Sustainable Development

4 ways countries are successfully fighting hunger

Bruce Campbell
Director, Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, CGIAR
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Sustainable Development

This is part of a series on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, in collaboration with the Stockholm Resilience Centre. This article focuses on goal 2 – End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Problems can be complicated, but solutions must be simple if they are going to be embraced, implemented and solved.

No goal is more complicated, than the goal of sustainable development. This is reflected in the United Nations’ SDGs, with its 17 goals and their 169 related targets. It is easy to feel overwhelmed. Many are already questioning whether such lofty ambitions can realistically be met. Even more worrying is our tendency to subdivide problems, put them in boxes and treat them independently of others – almost universally leading to even more problems.

How do we traverse and embrace this complexity but also identify practical interventions and approaches that ensure sustainable development?

One goal (SDG2) centres on ending hunger through sustainable agriculture. The beauty of sustainable agriculture (with the emphasis truly on “sustainable”) is that it intersects with multiple goals. For example, it can contribute to ending poverty (SDG1), ensuring availability and sustainable management of water (SDG6), promoting inclusive and sustainable growth (SDG8), taking action to combat climate change (SDG13), and many others. A single endeavour, sustainable agriculture, can help us embrace the complexity.


Let’s take climate change, which is waging war on our food supply. In Colombia, the farmers that grow the beans for your morning cup of coffee fear they will go out of business as temperatures rise; already production is being hit. In East Africa, prolonged droughts are killing cattle that farmers rely on for nutritious milk, as well as an income. Every day these effects are plunging families further into hunger and poverty.

Climate-smart agriculture – we believe – is where investors will get the most bang for their sustainable development buck. This is a form of sustainable agriculture that gives attention to climate change adaptation and reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint. If we enable rural farmers to innovate and use climate-smart practices, it’s not only hunger and poverty that will decline. Economic growth increases. Jobs are created. And climate change’s grip on our food supply will loosen. Each of these is a sustainable development goal in its own right – and investment in sustainable agriculture can reach them all. There are also SDGs for reducing inequality within and among countries (SDG10) and achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls (SDG5). For climate-smart agriculture to also contribute here, it must give attention to power, gender and social inclusion.

SDGsSource: Jakob Trollbäck 

Here are four countries that are working to climate-proof farmers’ agriculture systems, putting them in line to target many sustainable development goals.

  1. India

India’s recent National Food Security Act will help 800 million people access publicly financed or subsidized food. Thanks to engagement by partners M.S. Swaminathan Foundation and Bioversity International, the government will distribute coarse grains, such as millet, sorghum and maize, in addition to the basic staples, rice and wheat. Coarse grains are highly nutritious and they are also highly resistant to climate-induced stresses such as drought and flood.


Photo caption: India promotes climate resilience through its food security bill. Photo: ICRISAT.

It is estimated that over 31 million Indian farmers grow these crops, and the inclusion of these crops in the law is likely to stimulate production, contributing both to climate adaptation and food security. Add to that the increased income the farmers that grow these crops will receive when the government buys their crops, and India can make progress in addressing the problems of hunger, poverty and climate change in one targeted intervention.

  1. Kenya

The flip side of the climate change adaptation coin is reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that agriculture produces. The livestock sector is responsible for 14% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, making it a key sector for action. In developing countries, reducing emissions makes sense only if food production is not compromised. In Kenya, the World Agroforestry Centre is helping farming households to produce more milk with fewer emissions, through training to improve livestock feeding practices.

Bunguey has been a dairy farmer for 40 years and he recently reduced his herd from 18 to five cows. These five cows receive protein-rich feed and now produce nine times as much milk as they did before. This means Bunguey’s herd of five cows is twice as productive as his herd of 18.


Photo caption: Farmers in Kenya are increasing dairy productivity – and reducing greenhouse gas emissions – by increasing their herd’s protein consumption. Photo: C. Pye-Smith (ILRI).

Climate-smart actions such as this in the dairy sector in Kenya have huge potential. The Kenyan government estimates that these actions can be scaled up to reach 1.8 million households by 2018, decreasing the country’s emissions by 3.3% of its 2010 emissions, while sustaining 180,000 jobs in the sector and improving smallholder incomes by $1,000-$2,000 a year. In addition to meeting goals on hunger and nutrition, poverty reduction and climate change, two additional SDGs are covered here: driving economic growth and creating decent jobs for all. Of the farmers involved, 25% were women and the next phase of the project will examine how to increase the participation of women, contributing to a third goal: SDG5 to empower women and girls.

  1. Colombia

Colombian farmers who used to enjoy reliable rainfall are increasingly taking a hit when extreme floods and droughts occur, wiping out the crops they rely on for cash and food. To help farmers adapt to these harsh conditions, a knowledge exchange with farmers in Senegal was facilitated by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and national partners in both countries. Senegalese farmers have a wealth of indigenous knowledge for coping with long droughts and have also been working in some regions with the national meteorological agency to develop more accurate and useful seasonal climate forecasts that can be disseminated across the country by radio and SMS.


Photo caption: Senegal shares approaches with Colombia for dealing with climate change in agriculture. Photo: J.L. Urrea (CCAFS).

Inspired by Senegal’s innovative system, a new collaboration was developed in Colombia between the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture, six National Growers Associations, the National Agricultural Research System, as well as local experts and non-governmental organizations. This partnership has focused on developing better climate and site-specific information that farmers can incorporate into their planning systems and strategies. Nearly 160,000 farmers are now receiving improved climate advice in Colombia. As a result, they are better equipped to make decisions about what to plant, when and where. In the medium term, the project is expected to reach over 1.5 million farmers. Given that 25% of farmers in Colombia are women, by giving them equitable access to climate information, SDG5 can also be tackled here.

  1. Nigeria

In Nigeria, 14.5 million people are smallholder farmers. That is 14.5 million whose income will take a drastic hit when climate disasters strike. That is why the Nigerian government has pledged to insure these farmers against extreme weather events. Scientists at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) are now working with Nigeria to formulate a four-year roadmap providing guidance for reaching the goal of nationwide smallholder coverage.

Photo 4 Credit- N Palmer4

Insurance can help smallholder farmers get back on their feet faster after floods, droughts and other severe weather events. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)

In India, a similar kind of large-scale programme is already in place and 22 million farmers are already covered with index-based weather insurance, which pays farmers automatically when determined weather events occur. This could be reaching a certain temperature for a sustained period of time, or reaching a certain level of rainfall. Using various scientific techniques to analyse crop-weather relationships, the CGIAR Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) developed new rainfall triggers in India that are specific to different regions and crops. Nearly 1 million farmers are now benefiting from better insurance products.

We urge countries and investors to recognize the power of financing agricultural research and development and ask them to work with farmers to find the long-term solutions. It is a smart choice that will contribute to many more SDGs than reducing hunger.

Have you read?
10 things to know about the Sustainable Development Goals
How can we eradicate poverty by 2030?
5 ways to improve health and well-being for all

Author : Bruce Campbell is director of the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, research programme, a strategic collaboration between CGIAR and Future Earth

Guest editor of this series is Owen Gaffney, Director, International Media and Strategy, Stockholm Resilience Centre and Future Earth

Image: Farmers plant saplings in their rice field on the outskirts of the eastern Indian city of Ranchi July 20, 2009. REUTERS/Rajesh Kumar Sen

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