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IPC Position Paper No. 3

Attaining Global Food Security
by 2025

An Overview

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s World Food Summit will take place amid historically low stocks, high world prices, and renewed concerns about agriculture’s ability to grow enough food to feed a growing population. When originally conceived in 1993, the World Food Summit was to focus on the problems confronting Africa, and other developing regions, where food supplies are not adequate to feed the population. But, with the current supply and demand situation, it is likely that the World Food Summit will focus on two, interrelated issues: how to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in significant parts of the developing world, and how to ensure that global agriculture can continue to feed the world at reasonable prices, in an environmentally sound matter.

The International Policy Council on Agriculture, Food and Trade (IPC) believes that Africa and the countries of the developing world can reduce hunger, and improve their access to food supplies, and that global agriculture can double the world’s food supplies in thirty years. But, improving world food security will require policy changes in developing and developed countries, an open global trading system, and a renewed commitment to agricultural research.

It is important to remember at the outset that hunger and malnutrition are primarily functions of poverty, and not lack of food. This means that the first, and best solution to the problems of hunger and malnutrition is broad-based economic development that provides people with the jobs and the wherewithal to produce or purchase the food that they need.

Because most developing country economies depend on agriculture for income and employment, the base of economic development must, in most instances, spring from agriculture. Unfortunately, instead of promoting agricultural development, many developing countries penalize it. They operate cheap food policies, which keep food prices artificially low for urban consumers, but provide little incentive for local farmers. They artificially raise the prices of critical inputs, such as fertilizer, and artificially lower the prices for farmers’ commodities. They operate overvalued exchange rates that subsidize food imports, and depress prices for local farmers. Public investments are directed toward urban areas and away from rural areas. These policies discourage local farmers, and depress job creation in rural areas.

If the developing countries want to increase their agricultural production, promote active economies that support farmers and rural areas, and alleviate hunger and malnutrition, these policies must be reversed, and emphasis placed on rural and agricultural development.

Policies in the developed countries have often exacerbated global food problems. Export subsidies have depressed world food prices, and undermined incentives for developing country farmers. More recently, government mandated set-asides have shorted world markets. The GATT Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture should begin to reverse these policies.

In the next round of multilateral trade talks, the reforms made in the Uruguay Round should be consolidated and furthered. The goal of those negotiations should be to align domestic and world prices, to increase market access, lower trade barriers, and provide support to farmers in ways that do not distort trade.

But, even if countries pursue appropriate domestic and agricultural trade policies, the world’s agricultural resources are not evenly distributed, and not every country will be able to produce enough food to satisfy demand. Asia is densely populated, and has little arable land per capita. Africa, on the other hand, is sparsely populated, but its soils are among the world’s oldest and least productive, and its climate among the world’s harshest and most unpredictable. So, while countries must take steps to improve their agricultural production and utilize their natural resources, it is unrealistic for any country to rely completely on its own productive capacity to feed itself.

Thus, an open and free world trade system is a critical component of providing adequate national food security around the world. It allows countries in one region to offset supply shortfalls with plentiful supplies from other regions. It lowers total food costs to consumers, and allocates production to where it can be done most efficiently, and in an environmentally sound manner. Very simply, a freer and more open trading system must be part of any effort to address national and regional food needs.

However, freer trade in agriculture alone is not sufficient. In order for countries to finance their food imports, they must have access to world markets to sell their goods and services abroad. All too often, developed countries maintain trade barriers on goods produced in developing countries (footwear and textiles are excellent examples) denying them a way to finance their food imports. And, because of the political and social significance of food, food exporters must provide food deficit countries with assured access to supplies. Equal treatment for domestic and international customers must be a fundamental principle of world food trade.

Most experts agree that over the next thirty years, global food trade will increase significantly. If trade is to play an important role in balancing food production and demand, then distribution bottlenecks must be removed. Ports, roads, bridges, and storage facilities must be improved and expanded if regional food needs are to be met.

