Agri science & tech investment critical to defeating hunger
Investing in agricultural science and technology critical to achieving zero hunger by 2030
13/12/2016 Hainan Province, China – In order to meet the world’s sustainable development goals of defeating hunger and poverty by 2030, governments and the private sector need to reenergize their agricultural science and technology research capacities, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization announced today at a meeting of the world’s top agricultural scientists.
That will require greater public expenditure and investment in science and technology, FAO reiterated, because investment in agricultural sciences has been on the decline for years worldwide at the same time that advances against hunger have been slowing – particularly in Asia.
In a separate report issued last week by FAO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, the Organization warned that if, among other things, investment in agricultural research is not increased, particularly in Asia, home to 60 percent of the world’s hungry people, global efforts to achieve the zero hunger target by 2030 could fall short.
“With nearly 800 million hungry and undernourished people in the world, we need scientific and technological advances, and perhaps more than ever before,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific.
Kadiresan was speaking at the 5th Global Forum of Leaders for Agricultural Science and Technology,hosted by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, co-organized by FAO, which underscored the importance of innovation in agricultural science and technology.
“Innovation happens when individuals and groups adopt new ideas, technologies or processes that, when successful, spread through communities and societies,” Kadiresan said. “The role of science and technology to reduce hunger and poverty is not only achieved by boosting agricultural productivity, but also delivering the innovation benefit to people who need support as well as conservation of what we should pass down to the next generation. We owe that to our children and their children.”
Innovation must benefit the many
FAO estimates that the world will need to produce some 60 percent more food, on average, to feed a hungry world by 2050 – when the population is expected top nine billion. Like today, most of that food will need to come from smallholder farmers who produce a majority of the world’s food, yet who are too often some of the poorest and most food insecure. Kadiresan said efforts to leverage science and technology in the field of agriculture must involve everyone – from a country’s leading researcher to the farmer’s family working in the field.
“We need to develop the capacity for innovation in smallholder farmers. The skills and capacities of individuals involved in all aspects of the agricultural innovation system – farmers, extension service providers, researchers, etc. – all of these must be upgraded through education and training at all levels,” she said. “Small holder farmers need an enabling environment for innovation, including good governance, stable macroeconomic conditions, transparent legal and regulatory regimes, secure property rights, risk management tools and market infrastructure.”
It was also stressed that special attention needs to be given to women and girls based on their needs and roles in agriculture and rural livelihood strategies – as their potential is often underutilized or undervalued. A further focus must also be on youth in general, who tend to have a greater inclination to innovate than elder farmers, and represent the future of agriculture.
Proof that investment pays off
The forum heard how improvements to rice, developed by the International Rice Research Institute’s breeding work, has given farmers in the Philippines, Viet Nam, and Indonesia an additional US$1.5 billion worth of rice every year from 1985-2009. In the years that followed the release of IR8, or “miracle rice”, improving rice not only increased productivity but has also reduced the impact of pests, diseases, floods, heat, drought, salinity and cold.
But the world needs more than just more food in the years going forward, researchers need to focus on developing and growing more nutritious foods to ward off micronutrient deficiencies.
The forum heard how genetic research can play a role in leading the world to more resilient and nutritious food production. Examples of this are high zinc (plus iron) rice developed in Bangladesh and India, high zinc (plus iron) wheat in India and Pakistan and high iron pearl millet in India – none of these are GMOs – and then “golden rice,” which is a GMO.
“Collectively, these developments prove that investment in agricultural research pays off. And they can help to address some of the most damaging micronutrient deficiencies in the world such as vitamin A, iron and zinc,” Kadiresan said, adding that agricultural research and extension systems need to bring these new crops to market by making sure they are profitable and safe.
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific