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 Hiram Larew, Ph.D
Founder of the Poetry X Hunger Initiative
There’s no better way to start this blog than by presenting a hunger-focused poem. Here’s one by Aressa Williams of Upper Marlboro, MD. She wrote and entered it in the 2018 World Food Day Poetry Competition --
Zero World Hunger: Imagine
by Aressa Williams
Remember the story, “Stone Soup”?
Neighbors shared food that they had.
Carrots, cabbage, beans, peppers,
Enough soup for all prepared.
Plant thoughts for food abundance.
Imagine zero world hunger.
Wholesome meals grace all tables
One mind, same goal, we’re stronger.
Spirit-cousins band as one;
Repast so others eat and live.
Fruits, veggies cross distant seas.
Our grateful hands freely give.
Zero world hunger’s possible.
We are the “Stone Soup” tale.
Bring bread to the world’s table.
Global unity never fails.
Poems about hunger, such as Ms. Williams’ beautifully hopeful one, speak to us in ways that statistics, scientific studies or trend lines can’t. Research studies and policy briefs about food insecurity are incredibly important in our fight against hunger, but they just can’t grab the heart or imagination in the same way that a poet’s carefully written lines can.
Making sure that the power of poetry is focused on the cause of hunger reduction is the intent of Poetry X Hunger, an informal initiative that I launched about a year ago. Poetry X Hunger is all about showcasing poetry that may cause public attitudes and commitments to change and move decision-makers to respond in our work to reduce and even eliminate hunger. Read on if you are interested in learning more…
After years of progress in reducing the prevalence of hunger worldwide, experts are alarmed by a backslide. According to the USDA, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization and others, hunger in the U.S. and around the world is on the rise. About 15 % of American households are food insecure, and about one billion people worldwide are hungry. And, looking ahead to anticipated surges in population, the world’s demand for food is only expected to rise sharply. Hunger haunts today and, it seems, looms large in our future.
And yet, there is hope. Given the scientific, economic and political tools that can be used to alleviate hunger, groups such as Bread for the World believe that worldwide hunger is preventable and can be eliminated. It will take deep moral, political and financial commitments as well as all the scientific know-how we can muster.
And, it will also take the arts such as poetry.
Over the years, poetry has been used very effectively to raise awareness and concern about many other social issues like homelessness, conflict, social inequity, and racial bias. For example, The New Colossus, a poem written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, roused the American public’s pride in offering sanctuary to the “huddled masses” of immigrants. And, Julia Howard Ward’s poem/lyric, Battle Hymn of the Republic, of 1862 is credited with raising patriotic spirits at the outset of our American Civil War.
Poetry, however, hasn’t been as potently used in our fight against hunger in the U.S. or around the world. In fact, not many poems have been published about hunger of the stomach. (There are many, many poems about hunger of the heart and spirit.) That’s why I started an informal initiative called Poetry X Hunger – to enlist the help of poets worldwide in writing poems that could be used as calls to action, as heart stoppers, as meditative re-enforcers in our collective fight against hunger.
Poets are rising to the cause. Here’s one written by Ladi Di Beverly of District Heights, MD. It’s a call to action in our work to reduce food waste as part of the fight against hunger. Notice how Ladi Di invokes a wide range of elements – determination, faith, the work of NGOs – in this powerful piece. Read it aloud for its full impact.
by Ladi Di Beverly
People are hungry, yet people continue to
Her meals were from partially eaten
sandwiches thrown in public trash
She watched a child throw away a sandwich
one bite out of it.
Getting sandwich from can immediately
would be her evening meal.
People are hungry, yet people continue to
An apple, a pear, a peach, some cherries
Some grapes to help provide nutrition
To help curb appetite
Praying to God above, never to give up
People are hungry, yet people continue to
A project for many years, helping my Mother
Make sandwiches in our kitchen
with Family and Friends
Taking sandwiches to organizations, like
S.O.M.E, So Others Might Eat brings on
cheers, chants yea food is here.
