A 650 Million Dollar Pledge Aimed at Eradicating Extreme Hunger by 2030

Villagers grow rain-fed rice in Beung Kiat Ngong wetlands, Lao
People’s Democratic Republic. Credit: FAO/Xavier Bouan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 22 2019 (IPS)

When a coalition of international donors pledged more than $650
million to provide assistance to over 300 million smallholder
farmers in developing countries, the primary aim was to help
increase agricultural and livestock production besieged by
droughts, floods and other natural disasters triggered by climate
change– mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The pledges– which came from the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation, the World Bank, UK, the Netherlands, the European
Commission, Switzerland, Sweden and Germany– followed the UN’s
Climate Action Summit last September

Asked if the ultimate aim is to help eradicate extreme hunger by
2030, as spelled out in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs), Sonja Vermeulen, Director of Programs, CGIAR System
Organization, told IPS that hunger is very highly concentrated –
with higher per capita in Africa and South Asia, and in rural
areas.

She said hungry people are largely dependent on rural economies,
especially agriculture, to improve their welfare and nutrition.

That’s why investments in targeted agricultural research to
benefit these exact people can go much further than alternatives,
she noted.

SDG2 on ending hunger has five targets.

She said the Washington-based CGIAR, described as the world’s
largest global agricultural innovation network, is actively working
towards all of these targets: bringing people over the minimum
calorie line, improving micronutrient nutrition, getting
agriculture back within environmental limits, doubling
smallholders’ productivity and incomes, and maintaining ex-situ
genetic diversity of crops, livestock, fish and their wild
relatives.

“Given the complexity of the problem, it’s a massive
challenge to get there by 2030. But, with partners, it’s a
challenge we want to rise to.”

CGIAR, which is the recipient of the $650 million funding, and
formerly known as the Consultative Group for International
Agricultural Research, has an annual research portfolio of just
over $900 million with 11,000 staff working in more than 70
countries around the world.

“The global Sustainable Development Goals made a solemn
promise to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty by 2030, and that
simply cannot be achieved unless the world’s smallholder farmers
can adapt to climate change,” said Elwyn Grainger-Jones,
Executive Director of the CGIAR System Organization.

The new investments, he said, “are a recognition that we have
just 11 growing seasons between now and 2030 and farmers need a
host of new innovations to overcome a growing array of climate
threats. This new funding is an important start towards a global
effort to substantially increase support for CGIAR
activities.”

A beneficiary of a groundnut upscaling project in Mali. Credit:
CGIAR

According to CGIAR, it’s climate-focused innovations
include:

• Dozens of new varieties of

drought-tolerant maize
for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa that
are increasing farmers’ yields by 20-30 percent. In Zimbabwe,
maize farmers already are harvesting an additional 600 kilos or
more than 1,300 pounds per hectare. Further adoption across the
region will benefit 30-40 million people in 13 countries and
provide added grain worth US $160-200 million per year in
drought-affected areas, generating up to $1.5 billion in benefits
for producers and consumers.

Climate
change-ready rice
, including new “scuba rice” varieties
that survive underwater for up to 17 days could benefit 18 million
farming households and save millions more from hunger. In
Bangladesh and India alone, rice lost to flooding each year could
feed 30 million people.

• In Nigeria,
improved varieties of cassava
developed by CGIAR scientists
already have helped 1.8 million farmers escape poverty. CGIAR
breeders are now developing even better varieties of this naturally
hardy crop that offer disease-resistance and higher levels of
Vitamin A, a nutrient especially critical to childhood
development.

• New varieties of
orange-fleshed sweet potatoes
developed to match a host of
different farming conditions are rapidly gaining popularity in
sub-Saharan Africa. They also offer high levels of Vitamin A and
can survive climate stress that kills other crops. CGIAR is
delivering a host of other climate-smart crop varieties, including
heat- and drought-tolerant beans and improved varieties of
neglected grains like pearl millet and sorghum.

• CGIAR experts are developing
solar-powered irrigation pumps
for large-scale distribution in
sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The pumps are to be deployed
alongside advanced information systems to ensure they can help
farmers sustainably adapt to increasingly unreliable rains, but
without stressing available water resources.

Asked how devastating are climate-related threats to agriculture
and food security, CGIAR’s Vermeulen told IPS: “Climate threats
are already massive – and with current increases in emissions,
only going to get worse”.

Also problematic, she said is that “we are not very good yet
at forecasting what will happen – tipping points etc. What we do
know is that uncertainty will increase (e.g. year-on-year
variability in rainfall) making farming a much tougher
business.”

She pointed out that CGIAR’s critical work in this area
includes a step change in the availability of diverse,
climate-resilient crop, livestock and fish varieties for farmers
(with public sector research and distribution working hand-in-hand
with private sector).

It also includes harnessing inexpensive information technologies
to get real-time data and advice into the hands of farmers, and
improved institutional solutions for climate-affected farmers –
such as cooperative-run solar irrigation systems, community-based
underground water storage, affordable index-based crop insurance
schemes, and management systems for human health threats like
Aflatoxin, which infection level increases with climate change in
staple crops like maize and groundnuts.

“These threats are global – but hurt low-income rural
farming communities the most – because they don’t have the
capital to invest in adaptation, and are most dependent on rainfed
farming at the mercy of the climate. These are CGIAR’s
clients.”

IPS: The UN says hunger– far from declining– is on
the rise, primarily due to two factors: military conflicts and
natural disasters triggered by climate change. Is this a fair
assessment of the current state of affairs?

Vermeulen: Yes, global numbers of hungry people
have been on the rise again since 2016. The UN Office for Disaster
Risk Reduction reports that low income countries face losses
equivalent to 20-60% of their annual social expenditure through
natural disasters annually.

For food and agriculture, droughts are the most important
disaster – and are on the increase. Fire, storms, floods too are
devastating. They can send poor farmers into downward spirals of
under-investment and failure to recover.

IPS: With a predicted rise in population, from the
current 7.5 billion to 10 billion in 2050, will the world be able
to meet the demand for food as we move forward? What would be
CGIAR’s contribution in this field?

Vermeulen: We know now, from reports like
EAT-Lancet and others, that it is possible to feed 10 billion
people healthily in 2050. CGIAR’s research covers the whole
package of how to get there – from the perspective of poorer
people, communities and countries.

This means three big areas: improving the diets of the poorest
people (including more animal products, of which they consume tiny
amounts, as well as a diversity of plant foods including (non-GMO)
biofortified crops to help with specific micro-nutrient
deficiencies), improving food production efficiency on farms –
more crop / more milk / more fish per unit of water / fertilizer /
energy / land, and managing post-harvest losses and waste (for
human health as well as environmental benefits).

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A 650 Million Dollar Pledge Aimed at Eradicating Extreme Hunger by
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A 650 Million Dollar Pledge Aimed at Eradicating Extreme Hunger by 2030