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12 November 2009 

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Broad Agricultural Strategies Aimed at World Hunger

12 November 2009

The IFPRI book highlights agricultural success stories
The World Summit on Food Security is being held in Rome November 16-18 to address immediate and long-term hunger issues.  To ensure food security, much attention is now being paid to improving agriculture. As a result, a new book has been released on proven successes in agricultural development.

The book, MillionsFed, is published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, or IFPRI. It comes at the request of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which says it wanted to know which programs, policies and investments actually reduce widespread hunger.

The old and the new

IFPRI research fellow David Spielman, one of the editors of MillionsFed, says, "Learning from past achievements in agricultural development is now more urgent than ever because we're facing new and emerging threats, as well as well as long-term threats to food security throughout the world -- climate change, population growth, the degradation of natural resources and lots of other important challenges."

He says the book takes a fresh look at agriculture.

"We're looking at things that have been proven to work, but we're looking at them from a very different angle than what's been done in the past. We're seeing that a combination of factors…need to be brought to bear on agriculture and agricultural development now.

That combination of factors covers a broad area.

"It includes continued long-term, sustained investment in agricultural science and technology, investing in complementary areas, such as rural roads, rural irrigation schemes, rural education.... And we're also talking about encouraging greater global and local collaboration and cooperation to solve some of the major constraints facing agriculture," he says.

Back to basics

One of the things proven to boost agriculture and reduce hunger is increasing the productionof staple foods.

"So, intensifying food staple production is all about increasing the yields and the outputs of
Cassava tubers
Cassava tubers
essential crops. Not only rice, maize and wheat, but also some of the minor crops – millet, sorghum, cassava, teff and lots of other crops that are very important to many, many people living in Asia, in Africa and in Latin America," he says.

Another recommendation of MillionsFed is the integration of people and the environment.  In the 1950s, Spielman says, the main focus on agriculture was to produce more staple food. That changed two decades later.

He says, "It wasn't until about the 1970s when scholars, policymakers and many others started recognizing that development, growth and food security can only be achieved by taking a long-term perspective on the issues."

It's more than putting more food on the plate

"It meant bringing people into the equation, bringing communities into the equation and thinking about the long-term sustainability of how we manage natural resources," he says.

Other success strategies include expanding the role of markets, economic reforms and improving food quality and human nutrition.

In MillionsFed, the International Food Policy and Research Institute says success is not a substitute for strategy. It describes success as a process that is "recognizable and unambiguous."

He says, "It's not good enough just to look back on history and say, well, we had a good technology or we had a good policy idea.  Having a coherent long-term strategy at the country level, at the global level, is how you combat hunger and food insecurity.... Having a coherent plan of action, coherent ideas, integrated solutions to ending hunger and malnutrition is essential to moving forward."

It's estimated more than one billion people go hungry every day.

Spielman says if agricultural success strategies are not implemented now, many dramatic, long-term problems could result. It's not just about hunger, he says, it's about poverty, as well as peace and security.  

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