Wanted: innovative ideas on how to feed nine billion people

Author: 

Gerda Verburg
A bowl with seeds
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I grew up on a farm and I am one of 10 siblings, so I know how challenging it can be to embrace differences and work together. But I am also from the Netherlands '€“ a country that would be underwater if we had not all worked together to come up with a solution '€“ so I know it can be done. As daunting as it may be, there are many opportunities available if we are willing to think smarter and use all our individual strength and the tools available to collectively end hunger. We need to stop approaching food and nutrition security in silos and fully embrace the linkages in order to take necessary action.

On this, we'€™ve already made some progress. Within the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), we recently reached a global consensus on the principles for responsible investment in agriculture and food systems. There were many divergent views on topics including climate change, water, genetic diversity, labour rights but by working together we were able to achieve more than we could have done on our own.

But the next target is even larger. The anticipated sustainable development goals are expected to face an annual investment deficit of $2.5tn in developing countries. To bridge this gap and improve access to safe and nutritious food for all, full engagement from all sectors is critical. But there are questions about how collaboration can be done effectively when views on the types of investment needed and the priority areas for investment are so different. The first step is to take stock of what'€™s worked and what hasn'€™t.

We haven'€™t always included those with the biggest stake at the table. There is a tendency to see food security and nutrition through a '€œvictim'€ or '€œaid'€ lens, when actually we find that empowering farmers to provide for themselves and their communities provides lasting benefits. In order to empower smallholder farmers, they must be part of conversations about their needs and the solutions to those needs.

Sixty-three countries have already reached the hunger target of the millennium development goals. Part of that success has come from understanding local context in order to better target interventions. This has meant a shift away from the provision of food aid and towards a more proactive and preventative approach, with a heavy focus on education, inclusive finance and insurance schemes.

The increased provision of school lunches around the world is a good example of what partnership can make possible. It has taken the involvement of governments, civil society organisations, and the private sector to design and implement school lunch programmes which are not only affordable but also address other aspects of food security and nutrition: promoting local production and procurement of food, reducing food loss and waste through menu planning, enhancing regular access to healthy food for students, and improving food and nutrition curricula.

It is clear to see how, to achieve all of the above, cross-sectoral collaboration becomes important. Private sector food processing companies needed to work with local farmers to produce the food necessary for the programmes. Meanwhile, civil society organisations and local governments identified criteria to target the most vulnerable and monitor the programmes'€™ effectiveness, healthcare professionals collaborated with agricultural experts, and so on. We can not all be experts in everything, so we must build networks if we are to be successful.

To produce 60% more food by 2050 to feed the expected nine billion people, it can'€™t be business as usual. We simply don'€™t have the energy or water to sustain such an increase. Instead, we will need to be smarter. If we are serious about our commitment to end hunger in our lifetimes, then we must build bridges across existing divides '€“ between rich and poor nations, industry and civil society and so on. Out of a diversity of voices will come a diversity of approaches.

Gerda Verburg is the Dutch ambassador to the UN agencies in Rome and chair of the UN Committee on World Food Security. Follow @GerdaVerburg on Twitter.

Food for Thought is a monthly series curating ideas on achieving the goal of zero hunger from leaders across the private, public and charity sectors. In March, Tjada McKenna will be writing about the role of girls in farming.

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