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Strengthening the links

Agricultural production is only the first step in moving the world’s food from farm to fork, according to Nourishing the Planet, a project of the Washington DC-based Worldwatch Institute

| | Aug 30, 2011 | 6:03 pm
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Agricultural production is only the first step in moving the world’s food from farm to fork, according to Nourishing the Planet, a project of the Washington DC-based Worldwatch Institute. The other links in the food chain – harvesting, packaging, storing, transporting, marketing and selling – ensure that food actually reaches consumers. Inefficiencies in these activities, rather than just low yields or poor farming techniques, are often to blame for food shortages and low prices for growers.

“Many of the farms and organisations we visited in Africa seemed to have the most success reducing hunger and poverty through efforts that had little to do with producing more crops,” said Nourishing the Planet director Danielle Nierenberg, who spent two years travelling across sub-Saharan Africa researching food chains in over 25 countries.

With the United Nations projecting a global population of more than nine billion by 2050, increasing food chain efficiency will become ever more essential. Producers and consumers must be part of a food chain that feeds the world, provides fair prices to farmers and works in harmony with the environment. “When groups of small farmers better organise their means of production – whether ordering the right inputs at the right time or selling their crops directly to customers – they become more resilient to fluctuations in global food prices while also better serving local communities,” said Robert Engelman, Executive Director of Worldwatch.

Nourishing the Planet is a two-year evaluation of environmentally sustainable agricultural innovations to alleviate hunger and poverty. Worldwatch researchers travelled to 25 countries across sub-Saharan Africa to meet with more than 350 farmers groups, NGOs, government agencies, and scientists, highlighting small-scale agricultural efforts that are helping to improve peoples’ livelihoods by providing them with food and income. The findings are documented in the recently released report, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.

In State of the World 2011, contributing author Samuel Fromartz uses the example of corn production in Zambia to illustrate how off-farm inefficiencies exacerbate food insecurity and poverty. Poor market access, unpredictable weather patterns, and insufficient infrastructure make small-scale agriculture a high-risk livelihood. Seasons of surplus corn production can be as detrimental as low-yielding ones. Large surpluses saturate local markets, and local farmers have no alternatives for selling their product. “Many do not have the luxury of picking when to sell or whom to sell to; they are desperate and need to sell to eat,” Fomartz says. “So they take whatever price they can get.”

Research done by Nourishing the Planet staff has found innovations in sub-Saharan Africa and other locations around the globe that improve market access, enhance farmer-to-farmer communication, and harness simple information technology. These improvements in the food chain provide farmers with fair prices and also help increase food security by distributing food efficiently.


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