Today more than 800 million people around the world suffer from undernutrition. Millions more live at the edge of hunger, where a single weather event or crop pest can launch a new cycle of undernourishment.
Food insecurity hinders nearly every aspect of human life, subjecting undernourished populations to a range of physical and societal ills—including higher childhood mortality, stunted growth, susceptibility to disease, lack of economic opportunity, poor education, and victimization by radical movements.
Food security is Goal No. 2 on the United Nations’ list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It calls on humanity to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.”
While all 17 goals are critical to the survival of mankind and the planet, the truth is that the longer Goal No. 2 remains unachieved, the harder it will be to attain the other 16. That’s because real change depends on people—healthy, peaceable, stable populations with the will and ability to improve human lives and preserve the planet.
And with food security not yet accomplished—and the earth’s population projected to grow to nearly 10 billion by 2050—the risk that it will not be achieved is rising with every passing day. Worse yet, that risk is compounded by a changing climate that forces us to rethink traditional agricultural practices around the globe.
One thing is clear at this point in our planet’s history: It is absolutely critical to support international development efforts that can increase the world’s ability to achieve food security through sustainable agriculture.
Our organization—CNFA (Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture)—believes that enterprise-based agricultural development programs are among the best and most efficient ways to provide the world’s rural smallholder farmers with the knowledge and tools they need to move from subsistence farming to a market-oriented, agricultural system that will inevitably result in a better global food security situation.
For example, CNFA’s retail service models—Farm Service Centers, Machinery Service Centers and Agrodealers—empower small rural entrepreneurs to improve the productivity of thousands of subsistence farmers. The centers not only sell much-needed inputs and equipment, but also function as clearinghouses where farmers can obtain the agricultural extension, credit and marketing services they need to increase production beyond subsistence levels—and produce surpluses that can provide them with income and make their communities more food-secure. In Ethiopia, CNFA worked in collaboration with the Agriculture Transformation Agency of the Government of Ethiopia to facilitate the development of a network of 30+ farm service centers serving thousands of smallholder farmers with better quality and price inputs.
We also help to bolster farmers’ knowledge by fielding U.S. volunteer agricultural and management experts through the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Farmer-to-Farmer program. Through this and other initiatives, we help to educate farmers on the sustainable practices and natural resource management tools they need to ensure environmental sustainability—a critical prerequisite for long-term agricultural and food security systems.
Gender equality is central to our efforts. In the rural populations we serve, women perform the brunt of agricultural work and are best placed to ensure the food security of their families. That’s why our programs promote gender equality, and seek to involve women in all of our initiatives whenever possible.
Concurrent with these efforts, we work to cultivate networks and linkages that strengthen supply chains, create new markets and increase smallholder incomes—all of which help to bolster economic resilience and increase food security.
All of these initiatives provide streamlined, cost-effective and efficient paths to achieving agricultural sustainability and improved food security. They are time-tested and successful, and have improved the food security of many rural populations.
But many other people around the world still exist on the edge of hunger. They are still waiting for programs such as these—initiatives that simply empower them to feed themselves. It is crucial for the United States to lead and facilitate international agricultural development so that emerging countries can continue to build new, market-based agriculture systems where they are most needed, to support workable and sustainable solutions.
We must ensure that they receive such programs before it is too late. The population clock continues to tick. The climate continues to change. And people are still going hungry. It’s time to put international agricultural development at the front of the line.
Sylvain Roy is the President and CEO of CNFA: Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture.