The ultimate goal of the World Food Summit (WFS) and the Rome Declaration on Food Security remains the elimination of hunger and malnutrition. There are still many obstacles to the achievement of this ambitious goal. Progress is also being made in our understanding of fundamental food security issues. Over the last two decades, advances in communication and information technologies and in international and regional cooperation have resulted in greater capacity to monitor and react to severe food crises. Distressing images of famine victims can be rapidly transmitted to and from any corner of the globe, captivating public attention and generating political pressures to respond whether it is for humanitarian or security reasons. An outcome of this heightened awareness and direct experience of the nutritional consequences of natural and human-made disasters, has been the composition of a body of information that provides an empirical basis for fine-tuning the identification and monitoring of vulnerable and malnourished groups.
Clearly, confronting the underlying causes of such crises requires a consensus on political and social solutions that goes far beyond what immediate interventions or research programmes can offer. In addition, in between periodic famines, there are persistent problems of poor nutrition and chronic hunger that do not capture the same attention or stimulate the same level of public pressure as large-scale famines. These can be even more widespread and devastating in their long-term effects and more challenging to address because their causes may be rooted in historical imbalances and inequalities that structure local communities and/or regional economies.
Yet, because of their strategic position linking between local contexts, national policy and international cooperation, as well as their long-standing experience in research ranging from agricultural production to the handling, processing, storage and delivery of food, the NARS can play a pivotal role in brokering a new approach to food security encompassing social, economic and environmental concerns. This approach should be informed by the recognition that efforts to increase overall production and food availability do not automatically result in benefits for producers with limited resources, those farming on fragile or less fertile lands, those hindered by precarious land tenure or landlessness, or those more vulnerable to food insecurity, such as rural women and children. The NARS need to concentrate on the development of technologies that directly target these limited-resource producers and/or food insecure groups, while also enabling the protection and restoration of the natural resources their livelihoods depend on.
The application of participatory methodologies and the direct involvement of men and women as producers and consumers, in design, experiment, evaluation and adaptation of new technologies will help ensure that solutions proposed are more accessible and relevant to their resource-constrained environments. Moreover, although more comprehensive solutions to poverty and hunger require political commitments well outside the NARS' sphere of action, a collaborative research paradigm that builds on the participation of multiple stakeholders and diverse constituencies, drawing on both private and public sectors and rural and urban populations, is likely to broaden the political support for an integrated approach to food security and build political will to address questions that reach beyond the NARS classic agricultural research agenda. We hope that these guidelines will serve to facilitate the undertaking of steps in this direction and contribute to bringing science and technology to benefit directly family well-being and nation building.