Global hunger fighters map out solutions, focusing on farmers as the key to success
What started as a half-day event with 50 people not long ago has grown into a week-long lineup of activities drawing more than 1,400 hunger fighters from 60 countries. Recently hosted in Des Moines, Iowa, the World Food Prize is a melting pot of individuals focused on meeting the world’s burgeoning need for nutrition.
Borlaug Dialogue symposium speakers ranged from keynote Chelsea Clinton to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack and everyone in between—agribusiness leaders, policymakers, non-governmental organizations, scientists and smallholder farmers—fighting hunger on the front lines around the world. The global gathering is something you can’t imagine until you’ve been there, with presentations varying from inspirational and passionate to pragmatic.
About 800 million people live in chronic hunger around the world, but the number could be reduced by 150 million if female farmers are given the same resources as men, says the United Nations’ World Food Programme.
Keynote Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, focused on the need to empower women in the hunger fight.
“Only by putting the poor, especially women, in charge of their own lives and destinies will poverty be removed from the face of the Earth,” said Sir Fazle Hasan Abed in his World Food Prize acceptance speech at the Iowa State Capitol.
The award, which is widely known as the Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture, is given each year to an individual making an impact fighting hunger.
Abed’s Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) has helped lift more than 150 million people from the devastation of poverty in Bangladesh and 10 other countries, including linking 500,000 people with efficient farming techniques and technologies. Praised by some as the most effective anti-poverty organization in the world, BRAC focuses on rebuilding and empowering poor communities through agriculture, fisheries, community centers and health care. Women’s roles are central to its core strategy. BRAC sets up schools and banks to provide resources for the communities and requires the schools it funds to ensure 70% of their enrollment are girls.
By giving women access to education and smart financing, BRAC makes them community stakeholders and enables them to become leaders.
“We must see women as a change agent,” said Abed, who started BRAC after natural disasters in his native country in 1971 drove him to quit his corporate job to help those in need.
The theme of empowering women resonated throughout the week. Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, focused on the need to empower women in smallholder farming communities to overcome the challenges of food security.
A panel hosted by Gordon Conway (left), who has spent his career in international ag development, focused on conservation’s role in fighting hunger. Panelists, from left, included: Howard G. Buffett, farmer–philanthropist and chairman of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation; Kofi Boa, director of Ghana’s Center for No-Till Agriculture; and Alejandro Lopez Moriena, chief sustainability officer at Adecoagro, farming 500,000 no-till acres in Argentina and Uruguay.
“Ensuring that women have the same access to the same opportunities, inputs and capital that men do around the world is a crucial, vital and necessary part of solving those challenges,” Clinton said.
Clinton told the story of a woman in Tanzania who raised her yields by 1,000% after joining the Clinton Development Initiative’s Anchor Farm Project. The woman, Wazia Chawala, was able to send all of her children, including her girls, to school with the increased profits. She now coaches other women—and men—on the importance of educating all children.
“We know if smallholder female farmers in sub-Saharan Africa had access to the same quality seed and fertilizer and access to the same capital at the same interest rates as their male colleagues, sub-Saharan Africa could feed itself,” Clinton said.
The role of women in STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) can’t be separated from the role of women in agriculture and food production, said Robert Fraley, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Monsanto Company and a 2013 World Food Prize Laureate.
“If we bring technology that empowers women, we take that to a new dimension in terms of the sustainable impact for the future,” Fraley said. “Technology has an incredible role in empowering women farmers around the world.”
The 2015 World Food Prize Laureate Sir Fazle Hasan Abed inspired the crowd as he accepted the award for his work in Bangladesh.
A conservation panel discussed the importance of soil in fighting hunger.
“I have lived my life from the beginning knowing soil comes first,” said farmer–philanthropist Howard G. Buffett. “We all have to do what it takes to keep our soil healthy.”
Panelist Kofi Boa of the Center for No-Till Agriculture in Ghana spoke about the importance of no-till in moving the crop production needle and safeguarding soil.
“With conservation agriculture, we see a difference in the soil in a day or two in our case,” Boa said. “It has an immediate impact.”
Showing that impact to Ghanian farmers is key to increasing no-till usage, he said. Seeing is believing.
The same is true for Alejandro Lopez Moriena and Adecoagro, a publicly traded company in Argentina and Uruguay that no-tills 500,000 acres.
“We’re always profit-driven and have been using no-till for 30 years,” he said. “Sustainable conservation farming helps us differentiate our production and products.”
It’s so critical globally, doing nothing is not an option. “Status quo is unacceptable, completely unacceptable,” Buffett said.