People are hungry, yet people continue to
Standing on Main Avenue in freezing cold
And snow, holding sign stating HELP ME
FEED MY CHILDREN, IF ONLY FOR ONE
People are hungry, yet people continue to
All across the world people die from hunger
and malnutrition to ignore this plight would
be a ridiculous selfish shame.
People are hungry, yet people continue to
What can you do, what can I do, what can others do, to end this international plague?
The answer is blowing in the wind, doing
Something consistent, we can all PITCH IN.
People are hungry, yet people continue to
Will poetry end hunger? No. Can it help in the hunger elimination cause? Yes! It’s yet one more powerful tool that we can use as banners, at meetings and gatherings, and in pitches to policymakers that will, I guarantee, open eyes, ears, and hearts. In fact, if capturing attention is your aim, all you need to do is to enlist the help of young performance poets who, by nature, can rivet audiences with their energetic rap or spoken word poetry messages of concern and optimism.
To find out more about poems by young poets and much more about the initiative, take a minute to visit the Poetry X Hunger website at PoetryXHunger.com where lots of info is posted including poems from previous centuries and by activist Zimbabwean poets. The site also includes a wealth of info about hunger – facts, history, trends. And, to encourage folks like you to write a hunger poem, the site also provides prompts that will help you get started
You can also check out Facebook at Poetry X Hunger where poems by several poets are showcased.
And hey, feel free to send in a poem for possible posting!!
Lastly, I would like to thank Susan Karimiha and the AIARD social media team for this opportunity to describe Poetry X Hunger on AIARD’s blogsite. And, I also want to acknowledge the Maryland State Arts Council’s support for development of the website as expertly designed by Dr. Tatiana LeGrand with input from Dr. Sue Schram and many others.
I am also grateful to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s North American Liaison Office for supporting the 2018 and 2019 World Food Day Poetry Competitions as implemented by Poetry X Hunger. Stay tuned for the announcement by FAO of the 2019 winners!
To close, here’s a fine poem by former Poet Laureate of Maryland, Dr. Michael Glaser. He uses a storyline to enlist our collective shame in this punch-of-a-poem.
by Michael Glaser
He held out a cup
and I reached
for some coins.
“I thought you wanted some bread,”
I said, certain he was going to ask
for more than this easy lint from my pocket.
I looked into his eyes and suddenly
felt ashamed that I lacked the courage
to offer something his heart could chew on,
something from the warm oven
of my comfortable life, something
he might inhale deeply like oxygen,
some genuine bread for the journey –
each slice an offering
to sweeten his life again.
All poems are used by permission of the authors and can be found on https://www.poetryxhunger.com/.
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.
By Bob Rabatsky,
AIARD President 2017-2018
Senior Vice President at Fintrac
Water availability is the most limiting factor to the production of food. The trends in safe water availability and use are improving, but still present a major challenge. According to the United Nations (UN), since 1990, the proportion of people using an improved water source increased from 76 to 90 percent. But nearly one half of the world’s population face water scarcity at least one month per year, and each year over 360 thousand children under the age of five die due to diarrhea, related to poor sanitation. It is estimated that 70% of all freshwater extracted from aquifers, rivers, and lakes is used in agriculture. This is concerning because by 2050 the UN estimates that two billion people, or 20% of the world’s population, will be living with the risk of reduced access to fresh water, and of course, this threat will be the most severe for the world’s poorest, many of them farmers.
Water and agriculture
Water availability and management are crucial to food production, which is increasingly at risk as more people, cities, and industries compete for fresh water. Not surprisingly, given their populations, India and China lead the world in, “water withdrawal,” or use for agriculture, using 688 and 388 billion cubic meters (BM3) respectively (FAO 2010). The U.S., in comparison, uses 175 BM3, but with a population approximately one third the size of China or India, uses an equivalent amount per capita as India and far more than China.
