Guest Commentary: Solutions to Global Issues

January 29, 2012 11:14 PM

DavidLambertBy David Lambert

Believe it or not, we already know what to do to address the global stress points (population, climate change and water) I outlined in my previous column and at the Farm Journal Forum. The challenge is knowing how to follow through with the solutions, which is the true measure of sustainability.

Encourage good governance. Collaboration among the United Nations, the World Bank and other international institutions is important, but there is no substitute for good governance. The following examples illustrate why good governance is critical in people’s lives:

  • According to the United Nations, an 8-year-old child in North Korea is on average 7" shorter than an 8-year-old in South Korea.
  • The average life expectancy in Zimbabwe has dropped from 60 years to 35 years in a single generation.
  • On a positive note, Ghana has invested in its people and carried out economic and social policies that will result in achieving the first Millennium Development Goal of ending poverty and hunger. In recognition of this, its former president was 2011’s co-winner of the World Food Prize.

Support agricultural research. Of all the policy responses to alleviate global food insecurity, none hold more promise than investment in agricultural science. Biotechnology’s potential to address drought tolerance, disease resistance and nutrition enhancement in Africa is a prime example of how science can effectively deliver to those at greatest risk.

The research priorities for USDA, land-grant universities and foundations include global food security, climate change, bioenergy, child nutrition, food safety, desalinization of water and postharvest loss. Yet this research, with its enormous potential, continues to be severely underfunded.

Prioritize early childhood nutrition. The most critical time in a child’s mental and physical
development is from conception through the first two years of life. Early childhood nutrition is the linchpin for everything we try to achieve in foreign aid policy. A vibrant society can’t happen without development, development won’t happen without education and there can be little achievement in education without basic early childhood nutrition.

Educate girls. The well-being, particularly the health and education, of young girls should be paramount among our international objectives. There is compelling data that shows educating girls will not only produce marvels in health, poverty reduction and empowerment, but will also put this fragile planet on a voluntary downward population path.

Empower women. The majority of the world’s farmers are women. Incidentally, these women walk about 3.7 miles each day to get water. Yet, in far too many places, women are not allowed to vote, inherit property, sign contracts, obtain bank credit, serve in their parliaments or receive the basic benefits of agricultural Extension. Women feed the world’s children but receive less than 5% of technical assistance to agriculture.

Promote sustainable practices in the private sector. The private sector has been called the "last frontier" in the battle for global food security—the needed partner that has long been missing in our collaborative quest to end hunger. Well, that is changing, and changing fast.

There are many companies making major investments in global food security and sustainable development. Wal-Mart is a great example because its sustainability goals are a core part of its business:

  • Donate $2 billion in cash and in-kind to fight hunger in America;
  • Eliminate 20 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Train 1 million farmworkers, half of whom will be women;
  • Reduce food waste in emerging market stores by 15%;
  • Intensify purchases of crops from small and local farmers.

Give food security a human face. To get the necessary resources, we must create political will. That cannot happen unless we can put a human face on the issue. To illustrate my point:

Food price volatility affects the diets of children when price spikes mean their mothers can no longer afford the micronutrient-rich foods that are so critical for early development.

When we talk of climate change, it’s true we need to discuss longhorn beetle infestation of forests and nitrous oxide deposits in rivers. But the consequences of climate change are really about human suffering and starvation.

Whether we’re responding to a distressed farmer in Illinois or a starving child in Ethiopia, food security issues must always have a human face.

David Lambert is an internationally recognized advocate for global food security. His Washington, D.C.–based firm provides strategic policy advice on issues related to global food security, including child nutrition, food safety and biotechnology. He recently spoke at the Farm Journal Forum.

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