue in output markets with food safety. The key necessary public good is setting regulations and enforcing them.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, UNFAO, has recently released the 2019 State of Food and Agriculture report that is dedicated to understanding the pathways of food waste and loss as well as exploring strategies in moving forward on reducing food loss and waste. One of the interesting highlights from this report is that “Unsafe food is often diverted to lower-income groups that are physically and economically vulnerable to disease." Addressing such challenges is becoming increasingly important, in particular in areas where inequality is on the rise.
2019 Global Agricultural Productivity Report: Productivity Growth for Sustainable Diets and More prepared by Virginia Tech University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences talks about other important aspects of improving food safety in food systems such as social protection and infrastructure improvements:
“Given the importance of the informal food sector to producers, consumers and the economy, policymakers need to consider how to increase the sustainability and safety of food produced and sold informally, and how to improve the working conditions and social protection of those involved in this vibrant and growing part of the food value chain."
Food safety plays a critical part in assuring that food stays safe at every step of the food value chains, all the way from production to harvest, throughout the processing, storage, distribution, retail, preparation and consumption by consumers. The report also highlights that “Productive sustainable food and agriculture systems need efficient, affordable and up-to-date systems for transportation and communications…It takes well-constructed, properly-maintained and interlinked infrastructure to move goods to markets efficiently, while preserving freshness, quality and safety of food and agricultural products.” Decision-makers have an important role to play in enabling all market actors operate in a way that serves this purpose.
These are just some examples that highlight the role and the challenges of food safety that the world is facing. Join us at AIARD’s 2020 Annual Conference from May 31 – June 2, 2020 in Washington, DC to discuss the many challenges of food safety in connecting farm to market and providing consumers across the globe with safe and nutritious food choices.
We encourage you to bring your ideas and experience as a panelist, speaker, small-group discussant or poster-board presenter – share with your peers across academia, industry, and government to become a part of the solution to zero hunger. You can still submit your abstract following this link as we extended the deadline till December 20th.
By Kara Casy,
Director of Urban Agriculture and Renewable Resources at El Centro College,
We celebrate International Youth Day on August 12th, a day to highlight and encourage the youth in our local and global community. The United Nations defines youth as the age group ranging from 15 to 24. While one-sixth of the world’s population falls into this demographic, are we truly including all youth in the opportunity to create resilient global food systems?
“Well I became pregnant, but I’m back on track now,” were the words I was unable to unhear through my new office phone at El Centro College. I wasn’t the admissions office she was looking for at the community college, as she enthusiastically stated her intentions to return to school. Encouraging, congratulating, and welcoming her back, it was a memorable moment as I transferred her to admissions.
Back on track.
For being in a field as human as education, where we differentiate instruction, we teach to different learning styles, different evaluation styles, in different venues, it struck me as particularly odd in that moment to picture something as equally human as bringing a child into the world derailing that track built exclusively for people.
Higher education is the most reliable track out of poverty. However, in a stinging ironic twist, low-income students encounter more barriers navigating this path all the way to completion.
For youth who are caring for families or loved ones at home, the track seems unyielding. Labs and finals are proctored at specific times, unphased by doctor’s appointments and childcare cancellations.
For low-income students dependent on public transportation, delays on the bus and the train complicate tight scheduling between work, family, and school. The strain can pull students off track as easily as missing that last quiz, that last exam, that last unexcused absence.
As I listened on the other end of the phone, the first teacher to welcome her back to her journey toward higher education, it felt like high time for the track to bend to meet youth where they are as whole people. Thankfully, we are working toward this end at El Centro College.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions STEM grants program, our team is working to open innovative pathways to successful transfer and graduation in STEM field degrees. In addition to making high-quality instruction in agriculture accessible for all Dallas county youth, our college courses are also offered at a fraction of the cost per credit hour.
Implementing strategic interventions like peer mentoring programs and organizing cohorts of learning communities, we’re also building resilient support networks for our students and improving retention rates along the way.
