The World’s top food secure nations. How does Australia sit?

Can you guess the world’s top food secure nations? Number 14 may surprise you!

Global trends in food security aren’t all that favourable at the moment. Global food security has now declined for the first time in four years. Some recent estimates by the UN say that this increase has been by about 38 million people in 2016.  Recent weather disasters, increasing numbers of refugees, greater household expenditure on food, and declining political stability around the globe are said to be the cause.  

But there is still some good news to go around!

With much focus on food security at the lower ends of the spectrum, it’s important to cast some light on food security trends in all countries across the globe.  On Tuesday, the Economist Intelligence Unit released the sixth annual Global Food Security Index, with some interesting results!

Ireland is now the world’s most food-secure nation. Ireland came in at first place, with an overall food security score of 85.6.  In the 1840s, the Irish famine caused the migration of half a million people to the United States, but it looks the times have changed.

The top 15 scoring nations were: 

  1. Ireland (79.9)
  2. Austria (77.6)
  3. France (77.5)
  4. United States (77.4)
  5. Germany (77.3)
  6. Switzerland (77.3)
  7. United Kingdom (77.3)
  8. Canada (76.9)
  9. Denmark (76.7)
  10. Sweden (76.6)
  11. Netherlands (76.3)
  12. New Zealand (75.4)
  13. Finland (75.2)
  14. Australia (75.0)
  15. Norway (74.6)

At the other end, the poorest scoring nations were the Democratic Republic of the Congo (22.1), Burundi (25.1), Madagascar (27.2), Yemen (28.8) and Chad (28.3).

So how can we explain these results? 

First,  let’s take a look at how food security is measured. The Global Food Security Index is comprised of five categories: Affordability, availability, quality and safety, as well as the new category to be added this year of natural resources and resilience.

The index places a high value on public investment in agricultural research, as this is a large determining factor on the availability and expense of food. Globally, there are decreases in the amount of investment in agricultural research and development. In Ireland, however, investment in agriculture is a government priority. In the past 5 years, Ireland has spent more than the US on public research in agricultural development, and the agricultural sector has grown significantly in proportion to the national economy.  

Climatic conditions are also incredibly important to the index. Austria – a country with a relatively stable climate and low soil erosion – performed strongly in the newly added fourth component of Natural Resources and Resilience. Singapore, on the other hand, performed far less favourably – with concerns about rising sea levels, vulnerability to extreme weather, and small land size creating a reliance on imports for food. As a result, Singapore fell the most in the rankings compared to previous years (by 15 positions), due to the addition of this new category. The US also fell in the rankings – despite a highly productive food system, there are concerns that water inefficiency and risk of drought threaten previous estimates of food security. Australia fell by nine places, owing to high sensitivity to freshwater shocks and soil erosion. 

Water security is also incredibly important in these figures. Given agriculture accounts for 70% of water withdrawals worldwide, the ability for nations to meet food requirements in an efficient and sustainable way is vital for food security. Sub-Saharan Africa performed the best in this category. Uganda, with 84% of people relying on subsistence farming, topped the ladder for water efficient production. This outcome is partly due to poorer investments and utilisation of technologies (including irrigation) to intensify production. Denmark came in at second place in the water category. Smart technologies and strict regulations have resulted in only 7.8% of water being lost before it reaches the consumer, compared to average figures of 30-60%.  At the other end, North America performed poorly. In Canada, 80% of water withdrawals are for agriculture. Predictions show that climate change is likely to shift crop production northerly, and increase reliance on irrigation, pesticides and herbicides. Further, the world’s two largest food producing countries (China and India) ranked 99th and 108th (out of 113 countries) respectively for water related risks.

Another interesting finding from the report was that Brexit will pose an extreme risk to the United Kingdom’s food security progress. About one quarter of food in the UK is imported from the European Union. Further, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy also accounted for over half of British farmers incomes in 2015. These subsidies will no longer exist following Brexit.

When we think of food security, it’s easy to quickly think of poor developing regions around the world. But, in a highly integrated global economy, it is important that food security is thought of as a global issue which affects both developed and developing nations. Investments in research and development in agriculture, improved technologies to foster more efficient resource use, adaptive strategies to mitigate risks to climate change, and smart policy development are vital for food security progress in countries all across the world.  