In the emerging economies, where many of us work, the vast majority of agriculture is conducted by 500 million smallholder farmers. They farm two hectares or less and provide all or part of the household income for 2.5 billion people, or one-third of the world’s population, as well as significant portions of food consumed in these countries. With the exception of India, which has made significant investments in irrigation infrastructure (35% of the land is irrigated), these farmers are dependent on rainfall for agriculture production. For example, only 4% of African land area is irrigated. As climate change impacts rainfall patterns, these farmers face uncertain food production on an annual basis. With little in the way of savings, credit access or insurance, a bad year means selling animals and other assets to pay for food and other necessities. The World Bank and others have documented that as a result of these uncertainties and the lack of an adequate safety net such as subsidies or crop insurance, these smallholder farmers are reluctant to invest in better seeds, fertilizers, pest management products, and other productivity-enhancing technologies, dooming them to food insecurity and poverty. Additionally, poor yields also contribute to local and regional food shortages and price hikes. Getting water availability and use rights is in everyone’s best interest.
Technologies and water use
Technologies that can address uncertain rainfall and other climate risks are increasingly becoming available and affordable in these markets. Through innovative donor-funded programs such as Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development, and Securing Water for Food, companies that have developed and are commercializing innovative technologies are provided incentives to focus their marketing and sales efforts to these challenging last mile markets. The technologies include low-cost mini drip irrigation kits, drought-tolerant seeds, biological products that improve soil organic content, treadle and solar pumps, weather tracking systems, and crop and animal insurance products. And of course, to ensure that a technology is properly deployed and will work as advertised, these programs can either work directly with their commercial partners or team with other development programs to provide adequate aftersales service and training support in both the technology use and in basic good agricultural practices (GAPs). Successful early deployment of technology is critical to scaling. Farmers who effectively use a technology and demonstrate increased productivity and earnings, as a result, are the best product marketing that a company can wish for.
Policies on water use
Government policies also have a significant influence on the availability and affordability of water for agriculture. Laws and traditions in many countries allow for unlimited access to surface and subsurface water which can result in soil and fertilizer/chemical runoff, declining aquifers, pollution, and soil damage from salt buildup. Interesting work is being done in assessing individual country performance on water use policies and practices. A “Water Use Scorecard,” similar to the ranking that the World Bank uses for doing business in ranking country-by-country policies, but instead looks at factors such as water use, potability, and climate risk, is being developed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Enabling Environment for Food Security project. Look for the scorecard to be available soon. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs just released a report titled “From Scarcity to Security: Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future” where it calls for policies and coordination between governments to address the growing need for fresh water, expected to increase 30-50% over current levels by 2050. And business and non-governmental organizations are ahead of governments in many cases in developing consortia of business and foundations to address water and climate. For example, the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium was recently formed by Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill, General Mills, Indigo Agriculture, Mars, McDonalds USA, Noble Research Institute, the Soil Health Institute and The Nature Conservancy to advance the development of a market-based system to promote land stewardship and build healthy soils, sequester carbon, and conserve water on the earth’s productive agricultural lands. Good policy is good business!
The challenges are immense, but certainly, the technologies and the know-how exists to use water more efficiently to both produce food and supply clean water that the world will need to support 10 billion people. The approaches and technologies need to be more evenly distributed, and success requires the public and private sectors to have to continue to collaborate and coordinate in this effort.
Some of the many fantastic resources for exploring water include:
University of Oxford Our World in Data
United Nations Water
World Bank Water
Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation
Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development
Securing Water for Food
Enabling Environment for Food Security
Chicago Council report From Scarcity to Security: Managing Water for a Nutritious Future
Ecosystem Services Market Consortium
A Q&A WITH SHARON TUSIIME, 2018 AIARD FUTURE LEADER FELLOW
By Sharon. M. Tusiime
AIARD Future Leader Fellow, 2018
Department of Horticulture
Iowa State University, USA
How did you find out about the FLF program last year and why did you apply?
I discovered the Future Leaders Forum (FLF) from faculty at Iowa State University. I am very passionate about international agriculture and rural development, having spent 8 years working as a field technician and graduate student in rural agricultural development. As a Ph.D. candidate nearing graduation, I also wanted to build my professional network and learn about opportunities to continue working in agricultural development.
