Robynne Anderson's Emerging Thoughts on Ag

Reduce and Research, the Key to Food Security and Nutrition

From Reduce and Research, the Key to Food Security and Nutrition, The Huffington Post, March 23, 2015.

According to the WFP, “There are 805 million hungry people in the world and 98 percent of them are in developing countries.” According to the World Food Program, hunger kills more people each year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

These sad facts are even sadder when we consider that an estimated one-quarter of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted each year. Halving that would save enough to feed the whole population that lives in hunger.

Food loss and waste occurs both in developed and developing countries. In the developed it tends to happen more at the end of the food chain — on the store shelf and in the kitchen. In developing countries food losses are mostly at production, post-harvest and processing stages. This is largely due to the lack of infrastructure — from accessible roads to poor storage facilities.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center has taken on the task of examining the costs and benefits of reducing post-harvest losses and their findings can be found in the report Benefits and Costs of the Food and Security Nutrition Targets for the Post 2015 Development Agenda. What really struck me were the figures on research and development.

The paper studied different scenarios to show that investment in infrastructure contributes to lower food prices, improved food security and has positive economic rates of return. Such improvements are estimated to cost $240 billion over the next 15 years, but will reduce the number of hungry people by 57 million, avoid the malnourishment of four million children and generate $13 of benefits per dollar spent. Although this would be a significant step towards the achievement of the sustainable development goals, there may be a better way.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center points out: “There is an even better food target: an extra $88 billion in agricultural research and development over the next 15 years will increase yield growth by an additional 0.4% each year. For each dollar spent, this will achieve $34 of social benefits. It will save 79m people from hunger and avoid 5m children being malnourished.”

It seems it is time to get focused on ways to kick start R&D, as well as post harvest losses in the developing world. According to the UN-DESA, “During the last decade, global R&D increased approximately 22 per cent.” However, public spending in R&D did not increase but on the contrary has been declining in highly food insecure countries. China and India, increased their public spending on R&D and have significantly accelerating their agricultural productivity. Fortunately, the private sector has been dedicating resources to R&D. According to USDA, in 2010 global private sector investment hit $11 billion.

Reductions in post-harvest losses will require large public and private investments in infrastructure and should be complemented with agriculture R&D that is focused on long-term productivity growth and food and nutrition security.

As we look to new goals for agriculture, we need to make sure agriculture is getting funding and that is breaking ground on research and post harvest losses.