For more information, read the full report here: http://foodsecurityindex.eiu.com/

Sources:

http://foodsecurityindex.eiu.com/

https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2017-food-security/?cmpId=flipboard

Agricultural Professional Accreditation: A Youth Perspective

Professional standards and accreditation exist in many forms in industries in Australia and around the world. In accounting the two competing courses, Chartered Accountant (CA) and Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) are well known and undoubtedly necessary for accounting graduates if they are to find employment as a recognised accountant. Doctors and dentists require a form of strict accreditation and must attend a certain number of academic conferences each year as one part of maintaining contact with the most recent research and best practice guidelines. Engineers must complete accredited university courses and go through industry accreditation to work in the industry, although differences exist between the engineering disciplines. Whilst lawyers must be admitted and complete the graduate diploma of legal practice (GDLP) before they are classified as a legal practitioner. However, in the Australian agricultural industry, there is no accreditation for agricultural science courses, nor is there accreditation for agricultural professionals, drawing the concern of many in the industry.

The ‘studying to be a farmer’ phrase is often used when discussing ongoing low enrolment in agriculture-focused tertiary education. In my own experience, and in the experience of many other agvocates, it seems that the above mentality around studying agriculture drives students into working in other fields. Akinwumi Adesina, the World Food Prize laureate for 2017, noted in his address that agriculture needed to be made cool again in Africa in order to attract more youth into the industry. Part of this ‘coolness’ is dispelling the ‘studying to be a farmer myth’ in both illustrating the wide ranging possibilities of agriculture and also that farming is actually a pretty cool occupation, where no one is ‘just’ a farmer.

So what is it about just studying to be a famer perception that is influencing career choices of young people around the world? Well firstly, studying farming is thought of as unglamourous, not very career diverse, typically remotely located and lacking the prestige of other professions such as law, medicine and engineering. The issues associated with the above misguided view of either studying agriculture or becoming involved in the agricultural industry appear in the low (albeit improving) tertiary education enrolment rates and the poor awareness of career opportunities within the industry.

There are many not-for-profit organisations targeting the misrepresentation of agriculture as unglamourous, lacking prestige and not very career diverse through insights into the various roles within the industry. However, I feel that the industry could do well in the accreditation sense in actively improving both the perception and tangible standardisation of agricultural professionals at either the tertiary level through accredited courses or the postgraduate level in a similar vein to CA and CPA. Experience at a number of universities suggests that courses vary significantly in content and length, resulting in differences in agricultural knowledge. Moreover, the lack of accreditation means that in drawing funding, curriculum changes and being taken seriously at universities is overshadowed by accredited courses such as nursing, engineering and medicine.

There are equivalents in the US and Canada where agronomists (known as agrologists in Canada) in certain states must be accredited in order to perform advisory services and charge consultation fees.

There are arguments out there that accreditation serves as but an additional cost for graduates and that consultants self-regulate in that market forces will drive excellence. Many larger consultant groups already provide year-long graduate programs for agricultural science graduates, yet these programs are not standardised or regulated in the content provided and methods taught. With sales and consultant fees driving service numbers and returns programs can often focus heavily on sales components over purely quality agronomical advice.

Thus there exists a dire need for a standardised and widely adopted agricultural industry professional accreditation program delivering:

  1. The accreditation and professional standards desired by graduates in developing well regarded courses and professionals.
  2. Appropriate competency levels for professionals with ongoing requirements for learning experiences throughout their consultancy career.
  3. A level of certainty for clients that consultants will be of a standardised agronomy competency.

An accreditation program will go a long way in meeting requirements of a rapidly growing internationally recognised industry, while providing critical evidence of the importance of professional standards and quality within Australian agriculture, to pull in more students and graduates.

Guy Coleman is the Founder of AgriEducate and a Director on the Board of the Ag Institute Australia (AIA). The AIA are in the process of developing a Chartered Agricultural Professional (CAP) accreditation program. Find out more here.

Crawford Fund Conference Scholars: Next Generation of Changemakers

In August the AgriEducate team had the privilege of attending the annual Crawford Fund Conference and meeting the inspiring next generation of development agriculture researchers, policy experts and change makers. Known as the Crawford Fund Scholars, these young people had a full three days of learning from leaders in the agricultural development space including Dr Lindiwe Sibanda, Dr Andrew Campbell and John Anderson AO.

We were fortunate enough to speak with many of the Scholars informally throughout the day and did interviews with Sam and Fynn. See their responses below and how they see the future of international development agriculture and what they will change in the world. See some of their reflections on the event here (cover photo source):

Sam

  • Tell us a little about your background in agriculture?

