POPULATION growth, increasing urbanisation, modern technologies, and climate change are transforming the world at a fast pace.
But what direction are these transformations headed in? Are they benefitting the poor and the food insecure? And will the food systems of the future be able to feed and employ the millions of young people poised to enter labour markets in the decades to come?
These are some of the main questions posed by the just-released State of Food and Agriculture 2017 report, which argues that a key part of the response to these challenges must be transforming and revitalising rural economies, particularly in developing countries where industrialisation and the service sector are not likely to be able to meet all future job demand.
“Unless economic growth is made more inclusive, the global goals of ending poverty and achieving zero hunger by 2030 will not be reached,” Graziano da Silva.
“It lays out a vision for a strategic, ‘territorial approach’ that knits together rural areas and urban centres, harnessing surging demand for food in small towns and mega cities alike to reboot subsistence agriculture and promote sustainable and equitable economic growth,” says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in its report, issued on 9 October.
One of the greatest challenges today is to end hunger and poverty while making agriculture and food systems sustainable, it warns, while explaining that this challenge is “daunting” because of continued population growth, profound changes in food demand, and the threat of mass migration of rural youth in search of a better life.
The report analyses the structural and rural transformations under way in low-income countries and shows how an “agro-territorial” planning approach can leverage food systems to drive sustainable and inclusive rural development.
Otherwise, the consequences would be dire. In fact, the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers risk being left behind in structural and rural transformations, the report says, while noting that small-scale and family farmers produce 80 per cent of the food supply in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, and investments to improve their productivity are urgently needed.
“Urbanisation, population increases and income growth are driving strong demand for food at a time when agriculture faces unprecedented natural-resource constraints and climate change.”
Moreover, urbanisation and rising affluence are driving a “nutrition transition” in developing countries towards higher consumption of animal protein. “Agriculture and food systems need to become more productive and diversified.”
According to the report, small cities and towns can play a catalytic role in rural transformation rural and urban areas form a “rural–urban spectrum” ranging from megacities to large regional centres, market towns and the rural hinterland, according to the report.
In developing countries, smaller urban areas will play a role at least as important as that of larger cities in rural transformation. “Agro-territorial development that links smaller cities and towns with their rural ‘catchment areas’ can greatly improve urban access to food and opportunities for the rural poor.”
This approach seeks to reconcile the sectoral economic aspects of the food sector with its spatial, social and cultural dimensions. On this, the report explains that the key to the success of an agro-territorial approach is a balanced mix of infrastructure development and policy interventions across the rural–urban spectrum.
“The five most commonly used agroterritorial development tools –agro-corridors, agro-clusters, agro-industrial parks, agro-based special economic zones and agri-business incubators – provide a platform for growth of agro-industry and the rural non-farm economy.”
Announcing the report, FAO Director-General, José Graziano da Silva said that in adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development two years ago, the international community committed itself to eradicating hunger and poverty and to achieving other important goals, including making agriculture sustainable, securing healthy lives and decent work for all, reducing inequality, and making economic growth inclusive.
With just 13 years remaining before the 2030 deadline, concerted action is needed now if the Sustainable Development Goals are to be reached, he added.
“There could be no clearer wake-up call than FAO’s new estimate that the number of chronically undernourished people in the world stands at 815 million. Most of the hungry live in low-income and lower-middle-income countries, many of which have yet to make the necessary headway towards the structural transformation of their economies.”
Graziano da Silva said that successful transformations in other developing countries were driven by agricultural productivity growth, leading to a shift of people and resources from agriculture towards manufacturing, industry and services, massive increases in per capita income, and steep reductions in poverty and hunger.
Countries lagging behind in this transformation process are mainly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Most have in common economies with large shares of employment in agriculture, widespread hunger and malnutrition, and high levels of poverty, he explained.