There’s a new goal post for agriculture: it’s nutrition

The CABI Blog

By Shenggen Fan, Sivan Yosef, and Rajul Pandya-Lorch

Agriculture is the single most important innovation in human history. Over the course of thousands of years, it has staved off hunger, allowed populations to leave their hunter-gatherer lives behind, and freed up time for other pursuits (like inventing writing and the wheel!) that have propelled societies forward. As recently as the 1970s the Green Revolution – a global push to improve and produce more wheat and rice – brought India back from the brink of mass famine. The Green Revolution improved the lives of one billion people around the world. This number is all the more impressive when considering that the world population was four billion at the time.

istock_000014700451croppedA global push to produce more rice brought India back from the brink of famine in the 1970s.

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Local innovation as source of adaptation and resilience to climate change

Women harvesting Moringa leaves in Réo, Burkina Faso
Women harvesting Moringa leaves, Burkina Faso. Photo credit: Pierre-François Pret

This is the second guest post as part of our Climate Smart Agriculture Week (20 – 24 November 2017)

Climate change poses major challenges to small-scale African farmers, whose own locally developed strategies to address these challenges provide entry points to sustainable processes of adapting to climate change. Partners in Prolinnova – a global network for promoting local innovation in ecological agriculture and natural resource management – have studied how crop farmers respond creatively to change.

Some case studies from West and Central Africa provide some insight:

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The chicken or the egg?

Photo: Ruben Alexander  

“I started with just 100 chickens”, begins Mr Jean Claude Ruzibiza.

He goes on to explain how from small beginnings he has now become Managing Director of Rwanda Best, a farm producing 4,500 eggs a day and growing fruit and veg to satisfy a significant part of nearby Kigali’s hungry population.

With malnutrition in the world causing the stunting of an estimated 155 million children in 2016 the quality of food consumed is as imperative as its quantity.

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2013 Global Food Policy Report: Nutrition in the spotlight

The development community has increased its focus on improving nutrition © Steve Evans (CC BY)
The development community has increased its focus on improving nutrition © Steve Evans (CC BY)

Last month, the International Food Policy Research Institute released its 2013 Global Food Policy Report. This report is the third annual report in this series which aims to give an overview of the food policy developments that have affected food security that year. This includes a review of the key highlights of the previous 12 months, the challenges faced and the possible opportunities for food policy in the coming year.

In 2013, the focus of discussion on food policy moved further towards nutrition. With the Nutrition for Growth summit in June, the effort committed to tackling undernutrition gained momentum with more than US$23 billion being pledged by development partners.

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Ending hunger will require increased agricultural investment, urges UK Parliament

ImageIn order to end global hunger and malnutrition in this lifetime, the UK government needs to increase investment in agriculture, urges members of the UK parliament in a new report released today. Home Grown Nutrition, produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development, outlines the key challenges facing food security, and recommendations for overcoming these challenges based on the series of Westminster- held debates. At the heart of these recommendations is increased support for the smallholder farmer, the source of food and path to nutrition for approximately one-third of the global population. Smallholder farmers, numbering an estimated 500 million worldwide, are already a focus of support from UK’s Department of International Development (DFID) through initiatives like Plantwise and other agricultural development programmes. Yet to defeat hunger, public and private investment must play a greater role to enable the smallholder to produce more, and more effectively, while boosting nutritional content and sustainability. The Group also notes in the report that food security is a highly complex issue for which agricultural investment alone is not the solution.  This investment must be accompanied by action in other critical areas, including provision of nutritional supplements, wider-economy approaches (cash-transfers), the empowerment of women, access to healthcare as well as to clean water and sanitation.

The APPG’s recommendations are launched in the run-up to the G8 summit next month in London, during which world leaders will be called upon to make commitments towards improved global nutrition. Days before, on June 8th, a Nutrition for Growth summit led by the DFID will be held in the capital to focus public and media awareness on this issue, further encouraging timely action to end hunger.  As part of the UK’s commitment to nutrition, DFID will be supporting CABI’s work on an initiative aimed at spreading nutritional advice amongst developing communities via mobile phones.

Big names ask British Prime Minister to act on hunger issues

It is hoped the UK hunger summit will step up efforts to tackle hunger © FMSC (CC BY 2.0 license, via Flickr)

Today, David Beckham, in his role as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, is meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron to deliver a letter calling for action on nutrition and hunger issues in developing countries. The letter, signed by UNICEF supporters including over 50 well-known sports and entertainment stars, requests that Mr Cameron makes a bold move at a food security summit to be held in London on the final day of the Olympics.

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Mining technology can help find nutritional crop varieties

Millet grains can be analysed for nutritional content using X-ray fluorescence © ICRISAT HOPE/Peter Casier (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)

Farmers face difficult challenges in deciding which crop variety to continue growing. They need to choose crop varieties that have a high likelihood of survival and that will have a high yield. The communities that these farmers provide crops for also have needs. Their need is focused on the access to nutritious crops that contain high concentrations of minerals such as zinc and iron. It is easy for farmers to see which crop varieties with the largest vegetative organs and those that survive longest, but how do farmers discover which crops are the most nutritious? They can’t simply look at each plant to find their nutritional content. Now agricultural scientists believe that they may have solved this problem by using X-Ray Fluorescence technology to analyse crop seeds. Continue reading