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From the Fall 2015 Issue "Food Fight"

 

How will your country satisfy its future food needs?

With the world’s population soaring past the 7 billion mark, a host of countries are finding it increasingly difficult to feed their people today, while laying the foundation for a future that promises to be even more crowded—and hungrier. Accordingly, we chose to ask our panel of global experts, weighing in from five continents, how their nation, their region, may be able to satisfy the needs of their future.

 

BURKINA FASO: AGRO VALUE
EUGENIE MAIGA

Burkina Faso needs to invest wisely in the agricultural value chain if the country is to produce enough food to feed itself. Investments should aim to improve seeds, fertilizers (organic and inorganic), and market infrastructure (storage, roads, and energy). Training farmers to reach the potential yield from appropriate use of improved seeds and fertilizers is imperative to enhancing crucial productivity. 

Turning to the distribution leg of the value chain, without proper storage, farmers cannot ensure year-long food supply because the crop will rot. So warehouses need to be built in areas where the largest productivity increases are observed. Without good road links between deficit areas like the Sahel region, and surplus areas like the Hauts-Bassins, getting better market prices of staple grains such as sorghum and millet will not be possible. As a result, additional production from the use of improved seeds and fertilizer would not bring more revenue to farmers who may get discouraged and revert back to traditional, local varieties with low output. Energy is needed for primary processing to add value to products and increase farmers’ revenue. 

In fact, Burkina Faso needs to increase and sustain public and private investment in the agricultural sector with advances along the entire agricultural value chain.

Dr. Eugenie Maiga is a teacher-researcher at the Université de Koudougou.

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QATAR: IMPORT DEPENDENCY
ZAHRA BABAR

With limited water resources, a lack of arable land, and a harsh climate, Qatar has limited options for domestic agricultural cultivation and is heavily dependent on imports. Some 92 percent of food available in Qatar is imported. As a small, wealthy country with the resources to purchase its food on the global market, such import dependence would appear to pose an insignificant risk. But for the nation’s leaders, Qatar’s high food dependency is considered a strategic threat, particularly in times of crisis or global competition.  

Following the rapid escalation in global food prices, in 2008 the Qatar National Food Security Program was established to develop a national plan for enhancing the country’s food security. Five years later, a national food security plan was completed, encompassing strategic choices about securing access to food through a mix of domestic investments (in agriculture and food stocks), international market arrangements (trade agreements and investments), and innovative mechanisms (strategic food reserves).

Domestic agriculture supplies only limited amounts of vegetables, dairy products, poultry, and livestock, so improving sustainable domestic production of certain targeted food items is of critical importance. Expanding domestic production should be done carefully and within existing environmental resource constraints. 

The long-term goal is to ensure higher levels of domestic production of certain targeted fruits and vegetables, along with dairy and poultry. There are no plans to produce cereals or edible oils; Qatar continues to rely on imports for these commodities. The establishment of a greater choice of trade partners for importing food commodities is also high on the national agenda. 

Zahra Babar is associate director for research at the Center for International and Regional Studies at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service Qatar campus. 

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GERMANY: HIGH SECURITY
JOSEF JANNING

Germany enjoys a high level of food security, ranking eighth in the world on the 2015 Global Food Security Index, which assesses food affordability, availability, quality, and safety. This position is likely to remain unchanged over the coming decades given Germany’s efficient and diversified agricultural sector, favorable geographic location and climate, and membership in the European Union with its large and diverse agricultural market governed by common policies. Issues to be watched are social deprivation (though food prices tend to be lower in Germany than its neighbors), malnutrition contributing to obesity, and food quality in light of the ongoing industrialization of agriculture.

In recent years, Germany has been the third largest exporter of agricultural products, particularly to other EU countries, which together enjoy a high level of self sufficiency, and will likely be sustained. Against this background, Germany (and the EU) could improve both the sustainability and the quality of farming and food products without sacrificing food security. Land grabs have become an issue in some EU member states in the east and southeast of Europe, but it remains marginal to issues of German food security.

Josef Janning is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

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ARGENTINA: SOYBEANS    
PABLO LAPEGNA

The rise in production of genetically modified soybeans is paradoxically the largest problem for Argentine food security. Since the late 1990s, Argentina has experienced an agricultural boom after the introduction of genetically modified soybeans. While this genetic modification does not necessarily increase yields, it simplifies production by making soybeans resistant to herbicides. Such soybeans cover half the nation’s agricultural land, totaling 50 million acres, and this land produces 50 million tons of soybeans per year. Today, Argentina is among the top global exporters of soybeans, soy oil, and soy meals, which are exported to Europe and Asia and used as animal feed.

This boom in genetically modified soybeans supplies the food industry in Europe and Asia and contributes to Argentina’s international trade balance, comprising 25 percent of Argentine exports. And yet the boom threatens food security within Argentina. 

Genetically modified soybeans are sprayed with herbicides, and agrochemical drifts have become a problem for farmers supplying food to local markets. Agricultural expansion has increased the demand for land, putting pressure on farmers. These shifts have also brought changes in cattle production, so the once famous grass-fed Argentine beef is increasingly fattened in feedlots. Agricultural intensification has also gone hand in hand with economic concentration, and transnational corporations (which sell imports and control exports) wield disproportionate power.

In short, Argentina produces soy-based animal feed for the world but at the cost of impairing access to local and healthy food for Argentines, pushing small farmers out of business, and endangering the health of rural populations.

Pablo Lapegna is an assistant professor of sociology and Latin American and Caribbean studies at the University of Georgia. 

