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Investment in extension services, particularly for women, is needed (Photo: CC0)

Double aid and focus on smallholders to end hunger, Ceres2030 says

Donor governments could help end hunger by 2030, double smallholder farmer incomes and protect the climate by doubling the amount of aid given for food security and nutrition each year, new research shows. According to the findings of the international research consortium “Ceres2030”, an additional investment of $14 billion from donors and $19 billion from affected countries on average each year between now and 2030 could lift 490 million people out of hunger, reducing the prevalence of undernourishment below 3% in every country worldwide. The scientists also found that agricultural interventions are more effective with a population that enjoys at least a minimum level of income and education and has access to networks and resources such as extension services and robust infrastructure. “Ceres2030: Sustainable Solutions to End Hunger” is a joint 3-year project by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Cornell University, and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The results were published on October 12th in ten articles in four different journals of the “Nature” family, authored by 78 scientists, researchers and librarians from 23 countries. Among the main funders of Ceres2030 is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the initiative already earned criticism at its launch for pushing an agribusiness agenda and its focus on productivism. The Ceres2030 “Evidence Adivsory Board” includes scientists who are linked to institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and others.

The Ceres2030 team produced two inter-linked pieces of research. First, they analysed over 500,000 reports and articles from the past 20 years of agricultural development literature, using artificial intelligence. The evidence syntheses answered eight key research questions covering areas such as water scarcity and employment for the future. Second, the researchers created a model to show how much it would cost to achieve three targets of the second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 2), namely ending hunger (Target 2.1), doubling the incomes and productivity of small-scale producers (Target 2.3), and producing food sustainably and resiliently (Target 2.4). The model assessed what types of interventions governments should prioritize, and when (and where) money should be spent, in order to end hunger as cost-effectively as possible. The researchers concluded that $33 billion a year will be needed in additional funding in the period up to 2030. Of the $14 billion required from donors, $8 billion should be spent in sub-Saharan Africa, $4 bn in other low- and middle-income countries, and the remainder on global research and development projects. They total amount was also split into three categories of interventions: $9 bn should be spent “On the farm” for measures such as training for farmers, $2 bn should be directed at what the researchers termed “Food on the move”, i.e. measures which ensure that food can get from the farm to market, through investments in storage, transport, and other infrastructure. The remaining $3bn should be used to empower the excluded.

The authors set out 10 key recommendations for donor governments, drawing on both the evidence syntheses and economic modelling, and split across the three categories of interventions. In the “Empower the Excluded” category, the first recommendation is to support participation in farmers’ organizations. The research showed that membership in a farmers’ organization was associated with positive effects on income in 57% of the cases reviewed. However, the poorer farmer are, the less likely they are to join an organization because fees to join farmers’ organisations are a barrier for poor households. Second, the authors recommend more investment in vocational programs for rural youth that offer integrated training in multiple skills because vocational training can help increase employment levels and wages. Third, social protection programs should be scaled up in order to help create a bridge for people living in poverty to find productive jobs. “Although expensive, well designed programs, given sufficient time, can help poor people into productive work—for example by providing skills training, access to credit, or guaranteed employment alongside food or cash payments. Social protection has played a critically important role in limiting suffering during crises, including for people unable to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ceres2030 informs on their website.

Other recommendations focus on interventions “on the farm” and on smallholders. “Perversely, the very people whose livelihoods depend on food and agriculture are among the most likely to experience hunger. Small-scale food producers and workers and their families are among those most often left out of economic growth, technological change, and political decision making,” the report summary reads. Recommendations include investment in information and training, particularly for women, to increase the uptake of new technologies. The report summary does not specify what kind of technologies are meant. In addition, the authors say that it must be ensured that new environmentally-friendly farming methods are also economically viable, arguing that incentives that also included short-term economic benefits were more successful. Next, they call for the adoption of climate-resilient crops by providing extension services. The article about this topic includes much talk about "the adoption of improved agricultural production technology” and “climate-smart agriculture”. Next, the authors recommend to increase research on how to help small-scale producers in water-scarce regions. They found that nearly 80% of small-scale farms in developing countries are in water-scarce regions and useful options to improve the quantity and quality feed are being overlooked, such as better support for the use of crop residues. Therefore, their recommendation is to target improvements in the quantity and quality of livestock feed to small and medium-sized commercial farms.

The last two recommendations are related to the “Food on the Move” category. “In addition to growing our food, producers must also store it and transport it to market. Our research looked at interventions that are effective at reducing post-harvest losses for 22 food crops, with a focus on Africa and South Asia,” the Ceres2030 team wrote. They found that airtight containers, simple improvements in handling practices (such as choosing the right time to harvest), and good drying and harvesting practices reduced the waste of cereals and pulses. They also said investment in the infrastructure, regulations, services and technical assistance is needed to support small and medium-sized enterprises that supply or buy from small-scale farmers. The scientists highlight that governments have 10 years until 2030: “The sooner the investments are made in the 2030 Agenda, the less it will cost the public purse and the more sustained the outcomes are likely to prove.” Moreover, there is a further reason for urgency: the need to act now to limit irreversible damage to the earth’s ecosystems. For the environment, too, waiting means foreclosing options, some of them permanently, they explain. “Ceres2030 was set up to show governments what they need to do to take back control and realize their bold agenda. We’ve provided the evidence. Now donors and governments need to act,” the authors conclude. (abe)