Re: The e-Consultation on Hunger, Food and Nutrition Security

Bettina Prato IFAD, Italy

Dear all,


Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this very important discussion. Much has already been said by other contributors that I have found interesting and often quite compelling. As someone who works in an organization dedicated to eradicating rural poverty and hunger, with particular focus on smallholder agriculture, I was particularly impressed, most recently, with the comprehensive contribution made by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development in the UK Parliament. Without wishing to restate points already stressed by other commentators, I would just like to share the following few thoughts, in the order of the three themes on which inputs have been solicited.


Theme 1: in my opinion, one important lesson from the pursuit of the MDGs is that working towards food and nutrition security is, I would say, the quintessential cross-sectoral (possibly even “all-sectoral”) issue, which is very much affected by what is done (or not done) in areas too often discussed without a “food security lens”. This includes, for instance, economic growth, employment and decent work, investment, energy, water, education, governance, and so forth…. In discussing a framework to replace the MDGs, it is very important not to discuss food and nutrition security as a theme that can be addressed in any sort of isolation from the other themes currently being discussed. More than any other theme (except for poverty, to which it is of course closely linked), food and nutrition security needs to be “mainstreamed” into all other discussions, in order to come up with meaningful pathways and targets on all relevant fronts. This means, of course, also that there needs to be an open “dialogue” between this particular consultation and other thematic, regional, and national consultations on the post-2015 and sustainable development agendas. As an earlier contribution to this e-consultation stated, silo discussions are very much to be avoided in this context. Also important to take home from the MDG experience is the need to focus more attention and resources on rural areas, rural-urban inequalities – in incomes, in nutritional status, as well as in access to clean water, electricity, infrastructure, education and health services, etc, rural data and indicators, and so forth. Rural development and overcoming rural-urban inequalities are central to boosting food security, but these issues were not much in focus in the first MDGs, and they are not yet emerging significantly in the post-2015 discussion. Conversely, reducing these inequalities and fully integrating rural areas into more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive patterns of growth are preconditions for achieving sustainable food and nutrition security for all.


Also concerning theme 1, I would say that, besides obvious issues such as growing investment in agriculture, more policy attention to food security, ongoing technological developments, and so forth, one key challenge (but also opportunity) for achieving global food and nutrition security has to do precisely with the transformation of rural areas and how rural-urban dynamics evolve. On the challenge side of this we can place the increasing deterioration of the natural resource base in many rural areas, the impact of climate change (which may redesign very significantly the geography of entire areas of critical importance for global food production and/or for the struggle against hunger), the ageing of rural and agricultural populations in several parts of the world and the high proportion of young people in other parts, rapid urbanization coupled with slow growth of urban economies and governance and service networks, and so forth. On the opportunity side, we have the growing integration of rural and urban economies linked to diffuse small-scale urbanization, integrated territorial development experiences, migration and remittance flows, the emergence or popularization of new technologies and opportunities for decentralized rural energy supply, information and communication networks, and so forth. And of course, the change in agricultural and rural markets and value chains, at country, regional, and global levels, represents both an opportunity and a challenge. So if I were to name one major area where work is needed to ensure future food and nutrition security, I would say changing the face of rural areas around the world, to turn them into hubs of inclusive and sustainable growth, with plenty of decent employment opportunities – many of them linked to agriculture in its broadest sense, areas where today’s rural youth want to and are proud to live, and where they can fulfil their aspirations in terms not only of food security but of overall quality of life.


Concerning theme 2, many other contributors have highlighted key success factors, from genuine political commitment and broad-based ownership to partnerships, accountability, human rights- approaches, cross-sectoral approaches (notably around nutrition), and yet other. Here I would just like to offer three points. First, I am not convinced that there is a “best” approach to the challenges of food and nutrition security. There are many good practices, but no blueprints, and this is particularly important to remember as we increasingly strive for positive impact “at scale”. As a result, it is critical to encourage and cultivate space for innovation, learning (and knowledge sharing), and systematic approaches to scaling up success, for progress to be sustained. This sort of space should be cultivated both within and across countries in my view. Second, it is important to work on the transformation of food systems in a holistic manner, simultaneously aiming for greater sustainability, productivity, and capacity to generate inclusive (and indeed pro-poor) economic and social benefits. Recent experience shows that this transformation is possible, provided that the key stakeholders (including rural communities and farmers) have the incentives to change (i.e. appropriate pricing, rewards for positive environmental externalities, market opportunities, etc.) and the tools to mitigate and better manage risks. Third, and final, among the many things that have proved effective to improve food security and nutrition, women’s empowerment and gender equality – in terms of access to productive resources, rights of tenure and use over land (and water), education, citizenship, and so forth – deserves singling out for greater emphasis and concrete attention. In this regard, perhaps it would be appropriate to consider gender-equal access and rights over land as a worthwhile global target for food security.


Coming now to theme 3, the Zero Hunger Challenge offers no doubt an ambitious and inspiring set of goals, which constitutes a vision towards which different context-specific objectives (certainly including time-bound objectives) can be developed. The one element of the agenda that could perhaps be strengthened in its ambition and also better harmonized with the other elements concerns the doubling of smallholder productivity and incomes. In this regard, I would offer the following observations. First, doubling smallholder productivity is not quite the same as doubling incomes – in fact, the relationship between increase in smallholder incomes and increase in their (agricultural) productivity may be complex and not at all straightforward. Second, in some contexts a doubling of smallholder productivity (however defined) may be an overambitious goal, while in others it is possible and appropriate to be more ambitious than this. As a result, it may be best to refrain from defining such a quantitative target for smallholder productivity growth a priori and with universal value. Third, decisions concerning productivity growth are to be made by the stakeholders directly concerned – first and foremost smallholders and other investors in agriculture – as they result from their investment decisions, which are in turn shaped by many factors. Fourth, many smallholders derive their incomes from a mix of sources, including but not limited to agriculture. An increase in the incomes may not represent an increase of income from agriculture, and this should also be acknowledged in some way. Fifth, for the many smallholder farmers who live below one or the other poverty lines, a doubling of income may be a rather modest goal, not quite on a par with the other elements of the Challenge, which are quite bold and inspiring. Finally, smallholder agriculture is the predominant form of agriculture globally, and therefore a key pillar of food systems. This means that it is also at the core of any efforts to achieve “100% access to adequate food all year round”, “all food systems are sustainable”, “zero loss or waste of food”… Etc.


So, what may be a concrete suggestion to address all these points? My suggestion is two-fold:

1)      Explicitly position smallholder agriculture in the other elements of the Challenge

2)      Revise the specific element on smallholder agriculture in a more ambitious manner – perhaps along the lines of “zero smallholder farmers live in poverty or food insecurity”


Again, thank you for the opportunity to comment!


Bettina Prato, Ph.D
Research Coordinator
Office of the Chief Development Strategist