How to feed the world – one farmer at a time

By Pierre Kadet, CARE Canada’s Senior Manager, Food Security and Resilience to Climate Change

Some of my most vivid memories from my childhood in Senegal are being on our family farm. I quickly learned that food is one of the building blocks of life and well-being, and that it is the farmer that is ultimately responsible.

Flash forward to today where I have a career in food security with CARE. It’s my job to help some of the most vulnerable people in the world access nutritious food and feed their families. This may seem like a Herculean task given the state of the world and the millions of people worldwide who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. But, there are solutions, there is hope, and working with CARE, I see this hope alive every day.

If there is enough food to feed the world, why are millions of people still going hungry?

There are three big culprits: poverty, climate change, and food waste and losses.

The poverty equation is simple. People living in poverty (living on less than $1.90 per day) simply don’t have the money to buy food to feed themselves and their families.

Climate change affects food production, especially that of small-scale farmers who produce 50 per cent of the food the world’s population eats. Think about it: with increased drought, floods, and other disasters, crops die or no longer grow as well or as required for optimum yields and production.

Waste is another huge factor. This doesn’t just refer to food that is thrown away, but also food loss that occurs before it even reaches your plate (i.e. food gets damaged during processing, storage or transportation). A large amount of food is also diverted to feed animals (40 per cent of grain supply) and to produce biofuels.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally (1.3 billion tons/year) could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.

What is the solution?

There is definitely no “one size fits” all solution.

It is only through simultaneous, collaborative efforts that we will be able to end poverty, to endure climate change, and reduce food waste. Developed countries need to make lifestyle changes to mitigate their impact on the environment and developing countries need help to adapt to the changing climate. Whether it's by promoting new farming techniques, planting more resilient crops, empowering women, or investing in localized food systems – there are several solutions to the question of how to feed the world.

At CARE, everything we do puts women and girls at the centre – access to nutritious food is no different. Women make up 43 per cent of agriculture labour globally and up 70 per cent in some developing countries. Women play a critical role in local food systems, from farm to fork: they grow, weed, harvest, sell and process food; collect water, firewood, and prepare meals. And yet despite their massive role when it comes to food, women often don’t have much say in decisions or sufficient access or skills to earn dignified income.

CARE’s innovative village savings and loan associations are one way we are helping families earn the money they need to buy healthy food. These groups help women save, start a business and get a loan, leading to empowerment and independence. Climate-resilient farming techniques, policy work with governments and capacity building, following weather forecasts and planning accordingly are also other key areas of CARE’s focus.

Drought-resistent seeds, combined with climate-resilient agricultural techniques are a simple solution that also deploys. With these drought-resistent seeds, we are able to adapt to changing climates.

For example, in Senegal, there are two varieties of millet – one has short vegetative cycle and grows very quickly but its productivity is not as good (low yields), the other is much more robust but takes longer to grow. Now, the quick-growing crop is much more widely used, in areas where a few decades ago the most productive one was cultivated, as a response to the changing climate that has led to shorter rainy seasons and/or low rainfalls.

Women’s roles in communities need to change – women need to be seen as leaders, need to be able to affect change and be given capacity to do so and also need to have access to most profitable stages of agricultural products’ markets.

How can Canada help?

This is a global problem, but Canadians can make a real difference. One important area is supporting initiatives to help vulnerable communities better adapt to climate change by investing in sustainable agriculture. This investment will not only reduce poverty, but it will also enable farmers to adapt today while reducing emissions for tomorrow.

CARE is proud to join over 35 organizations as part of the Aid4Ag campaign to highlight the importance of this approach. We have also joined with colleagues worldwide to encourage countries, including Canada, to do more to address climate changes in support of the Paris Agreement.

What does success look like?

Sadly – and ironically – many farmers in developing countries are hungry.

I’ve seen first-hand the difference that CARE’s work has made to empower people, especially women farmers to help themselves –and their communities – for the long-term.

In Ethiopia, CARE’s Food Sufficiency for Farmers (FSF) project walks the talk in terms of investing in and empowering farmers. The project, supported by the Government of Canada, focuses on building small businesses and linking owners with markets in order to make a profit. In other words, farmers are not going hungry because they have built up savings.

In Mali, through CARE’s Initiative for Food Security and Nutrition in Segou (IFONS) project, communities were able to develop long-term, sustainable supplies of healthy food through initiatives like cereal banks – farmers would set aside their extra harvest in these banks, which could then be sold back to local residents at reasonable rates during droughts or the lean seasons.

The farmer is the key to our environment and our economy. When a farmer can have a decent, dignified life – get a return on his or her investment – that is my measure of success in terms of food security. When the food system does not only focus on how someone can feed themselves today, when things are good, but also how they can feed themselves when the situation is difficult, that is when we will know that we have been successul.

Pierre Kadet is a seasoned food security and nutrition, climate change adaptation, and monitoring, evaluation and learning specialist with over 13 years of academic, humanitarian response and international development experience.

Learn more about CARE’s work to improve access to healthy food worldwide >>