Food is a basic need we all share, but it’s also ingrained in our customs and culture. We meet friends for dinner, plan occasions around special dishes and pass down recipes through generations. But will this be possible in the future not only for us, but also for those who struggle to afford food, as well as the additional 2 billion people projected to inhabit the earth in another 40 years?
Most of us have lived through decades of food abundance, making it hard to grasp the challenge of ensuring future food and nutrition security. Freshwater availability is a mounting challenge and a limiting factor for food production, and price fluctuations increase risk for farmers and rural communities. At a time where improved crop productivity is needed, our changing climate is likely to limit yield growth.
We must find smart solutions for the agricultural sector – gaining higher yields per acre of land, drop of water and kilo of input, reducing deforestation and emissions. All while ensuring improved livelihoods for rural growers and a thriving economy for the farming community.
A new approach to agriculture
Knowing that food security and agricultural development are a major concern around the world, we join fellow chief executives and global leaders this week at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting to discuss ways to create change. Since 2009, we’ve been addressing this challenge through an initiative called the New Vision for Agriculture, which brings together a global network of governments, farmers associations, donors, research institutes, international organizations, and companies such as Yara and Walmart. We’ve set goals of increasing food security by 20% and reducing poverty and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20% by 2020.
So, how do these broad aims translate into real, meaningful outcomes? Walmart, for one, focuses on four issues when it comes to food: affordability, accessibility, health and transparency. We’re working with our suppliers and other partners in the food supply chain to not only gain deeper insight into yields, water usage and GHG, but also to drive improvement in those same areas through specific projects. The Climate Smart Agriculture programme is one way we are driving down the “true cost” of producing food – reducing the GHG emitted, the water and land used, and the impact on animals and people.
One such project centres on the sweet yellow passion fruit, an unusual-looking fruit that is sweeter and twice the size of the more common purple passion fruit. Walmart’s UK retailer, Asda, is working with IPL, their produce importer, and TechnoServe, a nonprofit, to produce more of this fruit in Kenya for sale in Asda. Through the project, 400 small farmers are being trained in good agricultural practices and food safety, helping them generate more income and in several cases, fund education for their children. On average, growers’ incomes from passion fruit production have increased their total farm income by 21%.
Yara has many similar programmes, such as the Ghana Grains Partnership. Alongside a local private sector partner, Yara Ghana has set up a farmers’ association for small and mid-sized maize growers to support improved productivity. Called Masara N’Arziki, meaning “Maize for Prosperity”, the association has become one of West Africa’s largest grain-growing associations. The farmers gain access to seeds and fertilizers on credit, get a guaranteed off-take for their produce as well as professional advice and training. Here, more than 9,000 farmers have quadrupled their yields and tripled their income.
A good start
These are great examples, but they are only a small part of big results being achieved by the New Vision for Agriculture globally. Across all its programmes in 16 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the initiative is reaching more than 3.6 million farmers, crop yield has increased between 12%-75%, and more than 200,000 hectares are adopting improved technologies, practices and solutions. In Asia alone, farmer income has grown by 10-75%, depending on the commodity.
This is great progress, and we are encouraged by the more than 350 organizations involved. However, given the significance and global nature of this challenge, creating lasting change for the environment and our economy requires much more work to be done. The New Vision for Agriculture is an important way we can maintain our collective commitment to working together. From ensuring sustainable incomes and economies to ensuring the nourishment of families, we all have a stake in the future of the food on our plates.
Authors: David Cheesewright is President and Chief Executive Officer of Walmart; Torgeir Kvidal is President and Chief Executive Officer of Yara; the authors are Co-Chairs of the New Vision for Agriculture.
Image: A worker carries a box of passion fruit at the market in Sao Paulo. REUTERS/Nacho Doce