More appropriate domestic policies and freer trade will help in the effort to better distribute world food supplies. But, for the longer term, if the world is to double its food production, agricultural research and extension are critical. The supply of land, and water are relatively finite. While some land can be brought into production and water can be used more efficiently, any real increase in agricultural production will come from raising yields on good, arable land.

Increasing yields will require seeds with greater disease and pest resistance. It will require improved and balanced fertilizer, pesticides and other crop protection chemicals. It will require more effective weed control, and pest and disease management. It will require new production techniques, such as no-till agriculture and precision farming.

Only through science and technology can we continue to make progress toward feeding the world’s population at lower cost and in an environmentally sound manner.

The scientific revolution in global agriculture over the last 25 years (coupled with rising incomes), reduced the percentage of hungry and malnourished people from 35 percent to 20 percent. It has raised per capita food supplies from 2135 calories per day to 2750 calories per day. Agricultural research has given 1.6 billion more people access to adequate food supplies. The scientific revolution in farming has saved over 16 million square kilometers that were not plowed down to grow food. Rejecting the role of science in agriculture will either condemn people to starvation or force farmers to plow up more land, or both.

Clearly, plant breeding and its extension through modern biotechnology can make a tremendous contribution both to improved yields and reduced inputs.

Nothing else on our shelf of existing knowledge promises as much for future agricultural yields, for protecting wildlife habitat and avoiding pollution, as biotechnology. Moreover, biotechnology promises to capture very complex science and deliver it in one, simple package – a seed – to farmers. There is a strong consensus that the challenges facing global agriculture will not and cannot be met without biotechnology.

Despite the high returns to agricultural research, public investment in agriculture is declining. This trend must be reversed. In particular, the developed countries should renew their commitment to agricultural research. Priorities should include increasing yields of staple crops, such as sorghum, millet, and pulses, improving livestock feeding efficiency, and developing seeds that are more responsive to soil nutrients. Much of that research has been done quite effectively in the international agricultural research centers. Importantly, researchers should work to involve farmers in target countries to ensure that the research is well suited to local needs, and that the results are transferred from laboratory to field.

Private sector investment in research is also critical to expanding world food supplies. Often, private sector research is more closely aligned to farmers needs because of private companies’ commercial interests. Governments can encourage private sector research by protecting intellectual property, and by establishing a commercial code and implementing predictable, science based approval procedures.

While additional research is needed to increase yields over the longer term, there are many technologies already available that could dramatically improve yields in developing countries, if farmers had access and training. Government, universities and the private sector need to work together to improve extension services and to educate farmers, so that they can adopt the proven technologies that are already available.

In recent months, the potential role of China in the world food system has been the subject of much speculation. The IPC believes that while China and other Asian countries will be significant players on the world market, it appears that they will have the foreign exchange to purchase the food needed to supplement their domestic production.

It is the countries of sub-Saharan Africa that are of most concern to the members of the IPC. Of all the world’s regions, only Africa expects an increase in the number of malnourished people over the next three decades. Of all the regions, only in Africa is per capita food production falling. Africa faces many severe challenges: uncertain water supplies, impoverished soils, under-investment in rural areas, and political instability. The sheer size of the projections for malnourished and chronically undernourished people in Africa should encourage an international effort on the scale of the Green Revolution. The focus of such an effort should include improving yields on staple crops, developing technologies that work in the soil and climate conditions of Africa, and finally extension of that technology and farming methods to African farmers.

In addition, African nations must address their macroeconomic and sectoral policies that discourage investment in food production, and resolve internal conflicts that threaten political stability. Africa, like other regions, must develop a viable commercial agricultural system if it is to reduce hunger and malnutrition.

The International Policy Council on Agriculture, Food and Trade firmly believes that with appropriate policies and a renewed commitment to agricultural research and extension, food security in Africa and the developing countries can be improved, and that over the long term, the global food system can produce enough food to feed the world’s population, at lower cost and in an environmentally sustainable manner.

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