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A peaceful planet - maybe? But only if we feed it!

October – what a food month.    The 2020 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the World Food Program, International Food Day 16 October 2020, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)  granted a credit rating, World Bank predicted a descent into extreme poverty (reversing a 20 year trend) while McKinsey and Co released their report on technology for modern farming in developed nations. An appropriate and timely emphasis on food and food production.  The inequities in food production, supply chains and economies result in food insecurity consequences with disastrous links to extreme poverty and conflict.  But if there was a utopian world of evenly distributed food – it might ultimately lead to peace. The Nobel Peace Prize is a salutary acknowledgement of this link of food insecurity and conflict - as a pandemic convulses our globe.

In October, the World Bank released a statement that global extreme poverty (living on less than $1.90 a day) is expected to rise significantly in 2020 affecting nearly 10% of the world’s population.

The World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian organisation addressing hunger and promoting food security, attempts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict, a vicious circle. The WFP states

“Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos.”

The link between conflict and food is also fundamentally about agriculture. In October 2020, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) received its first public credit rating. The first UN fund to achieve this, it has enabled investments in food security, employment, and rural economic growth.  IFAD is the only global development organisation exclusively dedicated to transforming agriculture, rural economies and food systems by making them more inclusive, productive, resilient and sustainable.

Food security (including access to clean water) is one of our greatest planetary threats and now further exacerbated by the rate of climate change. Agriculture and farmers, all our food producers, are vital to our future.

Agriculture is one of humankind’s oldest endeavours, the key to the rise of civilisations. It has kept pace with, and promoted technological advances over the millennia. In the developed world, food production will be needed on a scale never contemplated to feed our global population by 2050. Various reports indicate that humanity must produce more food in the next 4 decades than we have in the previous 10,000 years.

Agriculture has advanced the development of human society, allowing clans and tribes to stay in one location generation after generation.  Then came cities and trade between groups, further enabling the advancement of human culture.  The ability of farmers to feed large numbers of people not involved with food production was the crucial factor in the rise of cultures, armies, empires, industrial revolutions and unrelenting urbanisation of the human population over millennia .

Almost 65% of the planet’s poor are involved in small scale agriculture.  Economic growth in agriculture is 2-3 times more effective at reducing poverty and food insecurity than growth generated in other sectors.  Prosperous small farms can radiate prosperity through rural communities.

In developed nations, agricultural production across the world doubled four times between 1820 and 1975. It doubled between 1820 and 1920; between 1920 and 1950; between 1950 and 1965; and again between 1965 and 1975 and could feed a global population of one billion human beings in 1800 and 6.5 billion in 2002. 

Even more so, modern day farmers must keep pace with technology to increase the production yet again.

So, agriculture is in the early days of yet another revolution, at the heart of which lie data and connectivity. Artificial Intelligence, analytics, connected sensors, and other emerging technologies could further increase yields, improve the efficiency of water and other inputs, and build sustainability and resilience across crop cultivation and animal husbandry. Our farmers have been there every step of the way – middle ages to the industrial revolution, the green revolution of 20th century to the sustainable regenerative circular economy of the 21st Century.

The idea and practice of sustainable agriculture has arisen in response to the problems of industrial agriculture and our best farmers are leading this with sound research, best practice R&D extension learning and renewable farming.

October 2020, a unique month in what has been an extraordinarily bizarre year, to recognise food, food security, agriculture and farmers. Louise Fresco from WUR University, an incorrigible optimist refers to agriculture of the past hundred years as a stunning success story. “A century ago, sixty percent of the world population was underfed, today eleven percent. And this eleven percent live in areas where the state is not functioning.”   In the near future, we must be able to feed the entire world population in a healthy and sustainable way.

Agriculture was the beginning, the ancient and crucial cornerstone of humanity that gave rise to civilisation and still 10,000 years later - sustainable, regenerative agriculture maybe the key to a peaceful planet.  

Food might indeed be the best vaccine against chaos….


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