Here’s something you may not be aware of:It’s a statistic that matters in the face of two unrelenting challenges now facing the globe –how to turn the promises of last December’s historic Paris climate change agreement into reality and how to feed a growing global population.
I recently visited one of Bioversity International’s project sites in Begnas, where I met farming couple, Surya and Saraswati Adhikari. They proudly showed me around their biodiverse farm, pointing out some of the 150 plant species they grow and explaining that each one has a specific use. They showed me the vegetables, rice, gourds and legumes they grow to eat and sell; the trees that provide fruits, fodder and fuel, and the many herbs for medicinal and cultural purposes.
What do a chapati, a matza, or couscous have in common? The answer is wheat, which is a source for one-fifth of the calories and protein consumed globally.
Yet, stable, assured funding for public research for this important food grain remains elusive.
For 45 years, world-class scientists from two research centers of CGIAR – the world’s only global research system that focuses on the crops of most importance to poor farmers in developing countries – have battled the odds to provide wheat and nourish the world’s growing population. Their innovations have helped to boost wheat yields, fight debilitating pests and ward off diseases, improving the lives of nearly 80 million poor farmers.
Wheat plays a big role in feeding the human family. Over 1.2 billion resource-poor consumers depend on wheat as a staple food.
I have vivid memories of my first trip to Ghana. It was in July 2006 and I was in the country to do a research on Ghanaian farmers. It was in Accra, where I watched my team, Italy, win the FIFA World Cup final against France. Other than being a lucky charm to me, I thought Accra was a nice and safe town but,I felt that it had the potential to grow.
When I came back seven years later, I was pleasantly surprised by the changes. The city was dotted with new buildings, new roads, and had a really buoyant atmosphere. Of course, Accra is not representative of the whole country, but according to a recent report that Pierella Paci and I presented in October, growth and poverty reduction have been widespread in the country.
Now you may ask as to how Ghana was able to achieve this. In our report, Poverty Reduction in Ghana: Progress and Challenges, we show that sustained and , from 52.6% to 21.4% between 1991 and 2012.( Note: For comparing 1991 and 2012 poverty rates for both absolute and extreme poverty, the study used the 1999 poverty line. Official poverty rates use the new poverty line re-based in 2013.) The impact of rapid growth on poverty has been far stronger in Ghana than elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, until 2005 — far above the Sub-Saharan average of 1.6%.
Emilienne Isenady poses while showing off the crops on her land in Lascahobas, Central Plateau, Haiti.
“If I knew that avocados had value, I would plant more of them,” says Emilienne Isenady, a single mother of six in Lascahobas, in the Central Plateau of Haiti.
Emilienne grows and sells avocados to Dominican buyers and to “Madan Saras” (the local name for women brokers who buy and re-sell products in other cities), who will buy the avocados and transport them using the perilous local “tap taps” – trucks converted into public transportation. She will also sell them in the local market in Lascahobas.
Emilienne is a smallholder farmer, but little does she know that she is already part of an avocado local value chain, nor that there is a better avocado Global Value Chain (GVC) out there facing a global shortage.
Emilienne’s is guiding us to see her avocado trees. As we push aside branches, we do not see neatly planted rows of avocado trees but rather a wild two hectares of scattered mango trees, avocado trees, malanga, sweet peas and pineapples. We are accompanied by Marc André Volcy, Farah Edmond and Jean-Berlin Bernard, three “mobile agents” of the Business Support Service team for the Central Plateau Department.
The team is part of a program that the Haitian Ministry of Commerce and Industry has put in place to support entrepreneurs in micro, small and medium-sized enterprises across the country. The program is supported by the World Bank Group’s Business Development and Investment Project (BDI). There are nine other teams just like them in the nine other departments of the country, all working simultaneously on different value-chain reinforcement initiatives (in such sectors as coffee, cocoa, mango, vetiver, honey and apparel).
Marc, Farah and Jean-Berlin live in the Central Plateau, enabling them to support the avocado producers directly, visiting them often and understanding the local political economy. The team has visited about 80 other smallholder farmers like Emilienne in their department, and has invited them to two public meetings and strategic working groups to present key challenges and opportunities for their avocado cluster. The Central Plateau team has carried out the competitive reinforcement initiative of the avocado cluster in their department with training and coaching financed by a grant from the Competitive Industries and Innovation Program (CIIP), through which they have received in-class training and coaching on how to carry out their field projects.
In the arid farming lands of the Pyanj River Basin of Tajikistan, women and children spend much of their days searching for water, food and fuel. But higher temperatures, lower rainfall and less snow up in the mountain glaciers have made their job difficult, if not impossible.
So the global challenge is clear: We need to sustainably feed 9 billion people in 2050, while building the resilience of farmers and food companies AND concurrently making agriculture part of the climate solution, not an increasingly large part of the problem.
Daunting? Well, yes of course, but that is why it is a “global challenge” and not just something that incremental change will solve.
There is nothing new in this story and many of the things we need to do are known, but just not done at scale. What is new is the fact that the interests, aspirations and objectives of a wide group of stakeholders are coming together. We have long searched for truly sustainable farming – one that will sustain farmers and enable them to prosper, while ensuring that the landscapes in which we live and work are not the subject of short term gain resulting in long term degradation.
Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) can help make the food system more sustainable in a changing climate. But does it come at a cost to women, in terms of a heavier workload?
Climate-smart agriculture’s three pillars: improved agricultural productivity, increased adaptation to climate change and reduction of greenhouse gases are goals well worthy of targeting. On the one hand, CSA practices such as water harvesting or planting trees that provide more accessible fuel, fodder and food can save women’s time. On the other hand, some practices such as increased weeding or mulch spreading can require women to spend more time in the field.
How governments can ensure that low-income farmers are financially protected against natural disasters, such as droughts, was at the heart of a panel discussion at the “Global Index Insurance Conference,” which concluded earlier this week in Paris.
Y Cham, whom I met during a mission to plan for our support for the coffee rejuvenation project, comes from the Ede ethnic minority in Dak Lak, the major robusta coffee-producing province in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
The long-time farmer shared with me his worries about his four hectares of coffee garden which had not been watered enough due to the prolonged drought.
“If I cannot harvest as much coffee as last year, I cannot sustain the studies of my daughter who is a student at medical college in Hanoi”.
The Central Highland, home of 500,000 hectares of coffee, has recently been affected by severe drought. The drought this year is considered most the most serious in the last 10 years. Over-irrigation and inefficient water use, compounded by increasing periods of drought, makes coffee farmers highly vulnerable, unless they are prepared to better adapt to the changing weather patterns.
Among the crucial factors for coffee yield, water, according to Y Cham, has become the biggest challenge in the priority order of “water, variety, funding, and science.” Water availability and advanced varieties resistant to the conditions of climate change are considered the most important factors.