What did you expect and how did the program meet your expectations?
FLF exceeded my expectations. The breadth and depth of our conversations during sessions with professionals in international agriculture and rural development was nothing that I had experienced before. Members and partners of the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development (AIARD) have made incredible progress in advancing global agricultural development and hunger alleviation. Everyone was willing to share lessons learned from their projects and programs.
How did the 2018 Future Leader’s Fellow experience in AIARD shape you and have a positive impact on you as a student?
I am thankful for the opportunity to have been part of this wonderful program. I had never been in a room with so many people who are so passionate about rural development and want to make a difference. In classes and while working on projects, I find myself drawing from this experience constantly. I now think about global challenges with a more systems thinking approach.
What were the key activities that you enjoyed the most and how did the program benefit you?
I enjoyed networking with professionals within the field of international agriculture and rural development and obtained various contacts as a result of those interactions. Working with a group of talented graduate students (fellow future leaders), listening to their research, and conducting team-based activities augmented my learning and understanding of various global challenges and the research being conducted to address the challenges.
As a doctoral candidate, what do you research in your PhD program? Why should readers pay attention to the research you do? How does your research impact agricultural research and farmers? How will your research inform policy in Uganda?
Over 80% of Uganda’s economy depends on agriculture as a livelihood and tomatoes are the most widely grown and consumed vegetable. Vegetables such as tomatoes are a valuable source of income and an important contributor to ensuring nutritional food security for small-landholder farmers. Tomatoes are cultivated by small-landholder farmers who usually own 2 ha or less of land and, unfortunately, often produce yields that are lower than the land is capable of producing. Low yields typically are attributed to pests, insects and diseases, poor quality agricultural inputs, lack of improved cultivars, inadequate information on sustainable horticultural practices and limited access to good quality seeds. An evaluation of factors influencing agriculture productivity identified improvement in seed as the most important component to increasing productivity.
Using tomato as a model, my research is aimed at improving farmer livelihoods by providing better access to good quality seed. My research focuses on a holistic multifactorial evaluation of the seed value chain (farmers, seed companies, agricultural research organizations, agricultural universities and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture) with the objective of identifying weak links and developing effective solutions that lead to overall improvement in farmer access to quality seed.
As a horticulturalist and seed scientist, my passion is to assist small-landholder vegetable farmers to use their limited financial resources in the most profitable way. To improve farmer livelihoods, seed systems need to provide farmers with planting material (i) in sufficient quantities (ii) at the right time (iii) of an appropriate physiological state, vigor and health, (iv) of superior genotypes appropriate to the farmer’s purposes, and (v) at an affordable price. As such, my dissertation is focused on several specific ways to achieve some of the above factors.
The collective outcome of this multifactorial approach to understanding the seed value chain will result in scientifically based public policy recommendations for tomato seed production, processing and distribution that will be shared with stakeholders including the Ugandan Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Makerere University and small-landholder farmers.
My research will provide the first studies for Uganda’s vegetable seed value chain specifically in tomatoes. Having an efficient seed system will enable small-landholder farmers (end-users of the seed value chain) to access good quality seed and improve their livelihoods. This research will greatly inform the current draft of the national seed policy and improve vegetable seed systems in Uganda.
Why is it important for U.S. universities to be engaged globally?
The world is a global village and there is a need for U.S. universities to embrace and create programs and curricula that foster international collaborations. It is vital to incorporate global understanding within higher education. These programs train and prepare college students as system thinkers who are able to deal with global complex issues in development. Students are also better prepared to get immersed in cultures different from their own, while building relationships and developing critical thinking skills.
What would you like individuals interested in applying to become an AIARD Future Leader Fellow to know? Do you have any messages for program sponsors and donors?
I would urge new Future Leader Fellows to take this opportunity very seriously and apply for the program if they are interested in building a career in international agriculture and rural development. It is a rewarding experience and students get to share ideas, listen to real-world global challenges and critically think about potential solutions with the help of development professionals.
