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Summary - Enhancing Food Security: Technology, Infrastructure, and Cross-Sector Collaborations

Argentina farmer

(Image: World Bank)

February 11, 2013

Keynote Address:

  • Carl Hausmann, Global Policy Advisor, Bunge Limited (former President & CEO for Bunge Europe and Bunge North America)

Panel Discussion:

  • Gary Alex, Farmer-to-Farmer Program Manager, Bureau of Food Security, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • Dr. Miguel Garcia Winder, Director of Agribusiness and Trade, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) – moderator
  • Nicholas T. Nelson, Director, North America Liaison Office, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
  • Jefferson Shriver, Technical Advisor for Agro-Enterprise and Climate Change, Latin America and Caribbean, Catholic Relief Services (CRS)

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Summary

AS/COA and the University of Miami’s Center for Latin American Studies held an expert panel on food security, focusing on the present and future scenarios, agricultural technology, financial inclusion, and the role of government. Panelists discussed strategies to connect farmers to markets, areas of collaboration between sectors, and the latest developments in agricultural innovation.

The Present and Future of Food Security

Dr. Miguel Garcia Winder of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture noted that in the developed world, it may be difficult to comprehend the realities of food insecurity. However, with over 800 million people undernourished worldwide, food security is undeniably an imperative cause, he said. By the year 2050, the world’s population may surpass 9 billion. To meet demand, food production must be increase by at least 70 percent, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This prediction has important policy implications regarding trade, the environment, and investment.

Carl Hausmann of Bunge described the geographic constraints that make trade and globalization instrumental to any food security strategy. Ninety percent of global population growth by 2050 will be concentrated in Asia and Africa—two regions with existing food security challenges. Densely populated regions often experience low rainfall volumes and high levels of physical water stress. These two factors contribute to less than optimal agriculture production and ultimately, food insecurity.

Cross-sector collaboration has become an important element of the food security discussion, panelists noted. Garcia said that food security not only calls for innovation in agriculture, but also requires business models linking more farmers to markets and public policies that facilitate a positive production environment.

Agricultural Innovation and Technology

Panelists discussed the role of innovation in agricultural production, noting some recent examples. Nicholas Nelson of the FAO described the use of mobile technology to deliver daily market prices of crops, which may have helped prevent a price shock in 2012 similar in magnitude to one in 2008. Nelson explained that mobile technology can be an instrumental asset in developing countries, especially in areas lacking land lines.

Agrobiodiversity is another example, which Jefferson Shriver of Catholic Relief Services said was a strategic “pathway to prosperity” for rural farmers. By ensuring that farmers utilize new soil and water conservation methods in order to retain moisture in soil, topsoil is preserved and secured for future harvests. Shriver noted that his organization encourages planting hardwood and fruit trees to create shade and a microclimate to prevent erosion. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are another option in regions with variable climates. As Gary Alex of USAID explained, certain GMOs are highly tolerant to drought conditions, making them valuable in an unpredictable environment.

Financial Inclusion for Farmers

Investment in agriculture and the availability of credit and financial services to farmers are also key elements to food security. Nelson explained that the FAO found a positive correlation between investment in agriculture and progress towards hunger reduction. However, farmers remain the primary source of investment in agriculture, accounting for $170 billion per year—more than three times that of all other investment sources combined.

Shriver provided a narrative of a typical small-scale farmer in Nicaragua and recent financial inclusion initiatives for these kinds of producers. In the past, a rural coffee farmer would sell his harvest at a low rate to an intermediary, but now farmers are now forming rural business cooperatives that can sell in greater volume, quality, and value. These producers now have greater access to credit and relationships with social investment funds that provide long-term loans for larger sums and at lower interest rates.

The Role of Government

During the panel, attendees raised concerns that government corruption and a lack of transparency present threats to food security. Panelists agreed that governments must forge a business-friendly environment to encourage investment. They also noted that governments need to invest more in infrastructure, particularly in roads to transport goods.

Alex provided insight on how governments can facilitate a food-secure future. Due to a renewed focus on technology and innovation, the U.S. government substantially expanded research in agriculture which was further spurred by the 2008 food price spike. He explained one U.S. initiative, the Farmer-to-Farmer program, which sends American farmers overseas to volunteer in the agriculture sector.