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Feeding the world hinges on relationships and partnerships, not just technology

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Hugh Grant and The Economist's Emma Duncan at the Feeding the World 2014 Conference in London

Hugh Grant and The Economist’s Emma Duncan at the Feeding the World 2014 Conference in London

By Caroline Emde
Monsanto Europe Public Affairs

Technology isn’t the limiting factor in feeding a growing population, participants at The Economist’s Feeding the World conference said in London Thursday.

Technological solutions to dramatically increase farm productivity already exist, with even more under development, and range from more widespread use of high-yield hybrid seeds, to irrigation and use of fertilizers, among others. Instead, speakers pointed to different challenges in feeding the world:  insufficient rural development, education and organization to effectively support millions of smallholder farmers; insufficient focus on nutrition; and political and trade barriers.

The conference brought together stakeholders ranging from smallholder farmers to international development organizations, government ministers, the United Nations and private-sector companies to exchange views and recommendations on how to feed a growing population.

With the global population predicted to be around 9.6 billion by 2050, the world will need to increase food production while making more efficient use of increasingly scarce natural resources. More focus will have to be placed on nutrition as well.

“Nourishment is really what matters for people to reach their full potential,” said David Nabarro, the United Nations Special Representative for Food Security and Nutrition. He said animal-source foods such as dairy products can be valuable for nutrition, and livestock production therefore needs to be included in discussions of food security.

Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant said the company had “really cool” technologies to help farmers, but partnerships and relationships were as important in providing solutions to problems across a complex value chain. “We’ve set a goal in our key crops to double yields in the next 30 years,” he said, adding that the company will help farmers to achieve this goal while also reducing the use of land, water, energy and inputs by up to one-third.

That message was echoed throughout the conference by dozens of speakers and panelists who made clear that the goal had as much to do sustainable intensification alongside other priorities, such as empowering women and educating rural populations on precision farming practices as it does with using better seeds.

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) President Kanayo Nwanze spoke at the conference and said food security needs to begin with rural development and poverty reduction. Most of the world’s hungry are farmers living in rural areas, who suffer from insufficient attention from policy makers.

“Europe developed its rural areas in order to achieve economic and social development,” Nwanze said. “We need visionary leadership and good governance in developing countries.”

Nwanze cited China, Vietnam and India as countries that could serve as models for others.

Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, CEO of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), highlighted the central role of empowering women in rural communities. “Revolutions are bottom up and there’s evidence for that in Africa,” she said, noting that many smallholder farmers are women, who also are the ones who are most closely associated with ensuring that their children receive adequate nutrition. “The women will drive this agenda,” she said, but she noted that they will need support.

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