Our institution is truly serving a diverse and strong student body. Many of my students opt for part-time course loads and full-time jobs, trading in extra-curricular activities and club socials for extra working shifts at the local diner. It’s hard to argue that students with such a strong work ethic wouldn’t contribute in a meaningful way to the agricultural industry with a college degree if they’re afforded the flexibility.
AIARD also works to include youth in international agricultural development by hosting the Future Leaders Forum. Having the great fortune of participating in the forum myself, it was a valuable experience to gain insight into the various programs, offices, and agencies that support food security across the globe. With the freedom to ask any question, especially that most important question, “How did you start working here?” gave our cohort a new perspective to help inform our next crucial steps onto the job market.
On this International Youth Day, please consider how your team can begin implementing bends in your own tracks and agricultural programs to support and include a more diverse representation of all this demographic has to offer.
By Tatiana LeGrand,
Sustainable Development Specialist at Agribusiness Academy
AIARD Communications Committee Chair
On the 15th of July, nations around the world celebrated the World Youth Skills Day. In defining the importance of the skills of the youth, the United Nations states that, “the active engagement of youth in sustainable development efforts is central to achieving sustainable, inclusive and stable societies by the target date, and to averting the worst threats and challenges to sustainable development, including the impacts of climate change, unemployment, poverty, gender inequality, conflict, and migration.” Through my work on sustainable development projects in the agriculture and natural resource management sectors in several countries, I have witnessed how crucial the role of young people and women can be in transforming their livelihoods and contributing to economic growth.
Having just visited Kyrgyzstan to support the USAID’s AgroHorizon project, I have seen sustainable businesses thrive once given much-needed support, providing new opportunities for employment. It is not always easy to find jobs in the agriculture sector that provide a decent salary. People in rural areas in many regions of the world rely on producing crops and raising livestock for their own consumption. Without regulations for the use of land and in the absence of knowledge about best practices in crop and livestock management, deterioration of natural resources can occur. Some examples include soil fertility decline, overuse of pastures and clearcutting of trees. Magnified by the effects of climate change and large-scale production, agricultural and natural systems face unprecedented challenges. These impacts can often be felt more acutely by women.
This, however, can be prevented and even reversed. There are many inspiring examples of young people and women starting sustainable businesses in the agriculture sector and contributing to sustainable management of natural resources. These new ideas can contribute significantly not only to economic growth, but also to creating employment opportunities and making livelihoods more resilient to the challenges exacerbated by climate change.
In Kyrgyzstan, for example, with the help of the AgroHorizon project, women have started working in fruit and vegetable processing enterprises, and they are even starting their own greenhouse businesses. In Armenia, the ENPARD project has provided women with new income opportunities. These women are now transforming the lives of their families and communities by increasing the availability of more nutritious foods. In South Africa, young people and entrepreneurs even have their own digital platform for connecting and sharing ideas.
In many countries, women, also tend to be the primary animal caretakers. Having the right to own livestock and generate the income, together with the knowledge about animal care and management practices, they can transform not only rural livelihoods, but also ecosystems.
Forest management, traditionally a man's job, can also represent diverse opportunities for women and young people, besides being an important climate mitigation strategy. In Guatemala, for example, Maya people that are engaged in community-based forest management, have not only risen out of poverty, but have also provided themselves with a source of income and reduced illegal forest clearcutting. A recent report by Rainforest Alliance even showed net forest gains in the Maya biosphere reserve!
While in many situations women’s rights and opportunities for young people might be limited, these stories give hope. Provided with knowledge, tools, and rights to own land and access to inputs, these leaders can create change and contribute to increased resilience of many rural communities.
These are just some examples that I have witnessed in recent years. Here are some more resources with additional information about these topics:
Sustainable use of natural resources and agricultural development should not be separate from economic growth. To achieve that, we have to keep on creating employment opportunities for women and young people in the agriculture sector and beyond. We can also support businesses that use natural resources in a sustainable manner and contribute to creating more resilient livelihoods.
