Sir Gordon Conway is optimistic about feeding the world’s undernourished by 2050.

Gordon Conway

Decades after the Green Revolution, food shortages, high prices, poverty and hunger continue. It is estimated that there are presently just under one billion chronically hungry people in the world. We also face the probability of repeated food price spikes and a continuing upward trend in food prices, and the challenge of feeding a growing global population in the face of a wide range of adverse factors, including climate change. Our global food security challenges are daunting.

This month, I joined the 2012 World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa, as a panellist and in my capacity as a World Food Prize council member. The focus was on the role of partnerships and their importance in confronting hunger challenges by driving forward research, science, education and business.

Starting on Wednesday Oct 17, a three-day discussion addressed critical questions around a ‘Partnerships and Priorities’ theme, such as lessons learned from existing partnerships, how to leverage these so that we are closer to where we want to be, and the critical steps needed to transform the food security agenda.

The 2012 World Food Prize was awarded to Dr. Daniel Hillel, an Israeli scientist who developed drip irrigation, bringing water to crops in dry-land regions, and whose water management concepts, endorsed by the United Nations, have impacted the lives of millions and bridged cultural and religious divides. The discussions that then ensued focused on forging new models of collaboration to transform the food security agenda, empowering smallholder farmers, and agricultural innovation.

New chapter

My personal contribution as a speaker at the World Food Prize is best expressed in my latest book, which poses the question: Can we feed the world?

To which I reply with a qualified “yes.”

I set out the qualifications to this optimism in the last chapter; all are critical if we are to be able to feed one billion chronically hungry and achieve a food secure world in 2050.

Though I believe there is reason for optimism, we will only succeed if we accept that agricultural development is the best route to achieving sustainable economic growth in developing countries, and agricultural development that is highly productive, stable, resilient and equitable.

With this in mind, we need to focus our efforts on implementing necessary actions across four areas: innovation, markets, people and political leadership. If we provide sufficient aid and investment, utilise new technologies, create fair and efficient markets, and particularly if we harness the power of women as farmers and as nutritionists, as well as tackle climate change, we can feed the world.

This is indeed a tall order, especially because many efforts so far have been lukewarm. For example, international policy discussions, such as the UNFCCC climate negotiations, have not generally supported agricultural climate change mitigation for developing countries. In the near future, we’ll need leaders that invest in, prioritise, and endorse agricultural development and food security, making key partnerships between the public and private sector possible and easier to secure.

In light of the World Food Prize discussions and increasing urgency to tackle interacting challenges holistically, I am hopeful that out of these conversations will come a sense of responsibility – so that the world’s most vulnerable are not victims of our failure to act.

About Gordon Conway

Sir Gordon Conway is Professor of International Development at Imperial College and leads the Agriculture for Impact programme at Imperial’s Centre for Environmental Policy, advocating more European government support for agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa.

His latest book One billion hungry: can we feed the world? is published by Cornell University Press and is available now.

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