Davos: Can the world stop food insecurity?

Davos: Can the world stop food insecurity?

Instability in Ukraine is threatening to intensify an already precarious global food security outlook, as discussed during this year’s edition of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The rising price of fertilizers and inaccessibility of Ukrainian exports have made a delicate situation potentially dire, with 800 million people going hungry each night.

The forum also highlighted that Russian blockades of Ukrainian ports have intensified world leaders’ focus on worsening food insecurity.

“Failure to open the ports is a declaration of war on global food security,” said David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme.

The pandemic had already complicated global efforts to reduce famine and food insecurity, and those challenges have only intensified with the conflict in Ukraine. “We’re taking food from the hungry to give to the starving,” said Beasley.

However, the forum mentioned that there is a risk that short-term efforts to combat food shortages could come at the expense of meeting climate and sustainability targets given the interconnection between agriculture and climate change.

Global food production contributes more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions, and efforts to ramp up food supply could worsen emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.

On the bright side, innovative technologies and regenerative techniques are set to improve agricultural productivity. “Agriculture has to be part of the solution to climate change and the solution for food security,” said J. Erik Fyrwald, CEO of Syngenta Group.

The goal must be growing more food on less land and, to do so, farmers can employ best practices from both organic and conventional farming. He advised that EU food policy reforms that shift away from a focus on organics towards targets on productivity and emission reduction could better address the current crisis. Techniques such as crop rotation and covering land in winter better protect soil and help farmers increase yield with less fertilizer.

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Africa can play a major role in improving global food security, but the continent faces multiple challenges to unlocking agricultural productivity. Already, famine has intensified social and political turmoil in several countries. “If we don’t silence the guns, it’s not going to work,” said Philip Isdor Mpango, vice-president of Tanzania, regarding the goal of increasing agricultural productivity. He pointed to the continent’s young population – with roughly 70 percent of the population aged 25 or younger – and the need to include youth in improving agricultural productivity. “We must strategize so we have the youthful population involved in agricultural value chains.”

Another challenge relates to post-harvest losses. Approximately one third of the continent’s food production is lost after harvest due to poor infrastructure, storage and other challenges. Investing in irrigation, transport infrastructure and storage facilities can improve Africa’s contribution to global food security.

Both wealthy and developing nations have a key role to play, particularly given that food production must increase more than 60 percent by 2050 to feed the world. “Solving the global food crisis is everyone’s business,” said Mariam Mohammed Saeed Al Mheiri, Minister of Climate Change and the Environment of the United Arab Emirates.

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