June 4, 2008

Food and Agriculture World Summit Gets Something Done

Or at least writes something down (a good start!)

I hope our readers will forgive me for inconstant posts this week. I'm currently making my way through my home state of Missouri, reliant on coffee shops for my internet access and finding them not up to the challenge.

Still, there are a number of things going on, most of them centered around the FAO world food summit happening in historic Rome. Designed to reverse farming in third-world countries (and the policies that have led these countries to keep their land fallow), the summit is taking on a new urgency this year as they discuss the global food crisis. Those who suffer from hunger are now estimated at 862 million, and most of them are in countries that also have land to till. So why aren't more people deciding to start farming and make a profit off their crops? Laura Rusu of Oxfam wrote something about that on our blog, but the FAO also estimates that many people simply don't have the start-up capital or skill set to jump straight into farming.

One of the very good things to come out of the world food summit is a tangible plan for getting third-world countries out of poverty and back on the farm. You can read the full release, but these are the specific steps they're talking about:

First: seeds, fertilizer and tools together with good advice to ensure the best possible use is made of the supplies, which will lay the foundations for sustainable intensification of production in the future;

Second: work to improve infrastructure such as irrigation systems, market infrastructure, and better rural roads;

Third: know-how to add value to small-holder farmers’ final marketable product, by raising crop varieties that are higher-quality and higher-yielding, or by utilizing processing techniques to diversify products, and facilitating supply contracts with agricultural companies that are secure and beneficial to farmers;

Fourth: reducing losses, sometimes as much as one-fifth of the harvest, through better handling, milling and storage, defending crops and livestock from pests, sickness and disease, for example, through integrated pest management systems; and taking measures to limit the impact of natural disasters.

I'll keep an eye on this and see if there are any other interesting developments, but if we can truly start working on these four things, we might find that we'll find food help from the countries you'd least expect.

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