Dad runs Angus cattle in the NSW Central Tablelands and Mum is the proud manager of a veggie patch in our suburban backyard. I have willingly (and sometimes unwillingly) provided free labour to both of these enterprises. However, I never really got into agriculture until I started my agricultural science degree at the University of Sydney. During my time at uni, I have worked on a salmon farm in Tasmania, researched soil microbiology in Canberra, interned at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and studied for a semester at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka.

  • In what ways can you apply that background to the agricultural sector, and development agriculture globally?

My ultimate goal is to support smallholder farmers in developing countries. I believe I can do this through the private sector or scientific research. However, I recognise that I have lifetime of work to do to make a genuine contribution.

  • What makes you interested in agriculture/agricultural development? Would you consider this as a career?

Like you, I believe in food security, poverty alleviation and environmental conservation. Agricultural development excites me because it is a vehicle to contribute to all of those things.

  • If during your career, you could change one thing in the world what would it be?

I would destroy the three widespread myths about careers in agriculture:

  • Myth 1: you must be farmer to work in agriculture.
  • Myth 2: you must live in rural area to work in agriculture.
  • Myth 3: you must have a background in agriculture to work in agriculture.

These misconceptions are as far-reaching as they are untrue. We must debunk them because they are deterring talented young people from agriculture-related careers and degrees. Careers in agriculture are soaked with opportunity, variety and meaning. Enabling talented young people to realise this will in turn enable us to sustainably nourish 9 billion people in 2050.

  • From your experiences, what is either your ‘best story’ or ‘favourite fact’ about agricultural development and global food security?

Dr TJ Higgins is an absolute hero. More than 200 million people in Africa (and millions of others in Asia) rely on the crop cowpea for their staple food. Devastatingly, a hungry type of moth (the cowpea pod-borer) commonly ravages cowpea crops. Smallholder farmers in developing countries can rarely afford the insecticides required to protect their crops. For this reason, Dr Higgins played a leading role in the development of Bt-Cowpea – a type of cowpea genetically modified to have inbuilt insect resistance. Dr Higgins invested more than 10 years of his life helping develop the technology and navigate the regulatory processes required to safely get it the farmers that desperately need it. Excitingly, Bt-cowpea is now on the verge of release in Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Malawi. Dr Higgins inspires me because he found a way to support the poorest of the poor using agricultural science. Find out more here.

 

Fynn

  •  In what ways can you apply that background to the agricultural sector, and development agriculture globally

I want to be able to ideally increase food security in developing nations and help figure out how to feed everyone sustainably. But I feel that’s not something I can graduate from and do, it’s a long process and I need to keep learning. I’m in a position, where not many people study agriculture and international relations, so hopefully I’m in a position to give an international perspective.

  • What makes you interested in agricultural development? Would you consider this as a career?

Absolutely, yeah, that is the career I want to have. It’s such an amazing sector of the world, it is an area where you can study, and apply it to make a difference and help people in a lot of ways. It’s not an area where you study agricultural science and do one job, there’s so many ways you can apply it, the industry is always changing, it’s an opportunity for a unique and varied career.

  • If during your career, you could change one thing in the world what would it be?

Increase the efficiency of food systems – its not just about increasing production, it’s about making the entire system more efficient. It’s crazy how many different issues there are, they’re all convoluted, you can’t just go in and fix one issue, it’s all dynamic.

  • From your experiences, what is either your ‘best story’ or ‘favourite fact’ about agricultural development and global food security?

Story – Vanuatu – I went to lots of villages in Santo and interviewed farmers and in government – head of dept of livestock, and people in livestock projects. It was amazing to hear the different perspectives coming from various entities of the system, and the different opinions on how to approach different problems in the country and this highlighted how it is so hard to improve the systems and how all the different entities have to work together, and how they do.

Orphan Crops: Looking to Biodiversity for Food Security

This week we look at the importance of biodiversity in nutrition and crop choice. In previous posts for the Crawford Fund Conference, we addressed the importance of food quality and nutrition, rather than just quantity.

There are around 30,000 edible plant species existing in the world.
Take a guess at how many we consume: 30,000? 3000? 300 perhaps?

Well the answer is closer to 30!

Scientists and policymakers are now turning attention to ‘orphan crops’ as the keys for improved food security. Orphan crops are crops that have been forgotten in agricultural production and trade over the past century, but are now being rediscovered for their nutritional, economic and social value. Examples of orphan crops include the African Yam Bean, the Desert Date and Ber.

 
Madagascar. A group of people heading towards Mangoky River at sunset in a landscape with Baobab trees. Baobab leaves and fruits are sources of food for people and fodder for animals (source)

With 95% of global food being sourced from maize, rice and wheat – there is great opportunity for orphan crops to have an increasing role in diets globally.