To the sponsors/donors, thank you so much for this amazing experience. The program would not have been possible without your generous support. Please continue to support the program because you are training young professionals in agriculture and rural development.
By Dr. Susan Schram,
AIARD Washington DC Secretariat,
Education and Advocacy Committee Chair
Thanks to the good work of the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development (AIARD), Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the Farm Journal Foundation, Agricorps, the Senate and House Agriculture Committee staff, and others, the December passage of the 2018 Farm Bill is good news for professionals who develop and implement programs in international agriculture. Following are some relevant highlights:
1. Title VII—Research, Extension, and Related Matters, Subtitle A, Section 7101 is perhaps the most important section as it lays out the purposes of agricultural research, extension, and education and amends Section 1402 of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of 1977 by adding: ‘‘(9) support international collaboration that leverages resources and advances priority food and agricultural interests of the United States, such as— ‘‘(A) addressing emerging plant and animal diseases; ‘‘(B) improving crop varieties and animal breeds; and ‘‘(C) developing safe, efficient, and nutritious food systems.’’
This language represents a significant shift toward Congressional recognition that American agriculture, while world-class, increasingly relies on global engagement for science, markets, and innovation. While United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) remain the lead government agencies in working with developing and transitional countries, Congress is aware now more than ever that the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) domestic programs are strengthened through international partnerships.
2. Title III, Subtitle C:
The Secretary of Agriculture will consult with FFA, the National 4–H Council, and others to identify candidates for the fellowships. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, hold at least a bachelor’s degree in an agricultural-related field, and understand U.S. school-based agricultural education and youth extension programs.
3. Title VII, Subtitle A:
(2) improving agricultural research;
(3) supporting the participation of U.S. institutions in programs of international organizations (e.g. the United Nations, the World Bank, regional development banks, and international agricultural research centers);
(4) improving agricultural teaching and education;
(5) assisting U.S institutions in strengthening their capacity for food, agricultural, and related research, extension, and teaching programs relevant to agricultural development activities in developing countries to promote the application of new technology to improve education delivery;
(6) providing support for the internationalization of resident instruction programs;
(7) establishing a program, to be coordinated by the Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service, to place interns from U.S. institutions in, or in service to benefit, developing countries; and
(8) establishing a program to provide fellowships for students at U.S institutions to study at foreign agricultural colleges and universities.
This section also requires the Secretary of Agriculture to enhance linkages among U.S. institutions, the Federal Government, international research centers, counterpart research, extension, and teaching agencies and institutions in developed countries and developing countries: “(1) to carry out the activities; and (2) to make a substantial contribution to the cause of improved food and agricultural progress throughout the world.” The bill authorizes $10,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2019 - 2023 to carry out activities in Section 7123.
“(A) to develop and deploy advanced solutions to prevent, prepare, and protect against unintentional and intentional threats to agriculture and food in the United States;
“(B) to overcome barriers in the development of agricultural technologies, research tools, and qualified products and projects that enhance export competitiveness, environmental sustainability, and resilience to extreme weather;
“(C) to ensure that the United States maintains and enhances its position as a leader in developing and deploying agricultural technologies, research tools, and qualified projects and products that increase economic opportunities and security for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities; and
“(D) to undertake advanced research and development in areas in which industry by itself is not likely to do so because of the technological or financial uncertainty.
AGARDA would be a component of the Office of the Chief Scientist at USDA and Congress authorizes $50,000,000 per year, 2019-2023 for this program.
4. And finally, Subtitle F, Section 7603
authorizes the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR). While FFAR’s activities are primarily domestic, they have included work with groups such as CGIAR Centers. After FFAR submits a strategic plan describing a path to become self-sustaining, the Secretary is authorized to transfer $185,000,000 to the Foundation to use until expended.
Because the Farm Bill only authorizes programs, funding for specific programs will also be contingent on available appropriations and administrative decision making but, in sum, the Farm Bill is a clear “win” for professionals engaged in international development.
For the text of the Farm Bill, visit: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2/text
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.