Experts Call For Global Agriculture Reform To Ensure Food Security As Two Rice Conferences Open

Experts attending the International Rice Congress in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Tuesday called for imminent action to change inefficient farming methods and expand the global rice supply “in order to prevent rising poverty and hunger,” Agence France-Presse reports (11/9).

The meeting is running parallel to another conference also dealing with rice this week. The two conferences – which have brought together more than 1,300 scientists, policymakers and traders from close to 70 countries – shared an opening ceremony in Hanoi on Tuesday, Reuters reports (Minh, 11/9).

“We must take action now, not next week, not next month, not next year, but today,” said Kanayo Nwanze, president of the U.N.’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, AFP writes. “Projected demands for rice will outstrip supply in the near to medium term unless something is done to reverse current trends,” according to Robert Zeigler of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The trends include “slow productivity growth and inefficient, often unsustainable management of natural resources,” he explained (11/9).  

In a keynote speech at the opening ceremony, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung discussed food security challenges and Vietnam’s rice production capability, Xinhua/People’s Daily Online reports (11/9). The country is the world’s second-biggest rice exporter, behind Thailand, Dung said, AFP writes (11/9). 

Dung said international efforts over the past few decades have helped boost world rice production. But food production in Vietnam is an ongoing challenge because of climate change, natural disasters, epidemics, low investments in agriculture and the emerging trend of using food to produce bio-fuel, he said. Dung added that agriculture trade barriers also prevent some of the world’s poorest people from having enough to eat (11/9).

“The Vietnamese government has identified that ensuring long-term national food security under any circumstance is essential for the country’s socio-economic development,” Dung told conference delegates, Reuters reports. Cao Duc Phat, Vietnam’s minister of agriculture, also “said Vietnam still needed to do more as countries seek to increase global food production by 70 percent and to double food production in developing countries by 2050 to feed fast-growing populations,” according to Reuters (11/9).

McClatchy, IPS Examine How Vitamin Rich Crops Could Tackle Malnutrition As Biofortification Conference Kicks Off

“Agricultural researchers and nutrition and health experts from around the world have gathered in Washington this week for a conference on the benefits of adding essential vitamin A, zinc and iron to ordinary foods such as sweet potatoes, corn, wheat and rice in a process known as biofortification,” McClatchy writes of the First Global Conference on Biofortification (Schoof, 11/9).

The conference, taking place November 9-11, “is organized by HarvestPlus, a global program dedicated to breeding more nutritious staple crops to improve nutrition in developing countries. HarvestPlus works with more than 200 agricultural and nutrition scientists in more than 40 countries,” according to a press release (11/9).

To illustrate the work HarvestPlus does, McClatchy looks at the orange sweet potato, the organization’s first vitamin-enriched food to hit the marketplace. “Traditional African sweet potatoes are red outside and white inside. They’re not a source of beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Experts estimate that vitamin A deficiency blinds 500,000 preschool children globally each year, and that about two-thirds of them die within months of going blind because the deficiency destroys their immune system and makes them vulnerable to diseases,” according to the news service (11/9).

Inter Press Service also reports on the group’s work. “Research on an orange sweet potato began in the mid-1990s. … [HarvestPlus] set clear objectives for the breeders: increase the level of provitamin A in the sweet potato depended on by people in East African countries by 1,500 percent. In 2007, they released the tuber in Uganda amidst a complementary advertising campaign meant to spread the message that orange equals healthy and that people should choose to plant the orange variety. They saw some nutritional impacts on people’s health in 18 months” (Berger, 11/9).

Ambassador William Garvelink, Feed the Future Deputy Coordinator for Development, spoke at the conference on Tuesday, according to a USAID transcript. Garvelink discussed Feed the Future as well as President Barack Obama’s development policy announced in September. Garvelink said, “If there is one thing I want you to remember from my speech today it is this: the momentum to link agriculture, research and nutrition across programs is greater than ever before. We must capitalize on this energy. The time has come for us to channel the powers of modern agricultural technology to reduce the single largest public health problem in the world: malnutrition” (11/9).

Meeting Addresses Links Between Hunger, HIV

A three-day meeting in South Africa, which concludes on Thursday, brings together policymakers, researchers, development experts and practitioners “to discuss critical links between HIV/AIDS, agriculture, hunger and malnutrition in Africa,” the Daily Monitor writes. The meeting – which is organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Regional Network on AIDS, Livelihoods and Food Security (RENEWAL) – aims “to identify opportunities to generate a truly multisectoral response to AIDS epidemics and ensure the food security of individuals and households facing their many effects,” according to the Daily Monitor (Nakaweesi, 11/10).

A research study released by RENEWAL, showed “that AIDS and other chronic illnesses accounted for close to 13 percent of agricultural staff deaths from 2002-2007, robbing extension agencies of their valuable workforce and reducing their effectiveness,” PANA/Afrique en ligne reports. According to the research, the Zambian government lost an average of 12 years of investment and training when an agriculture worker in “the prime of his career” died (11/10).

In a statement, Scott Drimie, an IFPRI research fellow and RENEWAL coordinator, said: “Agriculture is the backbone of most African economies and the main source of livelihood for people affected by HIV.” He continued, “Yet the AIDS epidemic in the region has seriously diminished human capacity and financial resources of many agricultural extension departments, reducing farmers’ access to agricultural technologies and information that could improve their crop yields and income,” the Daily Monitor writes (11/10).

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