Innovation in agriculture is key to ending extreme hunger – G20 ministers agree

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Innovation in agriculture is key to ending extreme hunger – G20 ministers agree

©IFAD/Qilai Shen

6 June 2016 – Extreme poverty and hunger will only be a thing of the past if we are innovative in the way we develop a sustainable and efficient agricultural sector, agreed agricultural ministers from the world’s 20 major economies in Xi’an, China last week. 

The G20 Agricultural Ministers Meeting was the first since world leaders agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which outline ambitious targets to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger by 2030.

IFAD’s President, Kanayo Nwanze, joined the ministers on 3 June to discuss how G20 members can promote food security, nutrition, sustainable agricultural growth and rural development to achieve the SDGs.

Investing in smallholder farmers is key, he told the ministers.

“Invest in them, and you invest in future opportunities. Abandon them, and you abandon the sustainability of future food systems and economies.”

Member countries of the G20 account for 70 per cent of the world’s farmlands and 80 per cent of the world’s trade, but in the words of Brazil’s Minister Blairo Borges Maggi: “If our achievements don’t benefit our people, they are not enough.”

“Innovation, Cooperation and Sustainable Agricultural Investment” was the theme of this year’s meeting and one innovative addition was the first-ever G20 Agricultural Entrepreneurs Forum, opened by Nwanze.

The forum brought together agribusinesses, farmers and governments, and recognized the key role that the private sector plays in building a world free of poverty and hunger.

In his opening address, Nwanze stressed the importance of the youth.

“Silicon Valley was created by the hard work and imagination of young people,” he said. “We need a similar intellectual revolution by young people to create new, exciting and sustainable food systems.”

IFAD’s Associate Vice-President Lakshmi Menon participated in a panel on Food Security, Nutrition and Global Agricultural Development, sharing the stage with the Chairman of the United Soybean Board, farmers from Argentina and Mexico and the Vice President of the JD Group – China’s second largest e-commerce platform which sources produce from rural cooperatives to satisfy online orders.

Menon told the audience that “smallholder farmers don’t need charity. They need investment.” Mexican farmer Ernesto Cruz Gonzalez concluded with an impassioned plea for all parties to work together. “We all depend on the same planet,” he said. “The size of the challenge is also a great opportunity for farmers and agribusinesses.”

At the Agricultural Ministers meeting, innovation in the digital world was a recurring theme. China’s Minister of Agriculture, Han Changfu, highlighted the major role of ICT and the Internet in developing Chinese agriculture. “We have removed the digital gap in agriculture in China and we are ready to share our experience,” he said.

IFAD’s President Kanayo Nwanze signs an MOU on South-South Cooperation to help promote food security, nutrition, sustainable agricultural growth and rural development to achieve the SDGs. ©IFAD/Joanne Levitan

Germany, the host of next year’s meeting, built on the theme. “We need innovative technological solutions and joint internet governance standards,” said Germany’s Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt. The United Kingdom followed with a commitment to develop new computer models and software to improve the understanding of data to inform investments. The United States emphasized the importance of sharing such data because it is a global public good. “Short-term interests cannot compete with long-term goals,” said Deputy Under-Secretary Jonathan Cordone.

The ministers generally agreed that the opening of agricultural markets and trade could improve access to more affordable food and they adopted a communiqué laying out their commitments to achieve a poverty-and-hunger-free world.

Following the meeting, Nwanze joined his counterparts at WFP and FAO, China’s Minister of Agriculture and Vice Minister of Finance, Shi Yaobin, for the first China-UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture Roundtable on South-South Cooperation.

China was the first developing country to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving its number of poor people said Han. “We need to focus on South-South cooperation so that China’s experience in poverty reduction can spread to other developing countries.”

Before signing a Memorandum Of Understanding with China, reflecting their joint commitment to South-South cooperation, Nwanze said, “Let us also commit to investing in change that is social as well as economic, so that rural areas offer a range of opportunities for decent and dignified lives and so that the nations of the world can have balanced growth and strong societies.”

Next year’s G20 Agricultural Ministers Meeting in Germany will focus on the theme “Agriculture and Water.”