By Thomas Pesek,
FAO Senior Liaison Officer and AIARD Board Director
In recent years, there have been many publications and events surrounding The Future of Food and Agriculture. Many of these have concentrated on the unprecedented challenges posed by projected global population growth set against the backdrop of extreme weather. These have all registered cause for concern of one form or another. Yet FAO’s recently released State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture (Executive summary), the first ever global assessment of the state of biodiversity worldwide, issues a thunderous, earsplitting alarm bell for all who care to listen. The report is a thoroughly sobering read that should be keeping us all awake at night.
This first-of-its-kind report presents mounting and worrying evidence that the biodiversity that underpins our food systems is rapidly disappearing by the day – putting the future of our food, livelihoods, health and environment under severe threat. The report warns, once lost, species and biodiversity for food and agriculture cannot be recovered. There simply is no going back once species become extinct.
It’s worth noting that the report itself is significant not only for its sobering key findings but also because of how extremely comprehensive it is. It is the result of more than five years of work, drawing on information provided from 91 country reports (prepared by over 1 300 contributors), 27 reports from international organizations and with inputs from over 175 authors from around the world. As such, this is not merely a superficial snapshot. Importantly, the report also provides the first-ever baseline for policymakers and decision-makers to use in monitoring, measuring and reporting on progress moving forward.
Biodiversity for food and agriculture is all the plants and animals - wild and domesticated - that provide food, feed, fuel and fiber. It is also the myriad of organisms that support food production through ecosystem services – called “associated biodiversity”. This includes all the plants, animals and micro-organisms (such as insects, bats, birds, mangroves, corals, seagrasses, earthworms, soil-dwelling fungi and bacteria) that keep soils fertile, pollinate plants, purify water and air, keep fish and trees healthy, and fight crop and livestock pests and diseases.
The report points to decreasing plant diversity in farmers’ fields, rising numbers of livestock breeds at risk of extinction and increases in the proportion of overfished fish stocks. Of some 6,000 plant species cultivated for food, fewer than 200 contribute substantially to global food output, and only nine account for 66 percent of total crop production. The world’s livestock production is based on about 40 animal species, with only a handful providing the vast majority of meat, milk and eggs. Of the 7,745 local (occurring in one country) breeds of livestock reported globally, 26 percent are at risk of extinction. Nearly a third of fish stocks are overfished, more than half have reached their sustainable limit.
Information from the 91 reporting countries reveals that wild food species and many species that contribute to ecosystem services that are vital to food and agriculture, including pollinators, soil organisms and natural enemies of pests, are rapidly disappearing.
Many associated biodiversity species are also under severe threat. These include birds, bats and insects that help control pests and diseases, soil biodiversity, and wild pollinators – such as bees, butterflies, bats and birds. Forests, rangelands, mangroves, seagrass meadows, coral reefs and wetlands in general – key ecosystems that deliver numerous services essential to food and agriculture and are home to countless species – are also rapidly declining.
The report is not without signs of hope, however. Things are changing, though these efforts needs to be intensified, vastly scaled up and better coordinated. The knowledge, technologies and practices already exist that can make agriculture and the broader food system more biodiversity friendly.
In fact, biodiversity-friendly practices are on the rise. The report highlights a growing interest in biodiversity-friendly practices and approaches. Eighty percent of the 91 countries indicate using one or more biodiversity-friendly practices and approaches such as: organic agriculture, integrated pest management, conservation agriculture, sustainable soil management, agroecology, sustainable forest management, agroforestry, diversification practices in aquaculture, ecosystem approach to fisheries and ecosystem restoration.
One example of this shift featured comes to us from California, where farmers are allowing their rice fields to flood in winter instead of burning them after growing season. This provides 111,000 hectares of wetlands and open space for 230 bird species, many at risk of extinction. As a result, many species have begun to increase in numbers, and the number of ducks has doubled.
