Recently, I attended the second Global Conference on Agricultural Research and Development (GCARD2) in Uruguay's second city, Punta del Este.
The conference brought together scientists, foresight modellers, researchers, academicians, farmer organizations, donors, communication experts and young agriculturalists, among others. One of the things I realized is that the world is not short of scientific models and strategies to address the challenge of global warming and its unprecedented threat to agriculture and human survival. Numerous tools and plans have been, and continue to be, developed, and yet this threat becomes bigger by the day.
Current estimates put the number of hungry people globally at over 900 million. Hunger Notes' most recent estimates, for 2012, indicate that malnutrition affects 32.5% of children in developing countries. Of these, more than 70% are in Asia, 26% in Africa and 4% in Latin America and the Caribbean.
There is no doubt we have an enormous challenge on our hands to think for the future, if we are to guarantee a better world for the young people who form almost the greater part of the population in the developing world and whose survival in 20 to 30 years from now depends a lot on agriculture and environment. The big question however is, how is it possible that all these models, tools, strategies, policies and plans have failed to deliver us the dream world we need?
One where there is no soul going hungry; where destructive and deadly hurricanes, typhoons, dunes, twisters and floods are history; where each and every adult has credible and sustainable source of income and one where peace and harmony prevails. The answer to the above question is that we have chosen to pay lip service and gloss over our problems rather than take practical steps to solve them.
We have failed to commit at least 10% of our national budgets to agriculture despite committing to do that in what has come to be referred to as the 'Maputo Declaration.' Why would any government committed to transforming a sector which is the backbone of its economy take a mere token decision like 'scrapping taxes on the hand hoe' when her neighbours (without necessarily the same comparative advantage in this sector) are taking more advanced steps?
The GCARD2 posed more questions and challenges for the future of agriculture, including whether the developing world is designing the right models for agriculture and involving local farming communities to ensure that science and community solutions adapt to each other.
Are we tapping into the right networks and engaging the right stakeholders at all levels, national, regional and global? Are the visions we are creating for the future plausible or are we simply basing them on our own predictions? For instance, if the reality at present is that majority of our populations are young and that their survival is threatened by persistent problems of food insecurity and unemployment, are we looking at agriculture as a potential sector that could overturn these challenges?
If yes, what strategies, policies and programmes have we developed to ensure that we interest these young people in agriculture ? a sector that is regarded as low-class?
Isn't it time we stopped making predictions about the future including Vision 2020, 2030 or 2050, which we clearly have no control over, but set clear goals and targets and work backwards towards achieving these through phases?
Let all of us, from civil society actors, scientists, agro-economists, farmers, policymakers and the media find the right spaces and platforms in which to influence policy changes on agriculture and environment and design very clear policy goals, approaches and targets at farm level to get us to the future we want.
How about zero-rating agricultural inputs and modern technologies and removing taxes on the hand hoe? This would certainly not get us very far. We need to demarcate production zones within rural areas for large-scale fruit production, horticulture, dairy farming, agro-forestry, deliberately support family farm production (not just giving one goat to a family!) and make plans to strategically use our natural resources for productive purposes, but also develop or adopt technologies to manage production systems while maintaining their productivity and competitiveness.
The GCARD2 meeting also highlighted another area that requires change of strategy as "the failure to understand that there are real benefits in calibrating the different foresight models, approaches and analyses to help shape research priorities in agriculture, collectively decide on the right policies, human and financial capital that should be invested at different levels to anchor us into the world that we desire for our future generations."
It goes without saying that the GCARD2 meeting presents an opportunity for all who care for the future to rethink the priorities we set, the partnerships we seek and build and the different engagements to integrate a range of perspectives on key agriculture and climate issues, make use of available data and interpretations from different sources and directly integrate diverse views of other stakeholders on specific problems so that important issues are examined through different lenses.
The writer is a Programme Officer - Governance and Globalization at Panos Eastern Africa.