12 July 2012

Rwanda: Quest to Feed World's Growing Population

President Paul Kagame has said that it is time to globally re-think the optimal use of vital resources such as land, water and energy and one of the major approaches the world needs to take to ensure food security - for the rapidly growing population - is increasing investment in agriculture.

He made the remarks yesterday while addressing Re|Source 2012 Conference at Oxford University, London.

The conference, attended by Nobel Peace Prize winners, scholars and former Heads of State, sought to address resource scarcity and volatility by ensuring continued access to food, energy and water as demographics rapidly change.

Re|Source 2012 is a joint initiative hosted by Oxford University and its Smith School of Enterprise and Environment in co-operation with The Rothschild Foundation.

President Kagame emphasised the importance of "finite resources of water, energy and food", saying they cannot be ignored.

It is estimated that by 2030, the world will need 40 per cent more fresh water and 50 per cent more food and energy. The projected increase is mainly due to increasing population, urbanisation and prosperity.

"The world has to figure out how to optimise such vital resources, as we also search for new ones. More specifically, we need to address the issue of food security. The actions that we take now will determine our ability to feed the nine billion people we are expecting by the year 2050," said President Kagame.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world's farmers produce enough food - more than is required - and twice the minimum nutritional needs.

Yet, in spite of sufficient food production, there are still many food-insecure areas.

More than one billion people are undernourished, 34 per cent of them in Africa and 23 per cent in Asia, according to World Food Programme.

"This indicates that the question of food security is not about shortage per se, but rather other issues such as distribution, markets, management and use of potential and available resources," Kagame said.

The President noted that smallholder farmers in developing countries lack technology and inputs, access to markets, and face undeveloped infrastructure. "To remedy this situation and put food where it is most needed, the right mechanisms and investments are required."

He called for an integrated approach to agriculture, by involving water and land management, use of fertilisers, crop development, planned rural settlements and reform of land tenure.

Kagame, the only seating Head of State to address the conference, observed that in order to address challenges facing smallholder farmers, there was need to maximise use of available land through consolidation, crop intensification, and increased use of fertilisers and irrigation.

"In the long term, however, the most viable option is to keep moving towards commercial agriculture by instituting land policies that enable consolidation, secure ownership and transferability, and access to credit.

The President added: "We can make more land available for agriculture and also raise citizens' incomes through skills development and creating off-farm employment. In Rwanda, the introduction, a few years ago, of a nine-year compulsory basic education - now extended to twelve - and expansion of technical and vocational training aims to do precisely this".

He urged the international community to look at the world's expanding population as "a potential resource in itself, and not always a liability".

"They can be part of the solution if we ensure that productivity increases as the population does. People should be empowered to find ways to increase resource efficiency, reduce waste and manage demand effectively. Education, technology and better management, as well as research, play critical roles in developing innovative ways to use our resources sustainably."

The President highlighted the need for international cooperation. "We must place issues of agriculture and food security high on the international policy agenda, national development plans and investment priorities. We need to take bold steps, mobilise resources and goodwill, and treat food insecurity as a threat to human existence in the same way we have tackled and reduced other issues of our time."

One billion people suffer from malnutrition worldwide, while the nine million die each year from hunger.

A recent YouGov Poll placed the quest to ensure steady supply to food, energy & water second only to terrorism as a foreign policy priority.

The UN Secretary General's special representative on food security and nutrition, David Nabarro, told delegates that the recently concluded Rio +20 (summit) showed that governments cannot find answers to the world's problems on their own and that civil society and business must become more involved.

He noted areas of "promising action", including the coming together of business, financial institutions and governments, to look at new ways of investing in agriculture

Sir David King, Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University, said the event should be about finding solutions rather than just another round of talking.

Other speakers included former US President Bill Clinton, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, and Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti (Climate and Energy Security Envoy of the UK Ministry of Defence and FCO).

The Re|Source 2012 conference brought together 250 of the world's most influential thinkers and leaders.

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