So what is FAO doing about all of this? Safeguarding biodiversity has been a major area of focus since FAO’s establishment nearly 75 years ago. For example, the First Session of the FAO Conference held in 1945 identified the need for fishery conservation measures as food shortages in Europe and elsewhere after World War II had stimulated overfishing.
In the 1950s FAO adopted the International Plant Protection Convention, a multilateral treaty for the application of phytosanitary measures by governments to protect their plant resources from harmful pests introduced through international trade. In 1983, FAO established what is today known as the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which specifically deals with biodiversity relevant to food and agriculture.
FAO is working at the global level to promote policy coherence on these issues within the UN system and across our 194 Member State Governments to build consensus and promote action. Importantly, FAO is also working to build bridges between the agricultural sector and the environmental sector. Towards this end, FAO launched in 2017 the Biodiversity Mainstreaming Platform which is coordinating action across sectors, countries and regions In May 2018, FAO convened a Global Multi-stakeholder Dialogue on Biodiversity Mainstreaming across Agricultural Sectors. Moving forward, FAO is convening regional dialogues on Biodiversity Mainstreaming, the next one of which will be held in the Latin American and Caribbean region later this year and another thereafter in Asia in 2019.
At the end of day, alarming reports such as this one really matter most if they ultimately trigger action and change. And this report describes in great detail challenges and trends that at times may seem utterly impossible and without solutions. Yet if you read the report more closely, you will also find that these seemingly impossible challenges are actually great opportunities in disguise. So let us all exploit these windows of opportunity to act. Now. The future of food and agriculture depends on it, and on us.
The full report can be found HERE.
By Chuck Chopak,
DAI Global Practice Lead, Resilience
AIARD Director and Membership Committee Chair
I am, to put it diplomatically, a “seasoned” development professional. So seasoned that I did my Peace Corps service in the early 1980s. Ndjiarème, a tiny village in northern Senegal, was a dry, harsh environment. In the five years I lived there it seemingly rained only a handful of times. The farmers saw their staple millet crops fail in several of those years and eventually abandoned growing millet altogether. While these events seemed normal to me at the time, I realize now that I was living in a momentous multiyear drought that would change the lives of the village families irrevocably.
Understanding the ability of households and communities to absorb and adapt to shocks and stresses—whether a single dry season or a chronic drought as I witnessed in Ndjiarème — is at the core of an emerging discipline in development work: resilience.
When you’ve been working in international development as long as I have, it can be easy to assume you’ve seen it all before, that new trends in development thinking are fads, or “old wine in new bottles.” Resilience thinking is anything but. While resilience does, of course, contain elements of what we have learned from work in developing countries over the years (old wine can be pretty good, no?), the way resilience is currently envisioned marks a fresh departure from the past.
Three significant aspects of the new approach to building resilience merit the attention of all of us gathering for the AIARD’s 55th annual conference, where we will be focusing on resilience in global food systems.
What is Resilience?
There are several definitions of resilience, some of them sector- or donor-specific, but I find USAID’s a useful guide to thinking about how resilience can be operationalized for development programming. USAID defines resilience as “the ability of people, households, communities, countries and systems to mitigate, adapt to and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth.”
Shocks and stresses are features, not bugs
Shocks and stresses are something that people, households, communities, countries, and systems anywhere must face, whether you live in the developed world or an emerging nation. While this statement seems obvious, we haven’t actually “mainstreamed” factoring shocks and stresses into our development planning and programming. Efforts to address the underlying causes of stresses—such as climate variability, population pressure, cultural practices (i.e., around water, sanitation, and hygiene), weak institutions, limited service provision, poor infrastructure, and degraded natural resources — have had some success. But on the whole, we haven’t done enough to build the capacity of vulnerable populations—those that hover around or below the poverty line — to withstand anticipated shocks and stresses.
In some countries and regions — such as the Sahel (drought and locusts), Nepal (earthquakes), South Sudan (civil insecurity), and Haiti (drought, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes) — recurring crises are readily apparent and often in the news. In other countries, shocks are less frequent. In both cases, the simple truth is that shocks are normal occurrences, they can be anticipated, and their impact can be mitigated through programs that focus on building resilience in people, communities, institutions, or systems.
