Dr Maximo Torero Cullen
Chief Economist, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
A dramatic transformation of food production techniques is urgently needed if global hunger and undernourishment is to be eradicated for billions of people worldwide.
With three billion people worldwide lacking access to healthy diets and an increase last year of 161 million people facing hunger, the global agriculture sector faces huge challenges to deliver better quality food and distribute it more equitably.
Coupled with this is the need for lower use of natural resources, reduced emissions and more efficient use of water, soil and land.
The goal is to achieve “Zero Hunger” and achieve food security for all – defined by the UN as all people at all times “having physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.”
With three billion people worldwide lacking access to healthy diets and an increase last year of 161 million people facing hunger, the global agriculture sector faces huge challenges.
Dr Maximo Torero Cullen, Chief Economist of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, says the biggest challenges were in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
While improving trade is essential, moving commodities in these regions remained problematic, with low levels of intraregional trade.
Importing food from different continents offers an initial solution but requires port infrastructure and transportation at a time of high shipping costs due to container shortages and reduced freight flights.
He suggests agri-tech has a role via e-commerce and underpinned by a platform, mobile money, connectivity and transportation.
Precision agriculture can support better food production and automation can deliver that for smallholders, though he acknowledges such farmers are generally those with less funds to invest.
In the biotechnology versus agrology debate, Dr Torero Cullen believes both have a complementary, rather than conflicting, role to play.
“But with technology, we need the scientific evidence and the regulatory mechanisms in place to protect consumers and help farmers make optimal decisions,” he adds.
Digital technology can collect real-time data, such as to increase resilience against locust plague for farmers, but investment in broadband is essential.
The UN Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger by 2030 is looking to be a difficult target. Current modelling suggests there will still be 660 million people undernourished by that date. Interventions include reducing food losses and waste (which also reduce water, soil and emissions), while controls on land usage and investment – of around $40 billion a year – remain essential.
“Achieving zero hunger is not easy to do,” he concludes, “and we believe there can be a difference, but this huge transformation needs to start now.”
The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of FAO.