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LEBANON: INEFFICIENCIES
SALWA TOHMÉ TAWK

A number of inefficient practices threaten food security in Lebanon. Lebanon is a small country. Barely 25 percent of its arable land is cultivated using 60 percent of the country’s water. Lebanon imports 80 percent of its food and allocates less than 1 percent of its budget to the Ministry of Agriculture. While 60 percent of the population is rural and relies mostly on farming, the fragmentation of landholdings and the lack of effective rural institutional structures have led to land abandonment. Household intake of critical nutrients decreased significantly following food price shocks in 2008 and as a result of security crises in the region, as well as institutional paralysis.

The government can play a strong role in implementing its new strategy for the agriculture sector by ensuring sustainable management of natural resources in response to climate change, unsuitable farming systems, and by improving the post-harvest sector. A recent study emphasized the need for research and education to develop adapted research methods, determine food security indicators, and prepare future leaders and policymakers to develop targeted policies and focused intervention strategies. 

Policy development should engage women and youth in agriculture-related activities in an integrated rural development approach. Increases in food prices should be monitored and sound public policies should be used to limit their impact on adequate food consumption. Such strategies should emerge from a participatory multidisciplinary approach with technical groups from public and private sectors to guide policy development.

Salwa Tohmé Tawk is a research associate at the Lebanese University of Beirut.  

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CANADA: LAND OF PLENTY?
WAYNE ROBERTS

In Canada, there’s no question of food supply. Canada has considerable land and water for farming, plentiful oceans and lakes for fishing, and immense forests and fields for foraging.

Non-supply issues can be settled through personal choice, government nudges, and engaged citizens. If Canada had a food policy, government departments could promote foods that meet economic, environmental, and personal health needs. Instead, the government is preoccupied with boosting agricultural exports, a narrow goal with little relation to outcomes expected from a robust food system.

A new food policy could first shift government incentives to protect farmers who produce fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. These products are not only the cornerstones of a healthy diet, but also the foundations for intensive job creation. Supply management could ensure sufficient production of fruits and vegetables, while reducing transportation, waste, and pollution.

Second, Canada could join other industrialized nations by promoting equal opportunity through universal school meals, along with curricula promoting cooking, literacy, and engagement. 

Third, Canada could support community food centers. Centers in several cities are already helping neighborhoods grow healthier foods in community gardens, teaching cooking skills, composting food scraps, and promoting convivial dining settings. Several universities are also purchasing local and sustainable foods, demonstrating what a healthy and localized food system should look like on a national scale.

Canada’s most promising innovations are food policy councils, collaborations of citizen groups and municipal staff who promote community-based programs. Such councils are quickly spreading in large and small cities across the country, an indication that the rising desire for local food engagement is finding expression through the policies and spending of local governments.

Wayne Roberts is the former manager of the Toronto Food Policy Council.

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SYRIA-LEBANON: REFUGEES
DOMINIQUE ANID

Four years into the Syrian conflict, Lebanon is currently hosting some 1.5 million refugees who fled the unending violence in Syria. As a result, Lebanon’s population has soared 30 percent since 2011. This mass influx of refugees comes with increased needs and an extra burden on the hosting communities. The hosting communities are often poor themselves, and now must share their health centers, land, schools, water resources, and food. Focusing on food security, Lebanon should now be ready to feed 5.9 million residents (instead of its regular 4 million), many of whom—both locals and refugees—live in extreme poverty and face food insecurity. 

Short-term responses depend on national and international nongovernmental organizations providing food assistance to the most vulnerable Lebanese and displaced Syrian families. However, more sustainable approaches toward food security in vulnerable communities should seek to strengthen Lebanon’s foundations by improving its social, economic, environmental, and institutional stability. To persevere in this direction, the expansion of participatory community development initiatives and the promotion of sustainable farming and local agriculture are essential. Indeed, the investment in sustainable agriculture and rural development are prerequisites for food security. 

With this goal, we have been lobbying for community kitchens linked to kitchen gardens or local farmers, where women from both host and displaced communities come together to prepare hot meals for vulnerable families and traditional food for sale. Such a developmental approach to food assistance boosts the local economy while improving the food security of all the vulnerable groups. 

Dominique Anid is a health and nutrition officer in the environment and sustainable development unit of the American University of Beirut.

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LAOS: CHANGING HABITS 
JOY NGEUAMBOUPHA 
WITH CAROLINE GAYLARD

My family and I were subsistence farmers in a country village, and we foraged for whatever we could use as food. Today, especially in towns, there are more farmed and imported produce and sweetened and processed food. The palate and preferences of the younger generation has rapidly and immensely changed. To accommodate Laos’s future food needs, we will first need to vastly improve our farming skills. There is already evidence of this, as farmers focus their plots on just one commercial crop instead of many crops, which had been mainly for personal use and yielded minimal sales. But there has also (sadly) been an increase in the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, mainly imported from China. In Laos, we still have a long way to go until our food is truly secure. 

We need to reduce the amount of imported consumables brought in from Thailand, and build the skills and infrastructure to produce these foods ourselves. Cooking oil, coconut milk, fish sauce, and other daily essentials can rapidly escalate in price when transport lines from Thailand are compromised by flood or political disruption. Good quality chicken and pork are also currently imported. These are used in large part to feed our substantial tourism market. Local fish and animal farmers are often Chinese immigrants. We also need to look to our past for more varied sources of proteins—in particular, a return of the popularity of insects as an everyday food.

Building our own food production skills and returning to more varied food sources are the way forward to a sustainable future for Laos. 

Joy Ngeuamboupha and Caroline Gaylard are the founders and chefs of Tamarind: Taste of Laos, a restaurant in the nation’s ancient royal capital of Luang Prabang. 

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Compiled by Westerly Gorayeb, Ellie Lightfoot, Jordan Palmer & Callie Plapinger    

[Photo courtesy of CIFOR] 

 

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