21 May 2013

If we want to tackle hunger and undernutrition, we must invest more in agriculture


Guest blog by Lord Cameron of Dillington, Chair of the APPG on Agriculture and Food for Development

We Parliamentarians of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Agriculture and Food for Development are calling on the UK Government, and specifically the Department for International Development (DFID), to invest in agriculture to combat the hunger and undernutrition that continues to afflict 925 million people around the world every day.

Our latest Parliamentary Report, on “Home Grown Nutrition” (pdf), is calling for agriculture to be seen as a catalytic tool in ending malnutrition, undernutrition and hunger.

Our report’s recommendations come ahead of a high level meeting that will be co-hosted by the UK government on 8 June. ‘The Nutrition for Growth: Beating Hunger through Business and Science’ meeting will be held in the build-up to the G8 summit in Northern Ireland and will bring together business leaders, scientists, governments and civil society to make the ambitious commitments needed to tackle nutrition in some of the world’s poorest countries.

In the report we assert that agriculture is the basis of many, if not all, pathways to improved nutrition and we believe that all development goals and interventions are strengthened by a productive agricultural sector. From our research and meetings it is abundantly clear that sustained long-term investment in agriculture for development is crucial to rural livelihoods. As a result agricultural investments can (and do) have truly transformational impacts both in terms of the rural economy and in terms of poverty and hunger alleviation.

Having said all of this, calling on increased funding for agriculture does not mean that agriculture on its own is the only way to address the challenges of undernutrition. Developing all of the pathways to improved nutrition will be extremely important to meeting the needs of the almost one billion undernourished persons in the world today (whether through home/nutrition gardens, empowerment of women or investments in other supporting activities such as health care, sanitation, water management programmes and education). The key here is to have an operating environment which takes the problem of nutrition insecurity seriously and is a cross ministry issue at country level, as well as being a cross sector issue for donors, civil society and implementing bodies.

Agriculture as a development theme has been chronically underfunded by DFID in the past and we are urging the government to make sure agriculture is no longer overlooked. Investments in agriculture must be seen as a long term project, putting smallholder farmers at the centre of such programmes.

The simple fact is, for sub-Saharan Africa, and many other poor countries, agriculture and the economy are synonymous. Thus in generating income which can then be spent on drivers of improved nutrition, such as healthcare, education and foods to diversify one’s diet, agriculture will be the tool to achieve this for many people. Without significant, sustained and long-term investment in smallholder farmers, all of these pathways to improved nutrition will struggle to achieve any degree of sustainability.

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