The great part about orphan crops is that they are uniquely suited to their local environments, meaning they are resistant to certain climatic variations and tolerant to local pests. They can provide dietary/nutritional diversity for communities, an option for crop rotation for farmers, create niche markets in local economies, and harness and protect local knowledge.

Ren Wang, the FAO Assistant Director-General, has stated that:

“by expanding the portfolio of crops available to farmers, we can help build more diverse and resilient cropping systems”.

The growth of orphan crops provides further opportunities for farmers in crop rotation systems. Enhancing agro-biodiversity at the field level not only promotes nutritional diversity, but disrupts pest and disease cycles.

Harnessing local knowledge and traditional crop species has enormous potential for improving food security in many regions of the world. Many researchers now believe that if perceptions for orphan crops was improved in Africa, food security could also be improved. A vast majority of traditional dishes in African nations are made from indigenous crops such as yams, finger millet, favabean and Bambara groundnut. There are now calls for research to focus on these crops, rather than on major crops such as rice [source].

According to Kenya’s Agriculture Secretary Felix Koskei:

“Indigenous crop research has lagged behind in Africa with both international and local institutions phasing in maize, wheat, and a small range of pulses. Seed companies have also concentrated on the same crops, which have high turnover both in volume and sales. This has resulted in improved indigenous crops not being available to farming communities”.

Fortunately, there are now various projects promoting research and development into orphan crops.

Take for example the ACIAR-funded project in Kenya which is working to promote underutilised crops in Busia Country. Many crops that were used extensively as traditional medicine in Kenya are now regarded as old-fashion. This includes Ethiopian kale, jute mallow, moringa, cowpea leaves and amaranth. The project aims to raise the profile of African leafy vegetables by establishing reliable government procurement contracts to source food to school feeding programs.

One smallholder farmer in Busia reported that where she previously waited for periods of three to four months to harvest maize, she could now harvest and sell African leafy vegetables on a weekly basis. These crops are also reportedly returning higher prices at local markets than traditional staple crops.

Annie (ACIAR) has said that:

“these kinds of crops can modernize agriculture, both technologically and commercially, for young people”.

The African Orphan Crop Consortium is currently conducting projects to sequence the genomes of 101 underutilised African crops, to improve the nutritional qualities and yields of crop varieties, and increase resilience to climate change.

The Consortium focuses on developing genomics resources for economically important but also socio-culturally relevant crop and tree species grown in Africa. The 101 crops identified as orphan or neglected crops were identified based on a survey of African plant breeders, policy makers, farmers, universities, sociologists and other stakeholders. This includes the African plum, taro, baobab, wild custard apple, chocolate berries, shea butter and favabean. Check out the full list here.

The first plant to be genetically mapped was the Baobab – an iconic tree of Africa. The plant is high in vitamin C, and found across sub-Saharan Africa. The plant has many uses across the continent. The leaves are eaten as vegetables in West Africa, and the pulp is made into porridge, juices, cooking oil, ice cream, energy bars, soda, jams, cookies and even cosmetics across the continent.

The baobab is well regarded for its’ ability to be produced during drought, and for the high nutritional content. However, it’s slow growth is a challenge which scientists are now seeking to tackle through genetic mapping and improvement.

Tony Simons, the ICRAF Director General, has stated:

“this information will allow breeders to use the same strategies and technologies as those for Western crops, such as maize, to make rapid improvements in African crops”.

The program is also training African plant breeders in genomics and crop improvement.

Further, the project led by Howard-Yana Shapiro (the agricultural director of the Mars Corporation) which initially looked at cacoa trees, makes the information publically available. Access to genetic data has enormous potential for crop improvements.

“It’s not charity. It’s a gift. Its an improvement of African agriculture. These crops will never be worked on by the big five [seed] companies. They don’t see them as competition.”

Thinking outside the box of traditional crops, and looking into orphan crops, clearly has enormous potential for improving food and nutrition security globally.

 

Find out more information here:

http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1032516/icode/

A Bunch of Big Names are Trying to Save Africa’s Orphan Crops—Here’s Why That Matters

Mapping the Genomes of Africa’s ‘Orphan’ Crops

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/jun/02/genetic-mapping-plan-to-boost-africa-crops

http://www.merid.org/en/Content/News_Services/Food_Security_and_AgBiotech_News/Articles/2017/May/31/orphan_crops.aspx

Meet the crops

https://theconversation.com/africa-must-re-adopt-its-orphan-crops-in-the-face-of-a-changing-environment-78197