By Savanna Henderson, Humanitas Global
Our world fails to feed 795 million people daily and further fails to adequately feed another 2 billion. This is problematic on its own, but is especially worrisome considering the fact that by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities. With producers abandoning the farm, populations crowding cities, unacceptable losses and waste of food abound, and degradation of arable land and natural resources amidst striking numbers of malnutrition and hunger, how are we to achieve nutrition and food security? This was the focus of The Chicago Council’s 2016 Global Food Symposium: Growing Food for Growing Cities: Transforming Food Systems in an Urbanizing World.
Sara Menker, Founder and CEO, Gro Intelligence, approached the current condition of our food system as one punctuated by a lack of understanding of the system. Sharing with us a quote by Henry Kissinger, she emphasized the focus we have paid to pieces of a whole, rather than taking a holistic and systematic approach, leading to a malfunctioning system. Throughout the symposium, innovative and emerging solutions, special remarks and in-depth discussions all contributed to what is needed and how we will get there if we are to transform and create a truly sustainable food system.
The third report of the Chicago Council’s series on food and agriculture systems includes recommendations for the U.S. government to take a lead in developing this transformative food system. The four recommendations are built off of previous recommendations with a focus on policy actions. The recommendations include:
- Develop, implement, and strengthen policies for global food security. Among the multiple actions included within this recommendation is one to increase support for capacity strengthening of national and subnational policymakers and implementers. We’re probably all familiar know with the knowledge that if women had equal access to inputs, they could increase their yields by 20-30%, which has wider-reaching implications on community health and well-being. Investing in capacity-building to support gender equality alone is critical to ensuring a sustainable food system and needs to be on the forefront of policy action.
- Enable and leverage private-sector investment that includes small-scale farmers and rural SMEs in the food system. During a discussion on partnerships, Kavita Prakash-Mani, Grow Asia, made the statement, “if it takes a village to raise a child, it certainly takes all of us to support smallholder farmers”. As producers of nearly all the food consumed in Asia and Africa, smallholders need continued and additional support in the form of inclusive investments and enterprise development.
- Improve regional trade capacity to build efficient and sustainable food systems across national borders through trade policy. The amount of global food loss is unacceptable, especially when it can be attributed to restrictive regional trade policies. Food should move efficiently, safely and affordably across borders, not become stuck and then lost at borders. A key policy action to support more effective trade calls on the U.S. to leverage its trade relationships and expertise to support effective and sustainable regional trade.
- Strengthen research support and expand the research agenda to build food systems. Reiterating some of the above recommendations, there are specific research components that must be addressed including: improved transportability of perishable foods, improved harvesting and storage technologies, and soil health and restoration of depleted soils.
While the focus of this year’s Global Food Symposium was on a food system to support the health and well-being of the burgeoning urban populations, it is vital that we maintain attention on rural smallholders. While crucial to food production, they also have the means to reduce poverty when provided adequate support and technology. The Council Report shares that small-scale agriculture development is twice as effective in reducing poverty as development investments in other sectors.