By Nora Faris
The global agriculture industry has a dictate and a deadline: eliminate world hunger and malnutrition by 2030.The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, a set of key initiatives to improve global living conditions and sustain environmental health, leave farmers 4,289 days—about 7 million minutes—to feed more than 8.5 billion people.
Since farmers can’t slow time, they’re speeding up production, applying innovative technologies to meet the zero-hunger goal. But decisions in global politics, trade and international development are slowing farmers’ progress and productivity in their own fields.
Barbara Ekwall, senior liaison officer of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, said those systemic challenges must be eliminated before world hunger can be solved. She said there is a way to end hunger—if there is a will.
“We have the technical means. We have the tools. We have the global strategies, national strategies and plans to end hunger in our generation,” Ekwall said. “What we need is the political will.”
For the U.S., the political drive to ensure food security comes from the need to preserve national security. This year, the U.S. exercised its political will by passing the Global Food Security Act, which earmarks more than $7 billion for agricultural development programs.
Farmers and hunger fighters say they are hopeful that future aid investments will combat two critical challenges in global agriculture—empowering female smallholder farmers and adapting production methods to a changing climate.
Martha Hirpa of Heifer International said the erosion of patriarchy could cause an explosion of progress for women.
Hirpa said African women farmers suffer from “time poverty.” They carry crops to market, care for children, farm their fields and feed their families.
“Women are still overloaded,” Hirpa said. “As much as technology has been developed, very little has been done to lessen women’s workload.”
Hirpa said successful agricultural development programs are designed with gender dynamics in mind. Heifer International trains and educates men and women to work in partnership, reducing women’s workloads and empowering them to make management decisions.
Donna Vincent Roa, chief of party for USAID’s Securing Water for Food initiative, said it’s important to do development differently, whether that means changing gender dynamics or adapting to climate change.
“It’s imperative for all of us to look at new technologies, to look at new business models that help to address the risks and the ravages of climate change, especially in emerging markets,” Roa said.
As they notice the climate changing, some farmers aren’t just weathering the weather. They’re making the weather work for them. For much of the year in Bangladesh, monsoons take the country by storm, causing flooding. When the waters recede, sandbars appear in once-raging rivers and waterways, providing strips of land for an unexpected crop—pumpkins. Practical Action, an international development group, started the pumpkin plantings, carving out a niche market and turning unused land into a useful source of food and income for farmers in Bangladesh.
As 2030 draws nearer, learning to use limited resources effectively could help farmers unlock unlimited possibilities—including a hunger-free future.
This story is published in collaboration with the University of Missouri. Read more about their reporting project at the World Food Prize here.