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A Special Series for the World Food Prize 2013 Borlaug Dialogue

In the lead up to the 2013 Borlaug Dialogue, the Skoll World Forum is featuring several keynote speakers writing at the nexus of three subjects central to the global challenges we face in the 21st century: biotechnology, sustainability, and climate volatility. The 2013 Borlaug Dialogue takes place October 16-18 in Des Moines, Iowa.


Why Agriculture Is Nigeria's New Oil

Akinwumi Adesina

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Government of Nigeria

Innovating To Feed A Growing Planet

Juergen Voegele

Director, Agriculture and Environmental Services, World Bank Group


Communicating A Path To End Hunger

Communicating A Path To End Hunger

October 10, 2013

  • Problem: The overarching problem in the struggle to combat hunger is a persistent inability to eliminate this solvable problem. While progress has been made internationally, a general lack of communication between the public and private sector, and among civil society organizations, has hindered our ability to effectively eliminate hunger.
  • Barrier to Progress: Barriers to progress can be viewed through the lack of understanding of various food systems. This leads to situations in which communities not so far apart may have drastically different levels of food security. Even in the United States, this problem manifests itself in the widespread issue of both urban and rural ‘food deserts.’ At a very basic level, these issues can be mitigated by more effective communication between all the stakeholders involved.
  • Solution: Solutions to this problem are starting to take hold, and can be seen through initiatives such as Feed the Future and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. While this is a step in the right direction, efforts to support cross-sector communication—including bolstering the voice of civil society—is essential to ensure increased food security over the next century.

We can and will end hunger.  At some point in the future, students will read in textbooks that there was a time when children were forced to go to bed hungry at night, and families struggled to know from where their next meal was coming.  Such lessons will elicit innocent disbelief, such as when today’s students learn about the bubonic plague that ravaged Europe.  But why, at this point, has the problem of hunger not been solved?  Is the world not producing enough food to feed itself?  Do we not have the technology to transfer food from regions of abundance to areas of scarcity?  Is there a fundamental failure in the market?  To say that the real issue is a lack of communication between all the stakeholders may sound overly-simplistic; but I would argue that this is one of the key factors involved.

In his book The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change, Roger Thurow describes a situation in Kenya in which, while one region undergoes drought, another region of the same country may be reaping a plentiful harvest; and he writes of the accompanying frustration this knowledge brings to families struggling to get by.  While this is an extreme example, this is not simply a problem in the ‘developing world.’  Even in the United States, the prevalence of ‘food deserts’ is widespread, and tens of millions of Americans live in food insecure households.  While the experiences of hunger differ worldwide, with various factors (political, economic, etc.) playing contributing roles, the truth of the matter is that the actors involved—businesses, charities, schools, governments—have historically had a tough time ‘speaking the same language.’  This has led to a certain level of miscommunication, and even skepticism and mutual suspicion.

What this has led to, in short, is a misunderstanding of the various food systems found throughout the world.  Where is food in abundance and where is it lacking?  What is the nutritious quality of this food?  Does this need to change?  These are obviously not questions that can be answered by one organizational entity, be it business, non-profit, or government.  It will require cooperation across sectors.

This is not a scathing criticism of the world today; but rather a reinforcement of what we are continuing to learn.  Across the United States, coalitions are being built to create ‘Hunger Free Communities’ that are able to analyze the specific contexts of their food systems, and develop inclusive responses to local hunger.  Internationally, initiatives such as Feed the Future, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, and the Rome-based Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition are supporting cross-sector collaboration to meet the food security needs of the world’s 850 million struggling individuals.  These initiatives seek to bolster civil society, increase cross-sector engagement, and open new channels between governments and their people.

The importance of communication within food systems is also taking a front-row seat in the food security conversation this year.  The World Food Day theme, developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, is focusing on the need for sustainable food systems, with the FAO in North America shining light on our own context.  My organization, The Alliance to End Hunger is similarly committed to propelling the need for cross-sector collaboration to end hunger.  At the World Food Prize, the Alliance is hosting a side event focusing on past successes and future potential of partnering across sectors, with executives form the National FFA, Lutheran World Relief, Foods Resource Bank, and Monsanto sharing their insights into the increasing importance of collaboration.  The Alliance is also planning to increase its efforts to help strengthen cross-sector collaboration in developing countries, and promote the voice of civil society in government agricultural and food security investment plans.

Efforts to end hunger around the world are having a real impact.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN recently released its Annual State of Food Security in the World report.  Since 2009, the number of chronically hungry individuals has dropped from over a billion to under 850 million.  While significant, this increase in food security is not affecting all regions and peoples equally.  If we are to reach the poorest of the poor, and raise the standard of living for the most vulnerable citizens in the world, we must enhance our communication efforts—linking the voices of those in need with the voices of those with the power to be heard.  The strengthening of communication within and between such coalitions, and across all sectors of society, will play a pivotal role in ending hunger in this century.


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