Dr Pamela K. Anderson *
In 2000, under the leadership of the United Nations, 191 countries adopted the Millennium Declaration and eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) as the universal framework for development. Within these eight MDG, 18 Millennium Development Targets (MDT) were defined. These are specific, measurable targets that should be achieved by 2015. In 2004, the International Potato Center (CIP) adopted the MDG as the framework for our new vision and we committed ourselves to contributing to the targets on poverty reduction, hunger reduction, reduction of under-five mortality, and sustainable development.
We are now at the mid-point between adoption of the MDG and the 2015 target date. What the progress has been made?
With reference to Target 1 (to halve the proportion of the population living on less than a dollar a day), the percentage of people living in extreme poverty (<US$1.00/day) fell from 30 percent in 1990 to 19 percent in 2004. If this trend holds, the MDT on poverty will be met at the global scale and in most regions of the world. However, almost one billion people are still absolutely poor, living on less than a dollar a day, and 162 000 000 are ultra poor, living on less than US$0.50/day. It is projected that 700 000 people will remain extremely poor in 2015.
Most of the global poverty reduction is a result of the progress in East Asia, particularly China. China is the first country to have met the MDT for poverty ahead of 2015. However, there are still an estimated 24 000 000 people in extreme poverty in China — about the same level of extreme poverty that we still see in Latin America. In other words, in Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, we must find ways to crack the intractable poverty in the poverty belts and poverty pockets of these regions. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of extremely poor has leveled off and fallen by 6 percent since 2000. But the region is not on track to meet the MDG poverty target by 2015.
With reference to Target 2 (to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger), the number of undernourished people decreased from 20 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2004. However, because of population increase the number of hungry in absolute terms increased from 823 000 000 in 1990 to 830 000 000 in 2004, with an even greater number suffering from vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies. An estimated 600 000 000 people will still be hungry in 2015.
The indicator utilized for hunger is child hunger, that is, the proportion of children under age five who are underweight. Globally, the proportion of children under five who are underweight declined by one fifth over the period 1990 to 2005. East Asia showed the greatest improvement and is surpassing the MDG target, largely because of the nutritional advances in China. Western Asia and Latin America have also demonstrated significant progress, with underweight prevalence dropping by 30 percent. The greatest proportion of children going hungry continues to be found in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Poor progress in these regions means that it is unlikely that the global target will be met. If current trends continue, the world will miss the 2015 target by 30 million children.
There seems to be an assumption that by addressing poverty we will automatically address hunger. We need to develop specific strategies and tactics to address hunger as a problem distinct from income poverty. In the next 50 years, the population is expected to increase to nine billion. As the world population becomes more urban, incomes grow and diets are transformed, the demand for food will increase. At the same time that we see demand for food increase, we see growing constraints to food availability and access, e.g. global cereal stocks are at their lowest levels since the early 1980s, cereal prices are increasing dramatically, and severe weather events are affecting food production. We must address food security and hunger with strategies and tactics distinct from income poverty.
With reference to Target 5 (to reduce by two-thirds the under-five mortality rate), estimates for 2005 indicate that 10.1 million children died before their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable causes.
Finally, with reference to Target 9 (to integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs and to reverse the loss of environmental resources), the indicator for this target, the portion of land area covered by forest, is not directly applicable to agriculture. However, the World Bank 2008 World Development Report has challenged agriculture to reduce its environmental footprint, increase resilience in farming systems so that they are less vulnerable to climate change, and harness agriculture to deliver more environmental services.
In conclusion, although there has been some progress towards meeting the MDG, the most intractable poverty and hunger have yet to be addressed. Geographically, all of the challenges (poverty/hunger/mortality) must still be met in sub-Saharan Africa, hunger must be addressed in South Asia, and the poverty belts and poverty pockets of East Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean must be targeted.
How can we expedite progress toward meeting these challenges?
The mission of the International Year of the Potato is to increase awareness of the importance of the potato as a food in developing countries, and promote research and development of potato-based systems as a means of contributing to the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
Why do potato-based systems represent an increasingly important opportunity for the poor in terms of food security and poverty alleviation?
Potatoes are the third most important food security crop in the world. In the developing world, there has been strong growth in potato production across all regions since 1990, especially in the low-income food-deficit countries. In Africa, the area under potatoes grew by 120 percent between 1994 and 2004, and we have seen growth of almost 50 percent in China in the past ten years. Since 2005, more potatoes are being harvested in the developing world than in the industrialized world, and the area planted is showing the same trend. Although the rate of cereal production is stagnating and cereal prices are growing exponentially, the price of potatoes in the developing countries remains stable. Potatoes represent an overlooked opportunity for diversifying national food security systems in the context of the new food security crisis.
Potato science can be a significant vehicle for targeting the poor and hungry. At the International Potato Center, we have adopted a pro-poor research and development cycle, which starts by identifying areas where rates of poverty, hunger and child mortality are high. Then we overlay that data with our maps of potato production zones to see where our research can have the greatest impact. We also try to understand the larger sustainable livelihoods framework — what assets vulnerable communities have, what shocks they are vulnerable to, the institutional arrangements that determine their constraints and opportunities.
We need to address three developing worlds: agriculture-based countries, transforming countries and urbanized countries. The agriculture-based ountries are primarily in Africa and the challenge there is to boost productivity. World average potato production is around 15 tonnes per hectare, compared to 35 to 40 tonnes in Europe and North America. To increase productivity, research needs to provide breakthroughs in overcoming intractable problems such as lack of clean seed potato, diseases such as late blight and viruses, and storage problems. The transforming countries are primarily in Asia where increases in agricultural productivity have driven poverty reduction in countries like India and China. In Asia, production systems are over-exploited. Continued increases will demand modifications and intensification of systems to enhance the productivity of the system as a whole while maintaining sustainability of production. In Latin America and the Caribbean, our challenge is to improve well-being by making resource-poor farmers competitive and linking them to growing urban markets.
This meeting is one in a series of more than ten international research and development meetings designed as part of the IYP mission. Our aim is to share our insights and the results of the latest research in the development of new strategies and approaches that are needed in each of the developing worlds. We have named this year-long dialogue with the international potato science community the 'Cuzco Challenge' — the challenge to formulate a research agenda that puts potato science at the service of the poor in order to make a more significant impact on poverty, hunger, child mortality and sustainable development.
I look forward to our deliberations today and to identifying an action plan for Asia and the Pacific region.
* Director-General, International Potato Center (CIP), Apartado Postal 1558, Lima 12, Peru