Expert Opinions: How Would You Fix the Broken Food System?

June 24, 2011
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It’s no secret that the food system is failing. Between 2006 and 2008, international food prices doubled. The poorest people in the world are already spending up to 80 percent of their income on food, and increases in oil, fertilizer and transportation costs are making matters worse. These hurdles coupled with inefficient government policies, such as grain-based biofuel programs and export bans, result in the fragile and volatile food system that, according to Oxfam Chief Executive Barbara Stocking, is “pretty well bust.”

So what next? In addition to improving today’s system, experts are turning their attention to the food system of the future. By 2050, the global population is expected to reach nine billion and the demand for food will increase by 70 percent. UN news service IRIN asks three experts how they would fix the food system.

 

Christopher Barrett, professor of development economics at Cornell University in the USA:

  • More money for research: Substantial expansion of investment in agricultural research capacity, especially in low- and middle-income countries. “The food price crises of recent years are the bitter harvest of a generation’s under investment in agricultural research to ensure that productivity growth keeps pace with demand growth.”
  • Investment in renewable energy: Spend more to power irrigation in Africa and parts of Asia and Latin America. Provide low-cost liquid fuels to reduce transport costs and food marketing margins in more remote rural areas: and reduce diversion of prime agricultural lands into fuel crop production. “The energy crisis is linked to the food crisis and will become more closely coupled in the years ahead.”
  • Reduce bureaucratic red tape and investment restrictions: This will improve the flow of money in agricultural marketing systems that could reduce large post-harvest food losses. “The world produces ample food; it just cannot distribute and store it well so as to meet needs equitably and efficiently.”
  • Diffusion of genetically modified crop varieties: Help low and middle-income countries enact appropriate bio-safety standards to expand the use of genetically modified (GM) varieties that have proved effective in reducing losses to pests, increasing yields, and/or reducing agro-chemicals use.
  • Reform US food aid and improve coordination among donors: This will eliminate restrictions that add costs and impose delays which undermine the efficacy of the world’s emergency food assistance system.

Mark Rosegrant, IFPRI:

  • Increase investments in agricultural research to improve crop and livestock productivity; promoting GM crop varieties which have proven effective and are considered safe.
  • Greater spending on agricultural infrastructure, especially rural roads and irrigation.
  • Improve access to diversified, nutritious food and safe drinking water with good service delivery and safety nets.
  • Spending on girls’ education, which has a direct bearing on food security.
  • Promote the manufacture of ethanol- biofuel from sugarcane rather than from staple grains. “This will not only reduce pressure on grain to be used as feed for biofuel but provide a cheaper and greener alternative to fossil fuel.”

Gonzalo Fanjul, Oxfam’s senior strategic adviser:

  • Manage the food system better by regulating volatile commodity markets and making them more transparent; bolster regional and national food reserves; and put an end to biofuel policies which
  • Invest in small-scale producers and protect their rights to land and other natural resources. Five hundred million small-scale farms in developing countries already support one-third of humanity and offer the greatest potential to sustainably boost global yields.
  • Recognize the crucial role women play in feeding the world by ensuring women are in positions of leadership in institutions where agricultural, food security and climate change decisions are made.
  • Deliver a global deal that will ensure the world avoids the worst impacts of climate change, and helps poor producers adapt to changes already in the system.
  • Introduce national and international rules that will stop investors and corporations undertaking irresponsible large-scale land investments which undermine vulnerable people’s access to resources and food security.

Our take-aways from these experts:

  • Increase research and development funding and the efficiency with which it's implemented.
  • Promote agricultural innovation for small-holder farmers.
  • Encourage a greater role for women and girls in community development.   

What do you think about these suggestions? How would you fix the food system? Is the food system broken?

Learn more....

Read the entirety of the IRNI article here.

A recent UN report shows effective eco-farming doubling food production in ten years, relieving some strain on the food system.

Sara Wilson

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Communications and New Media Officer
United States

Sara has worked as Communications and New Media Officer for The Hunger Project since October 2010.

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