Worldwatch Institute's 15th Annual State of the World Symposium, convened today, brought together leading thinkers for a targeted dialogue focused on agricultural development, hunger, and poverty alleviation. The symposium occurred in conjunction with the release of Worldwatch's flagship publication, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet,which outlines 15 proven, environmentally sustainable prescriptions for alleviating hunger and poverty.
Keynote speakers and panelists included: Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World; Hans Herren, President, Millennium Institute; Meera Shekar, Lead Health & Nutrition Specialist with the Human Development Network at the World Bank; Sara Scherr, President and CEO, Ecoagriculture Partners; Catherine Alston, Cocoa Livelihoods Program Coordinator, World Cocoa Foundation; and Stephanie Hanson, Director of Policy and Outreach, One Acre Fund.
"Farmers-from sub-Saharan Africa to the U.S.-are the first stewards of the land because they understand the importance of sustaining the world's natural resource base," said Merrigan. She addressed an audience that included a broad variety of international stakeholders, from agricultural policymakers and nongovernmental representatives to members of the donor and funding communities. "Our soils and land, our water, our biodiversity are central to long-term farm productivity. And it is this understanding that drives farmers to be some of our best innovators. The ability of small-scale farmers with limited capital to farm in sustainable ways improves not only their own productivity but also benefits all of us."
Worldwatch's Nourishing the Planet project (www.nourishingtheplanet.org), which produced this year's State of the World report, gathered its findings during a 15-month tour of agricultural innovations, researching projects on the ground in 25 sub-Saharan African countries. Representatives from two of these projects participated in the symposium: Edward Mukiibi, co-founder and Project Coordinator of Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) in Uganda, and Sithembile Ndema with the Food and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) in South Africa.
State of the World 2011 highlights projects like Uganda's DISC program as a way to give a voice to farmers "from the field" and to help them share their ideas globally. DISC, for example, is integrating indigenous vegetable gardens as well as information about nutrition, food preparation, and culture into school curricula to teach children how to grow local crop varieties that will help combat food shortages and revitalize the country's culinary traditions. An estimated 33 percent of African children currently face hunger and malnutrition, which could affect some 42 million children by 2025. But many youth are moving away from agriculture and rural regions in the hope of finding work in urban areas.
"School nutrition programs shouldn't simply feed children," said Mukiibi. "We must also inspire and teach them to become the farmers of the future and revitalize the vegetables and traditions of our culture. Ensuring that the next generation of farmers is well versed in local biodiversity and sustainable growing practices is a huge step toward improving food security."
South Africa's FANRPAN is focused on another frequently neglected audience: women. The organization uses interactive community plays to engage women farmers, community leaders, and policymakers in an open dialogue about gender equity, food security, land tenure, and access to resources. Because women in sub-Saharan Africa make up more than 75 percent of agricultural workers and provide 60-80 percent of the labor to produce food for household consumption and sale, it is crucial that they have opportunities to express their needs in local governance and decision-making. FANRPAN's entertaining and amicable forum makes it easier for them to speak openly.
In addition to spotlighting these and other successful agricultural innovations, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet draws from the world's leading agricultural experts to outline major successes in preventing food waste, building resilience to climate change, and strengthening farming in cities. The report comes at a time when many global hunger and food security initiatives-such as the Obama administration's Feed the Future program, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)-can benefit from new insight into projects that are working today to alleviate hunger and poverty in an environmentally sustainable manner.
"The international community has been neglecting entire segments of the food system in its efforts to reduce hunger and poverty," said Danielle Nierenberg, co-director of the Nourishing the Planet project. "The solutions won't necessarily come from producing more food, but from changing what children eat in schools, how foods are processed and marketed, and what sorts of food businesses we are investing in."
The report provides a roadmap for increased agricultural investment to more effectively target projects that are empowering farmers to lift themselves out of hunger and poverty. "Bread for the World is calling on Congress to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective in reducing hunger and poverty around the world," said Rev. Beckmann. "Reforming foreign aid will allow developing countries to reduce hunger and help poor people to build a better future for themselves and their communities."
Serving locally raised crops to school children, for example, has proven to be an effective hunger- and poverty-reducing strategy in many African nations, with strong similarities to successful farm-to-cafeteria programs in the United States and Europe. Efforts to prevent food waste are also critical. "Roughly 40 percent of the food produced worldwide is wasted before it is consumed, creating large opportunities for farmers and households to save both money and resources by reducing this waste," said Brian Halweil, Nourishing the Planet co-director.
The findings of State of the World 2011 will be shared in over 20 languages with global agricultural stakeholders that include government ministries, policymakers, farmer and community networks, and the increasingly influential nongovernmental environmental and development communities.