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FAO hosts panel discussion on “One Billion Hungry: Can we Feed the World?”

Sir Gordon Conway’s book serves as a springboard for debate on eradicating hunger and malnutrition for the world’s growing numbers – in a sustainable way

Photo: ©FAO/Alessia Pierdomenico
Sir Gordon Conway, left, and FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva during the question and answer session

27 February 2013, Rome – Sir Gordon Conway presented his recently published book, One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world?, today at FAO headquarters, during a seminar focusing on the urgent need to sustainably increase agricultural production to feed and nourish a growing world population confronted especially by the challenge of a warming climate.

The presentation was followed by a panel discussion with participation of the heads of the United Nations’ three food agencies based in Rome: FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, IFAD President, Kanayo F. Nwanze, and WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin.

Citing FAO data, Conway noted that to meet the food needs of one third more people – 9 billion – by 2050, food production will have to increase by 60 percent.

However, Conway maintained, in developing countries that increase will have to be even higher. In some cases, he said, that production could even have to double in areas where smallholder farming will be feeding the world’s poorest.

In addition to the endemic problem of hunger, Conway said that “the really shocking statistic is there are 180 million children who are under height for their age, who grow up stunted, may become blind, may die. We should be ashamed of that statistic,” Conway said.

“The answer lies in sustainable agriculture, in which the productivity is high, the stability is high, the resilience is high, and the equity is high – in other words, the sharing of the products is also high.

In this, Conway noted, he had also borrowed from FAO’s principles of Save and Grow.

To achieve all of those, Conway said, four things are needed: innovation, markets, people and political leadership.

FAO’s Graziano da Silva commented afterward with optimism that these are all possible, but only so long as certain conditions are met, including: applying the principles of Save and Grow; placing smallholder agriculture at the centre of the global effort; putting in place a more effective global system for governance regarding food security; bringing farmers together in partnerships with cooperatives, the public and private sector; and linking hunger eradication with poverty eradication.

“Nowadays people don’t eat not because there isn’t any food available. We produce enough food for all. We throw out a third of the food we produce. We have hunger because people cannot buy the food or produce it themselves,” Graziano da Silva said.

He noted that the elimination of hunger had to be a political decision, on the part of the whole of society, in order to relegate hunger to the past. It isn’t the responsibility of a government, or an NGO, or an organization alone. It must be done as a community.

IFAD’s President Nwanze said, “Above all, I was glad to see Sir Gordon acknowledge that farmers in developing countries are ‘skilled and knowledgeable and often highly innovative.’

“I have seen the ability of poor rural people to transform their farms, their lives, and their communities,” Nwanze continued, adding that “feeding the future will depend on sustainable development that respects and responds to local conditions, whether environmental or cultural, so that the land is not diminished nor the resource base depleted.”

The Executive Director of WFP thanked Conway for his contribution in the fight against hunger – one that also gives hope. “There is a recognition of a way forward that does not suggest any one way forward to eradicate hunger,” Cousin said.

“It will take everything from trade laws, to seeds in the ground, to how we deal with gender and innovation. So there is significant work that needs to be done simultaneously so that we can eradicate hunger.”

She like her fellow panellists agreed that doing so would however need to be “an all-in opportunity” to eradicate hunger as a community.

Sir Gordon Conway is Professor of International Development and head of the Agriculture for Impact programme, which advocates for more European government support for agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa at Imperial College London.