Archive for 'collaboration'

A common voice is needed to make the most of the evidence, says Global Food Security programme Champion Tim Benton.

Tim Benton

Across the world there are a very large number of food experts and commentators, each a vocal advocate of their own analyses, disciplinary backgrounds and framing assumptions. 

But whilst they are all well-meaning, there is very little agreement about either what should be done or how it should be done. Different communities of academics – developed vs developing world, agriculture vs nutrition, ‘sustainable’ vs industrial – major on different analyses and different sets of actions.

Copyright: UN ISDR on Flickr by CC 2.0

The shadows are looming: would a global food panel like the IPCC help global food security? Copyright: UN ISDR on Flickr by CC 2.0

There are some powerful committees – such as the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) – and some powerful synthesis reports, but there remains a lack of a coherent voice from the hundreds of thousands of academics around the world who work on food. 

The question is: do we need one? And if so, what should its remit be?

The IPCC brings together the weight of evidence and the community

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – through its long history – has given a voice to the whole academic community, rather than a smaller number of motivated, high-profile and well-supported advocates.

The IPCC mechanism brings together the global community of academics working on climate systems, and how they interact with other aspects of the world. They sift the literature and analyse the evidence, building communities of practice in order to ask questions around mechanisms, consequences, mitigation and adaptation. 

Copyright: SEDACMaps on Flickr by CC 2.0

A global food body could bring more coordinated global action. (Click for larger image.) Copyright: SEDACMaps on Flickr by CC 2.0

We need something like this for food. We need it to bring the evidence base together for the whole food system. We need it to explore the interventions that could be made and their outcomes. We need it to develop ideas that will work. 

With the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requiring urgent action, we need a better understanding of what to do, and fast. And this needs to have the weight of real understanding behind it – so it cannot be dismissed as ‘that’s only Professor X’s silly idea’.

International Panel on Food and Nutrition Security

report cover

Work on this report (1.2MB, PDF), co-authored by GFS’ Time Benton, kick-started the global food body idea

The idea of an IPCC-like idea for food was first floated in our final report (PDF) (see this GFS blog post for its origins). The originator of the idea, Joachim von Braun a Professor for Economic and Technological Change at the University of Bonn, published the arguments as a working paper (PDF) with Matthias Kalkuhl, and more detailed a peer-reviewed paper is in press. 

The idea is not to replicate exactly the IPCC – the institutional overhead costs are huge – but to create a mechanism to give a more coherent and powerful voice to the community through it being officially and governmentally supported. 

It shouldn’t be like the IPCC in another important aspect: it shouldn’t seek to build scientific consensus.  This sounds counter-intuitive, so it needs an explanation.

The weight of evidence shifts as the system boundaries expand

The issue is that – much like the human-climate-weather system – creating sustainable food and nutrition security is too complex for any single ‘silver bullet’, or even a whole arsenal of silver bullets. We need to hit the right target at the right time – and avoid aiming at the wrong one. But amongst all the potential interventions, which have evidence to support them?

This is needed because the seemingly straightforward question of ‘evidence’ is anything but.

Evidence is rarely absolute. Instead, the way evidence is interpreted depends on the boundaries used to frame the issue.  For example, the evidence that some people are starving can be taken by some as a need to increase food supply = grow more. Whereas another may say it is about distribution = share more. 

So one person’s evidence for ‘X’ might be another person’s evidence for ‘not X’ – whether the X is grow more or grow less, or whether food should be cheaper or more expensive.

Copyright: Valeria Rosalez on Flickr by CC 2.0

Evidence needs to be handled with care. Copyright: Valeria Rosalez on Flickr by CC 2.0

This is where I can see this new panel coming to the fore: framing the challenges and then championing evidence-based solutions.

The key thing is to synthesise the evidence, uniformly and collectively, in such a way that “lack of evidence” cannot be an excuse not to act, or to act in a way that won’t lead to the desired outcomes. 

The Paris Climate Agreement would not have happened without the IPCC. Given that food, food security and climate are so intertwined, achieving a Paris-compliant global food system needs urgent and significant action. And to help make this happen, academic stakeholders in the food system need a common voice.

Add your comment, and follow Tim on Twitter: @timgbenton.