Linking humanitarian and development assistance
Countries susceptible to recurring crises have received large volumes of humanitarian assistance. Indeed, USAID spent about three-quarters of its humanitarian assistance funding in just 10 countries. While these billions of dollars are crucial in saving lives, the overall impact hasn’t proved long-lasting, as evidenced by malnutrition indicators — such as stunting and wasting — that in countries such as Niger remain at or above the World Health Organization’s severe or emergency levels.
Linking humanitarian and development efforts in countries liable to recurring crises is an important step forward. The approach is to coordinate and optimize such efforts through joint analysis, planning, and implementation of activities. Several significant multidonor activities in the Sahel and East Africa illustrate the evolution of this new thinking, including the USAID Partnership for Resilience and Economic Growth in the arid and semi-arid areas of northern Kenya, and USAID Joint Planning Cells in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. In these contexts, USAID brings together relief and development teams to “layer, sequence and integrate” their efforts toward the shared goal of building resilience.
Efforts to support inclusive economic growth, environmentally responsible development, and strong government and civil society institutions can be undone if we fail to anticipate, plan for, mitigate, and respond to shocks and stresses. This backsliding is particularly pernicious for marginalized and disenfranchised people who can easily fall below — or further below — the poverty line.
The 2007–2008 world food price crisis is a good example. This systemic shock radically disrupted global food markets, resulting in huge price spikes, the brunt of which was borne by urban populations and poor rural households in developing countries. Some — such as Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Senegal, Indonesia, and Egypt — saw food riots; in Haiti, the violence contributed to the ouster of the Prime Minister. In the wake of the crisis, in 2008 and 2009, an additional 70 million and 80 million people, respectively, lapsed into malnourishment.
The events of a decade ago confirmed that the global food system is an interconnected web where significant shocks or longer-term stress can reverberate globally. As we gather for this year’s AIARD conference — under the theme of “Resilience in global food systems: what does this look like and what will it take?” — we find ourselves at an important moment, compelled to reflect on how we can build resilience in food and other systems. In part because of factors such as climate change, shocks and stresses are occurring more frequently and with more severity. While we will never eliminate shocks and stresses entirely, it is our task to ensure that by building the capacity of people, communities, and systems to absorb and adapt to disruptive forces, we can minimize the human impact in terms of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.
Rita Abi Ghanem, PhD
AG Consultant Service, LLC
Feeding the World: The Importance of Stewarding Soil Microorganisms
The 21st century features many advanced technologies—self-driving cars, drones, robots, etc.—but we are still facing one big challenge that technology may or may not be able to solve for us: How can we sustainably feed the world while maintaining a safe environment and preserving our natural resources?
In farming, it always begins with the soil. Good farmers farm crops, great farmers farm the soil. Important to having great soil is building an active and diverse microbiome that will structure the soil and move and process nutrients in ways most beneficial to plants. The more microbes there are in a soil (and the greater the diversity of those microbes), the more fertile that soil becomes. Thus, careful husbandry of the soil microbiome will successfully contribute to better yields to fight hunger while preserving Earth’s resources.
It’s hard to even conceptualize how much life is going on in the soil around a plant: in fact, a teaspoon of soil contains around 50 billion microbes. Microbes are the living engine of soil. These microbes perform many functions essential for helping plants reach their genetic potential, including:
Those benefits create an environment favorable for seed germination, transplant survival, and root growth. As a soil scientist, some of my top recommendations for stewarding the soil and its living microbiome include:
An entire world exists in just a handful of soil, and the tiny beings within it hold the key to successful crop production. As we steward our fields for sustainable crop production, we must make sure to consider the effect our practices are having on those essential microorganisms—the living engine of soil.
The mission of the AIARD BLOG
The mission of the AIARD Blog is to highlight and share thoughts, ideas and work from people who have devoted their careers to global agricultural development and hunger alleviation.