About Tim Benton

Tim Benton is GFS Champion and an interdisciplinary researcher working on issues around agriculture-environment interactions. Formerly, he was Research Dean in the Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds, and Chair of the Africa College Partnership, an interdisciplinary virtual research institute concerned with sustainable agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. He has worked on the links between farming and biodiversity (and ecosystem services) for many years.

How has the GFS programme made a difference?

What have we achieved so far? Head of the Global Food Security programme Riaz Bhunnoo takes stock of work to date.

Riaz Bhunnoo

As Charles Darwin reportedly once said, “in the history of humankind those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed”. Even if he didn’t actually say it, collaboration is essential to meet the food security challenge, and it is therefore a central pillar of the Global Food Security (GFS) programme. So what has GFS achieved to date?

To answer this question, we need to think about what GFS was set up to do – in brief, improve coordination and collaboration on food security research across the public sector.
Continue reading How has the GFS programme made a difference?

Joining food forces across continents

What agricultural problems do Africa and Europe have in common? Jenny Wilson from UKCDS examines an ambitious collaborative project.

Jenny Wilson

There’s a really exciting initiative that UKCDS (UK Collaborative on Development Sciences) has been involved in that aims to produce a step-change in the funding, and consequent research, available for EU-Africa scientific collaboration.
Continue reading Joining food forces across continents

Now is the time to build food security capacity, and there are funds to do it. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Christina Owen reports.

Christina Owen

On the Agricultural Development team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we’re working hard to put ourselves out of a job.

The primary way to ensure this happens is for individual countries to develop and own their own sustainable agricultural systems, and to make them work for their farmers.

But what does this sustainability look like?
Continue reading Pay dirt: Growing sustainable agricultural development systems

The 4P approach to food security

Agriculture is an eco-system, not a solo sector, says Robin Sanders.

Robin Sanders

There is a need for more public sector, private companies, organizations and donors to come together to share both resources and expertise to develop new approaches to sustainable and successful development.

Innovative thinking needs to be done particularly in agriculture to address food security since land, water, and environmental management are not separate from agriculture sector development or long-term food security.
Continue reading The 4P approach to food security

The politics of food in the new scarcity

Times have changed, and the world’s problems need a global vision for action, says the chair of the EU Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development Paolo de Castro.

Paolo de Castro

The renewed position of food security at recent G8 and G20 Summits, from L’Aquila in 2009 (PDF) to Camp David in 2012, is an acknowledgement that a more sophisticated coordination at global level is needed to meet the new challenges, which are a sort of upside-down scenario in comparison to what prevailed in the last years of the 20th century, when food seemed relatively plentiful.
Continue reading The politics of food in the new scarcity

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.
Continue reading Can we feed one billion hungry people?

All roads lead to Rome for the UN’s Committee on World Food Security. Morgane Danielou previews the action.

Morgane Danielou

From 15-20 October, watchful eyes will be on Rome as the UN World Committee on Food Security (CFS) holds its annual session at the FAO headquarters. As an intergovernmental body, it serves as a forum for review and follow up of food security policies. Following a turbulent year for food security, in particular the US and African droughts, the CFS will look to address these crises, as well as long-term structural issues.
Continue reading Global food and agriculture takes centre stage

The Global Hunger Event

UK hosts meeting to highlight agricultural innovations that deliver improved nutrition for women and children. Tim Wheeler reports.

Tim Wheeler

On 12 August 2012, the last day of the London Olympic Games, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron will bring together government, business and civil society leaders to define a set of actions to reduce global hunger and undernutrition rates. He will seek to gather support for a global legacy for the London Games, looking ahead to the next Games in Rio in 2016. Ensuring that the growing global population can be fed sustainably and equitably is an unprecedented challenge for the global food system and the UN Secretary General recently pressed the global community to act with urgency on hunger.
Continue reading The Global Hunger Event

Political economy and food security

In our second post on the Durban Climate Change Conference, David Howlett asks what was agreed on agriculture.

David Howlett

I am co-author of a new paper – What next for agriculture after Durban? – published in the journal Science. Here are some thoughts from the article and the conference itself.

The 17th conference of the parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ended two days late on 11 December 2011. The extra time was used by governments to agree the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (PDF).
Continue reading Political economy and food security