Ensuring food security: Key resources

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From nutrition to gender issues, Michael Hoevel scans the best online resources relating to food security.
Addressing food security requires looking at multiple phenomena simultaneously — from hunger, livelihoods and nutrition to climate change, gender and market access. The resources below provide experience, information and recommendations from a range of experts around the world.

Food security and agriculture

The three UN agencies dealing with food and agriculture issues have some great resources on food security. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has condensed relevant statistics on its Hunger Portal, as well as in its yearly State of Food Insecurity in the World reports, produced with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP). The Trade and Environment Review 2013, published by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), looks in detail at the relationship between purchasing power and food insecurity, among other issues, including sustainable resource management and climate change adaptation. For future food security projections and trends, see the FAO’s World Agriculture: Toward 2030/2050 report.

In the run-up to this year’s G8 summit, the Irish government hosted a conference on the connections between climate change, hunger and nutrition, and produced a helpful outcome document calling for greater participation to policy processes by those affected by climate change. The UK government, in its role as chair of the G8 summit, partnered with Brazil and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation in June 2013 to host a conference on Nutrition for Growth, the website of which has a series of useful resources and media links.

Many think tanks and research organisations provide compelling insights through their work. The CGIAR consortium oversees global agricultural research via programmes that cut across disciplines, which are run by its 15 research centres. These centres include the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), whose Food Security Portal compiles relevant data, news and tools for food price analysis. The Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) initiative managed by IFPRI, compiles, analyses and publicises data on institutional developments, investments and capacity in agricultural research and development. 

The CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security has created an online resource, Big Facts, with calls to action, visuals, statistics and references on topics related to climate change and food security. A 2012 Montpellier Panel report, Growth with Resilience: Opportunities for African Agriculture, looks broadly at agriculture’s role in supporting green growth, food and nutrition security, ecosystem services and climate change mitigation and adaptation, among other topics.

Other organisations of note include:

ONE — a campaigning organisation that advocates for further investment in agriculture to fight poverty 
> the Meridian Institute  — a US-based non-profit organisation that convenes agricultural groups to address agricultural policy issues through its agriculture and food security programme
> the International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council (IPC) — an organisation that promotes the role of trade in creating more sustainable agricultural systems, whose policy briefs cover a wide range of global agricultural trade issues
Future Earth — a 10-year global consortium looking at agriculture as part of a broader system of challenges to be addressed through science and technology
> the Chicago Council on Global Affairs — an international policy organisation and a major influence on US policy for agricultural development
> Oxfam’s Grow.Sell.Thrive. website — an information portal and chat forum on market-systems approaches to food security, gender and smallholder livelihoods

Hunger and nutrition

The UK Government’s Foresight programme report on global food and farming has a dedicated chapter on hunger. Comprehensive books on the subject include Sir Gordon Conway’s One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World? and its fast-moving blog, which looks at the causes of hunger and phenomena such as climate change, gender and market access. Calestous Juma’s book The New Harvest focuses on the role of science, technology and leadership in transforming African agriculture.

For a more ethnographic take on hunger, Roger Thurow’s book The Last Hunger Season documents a year in the life of four Kenyan smallholder farms transitioning from food insecurity to security through better access to credit, extension and inputs offered by NGO One Acre Fund. And Benny Dembitzer’s The Attack on World Poverty is an overview of the links between food, global poverty and nutritional insecurity.

For a comprehensive overview of global and regional programmes on food security and nutrition, the coalition of agricultural development organisations Farming First has created an online directory of food and nutrition security initiatives, which also links to each initiative for more information. Farming First also publishes an infographic on the story of agriculture and the green economy, and the Farming First TV channel of expert interviews on the subject.

IFPRI’s 2013 Global Hunger Index measures national, regional, and global hunger based on three indicators, making recommendations focusing on resilience. The Scaling Up Nutrition website is a global multi-stakeholder movement to mobilise policies and funding to deliver improved nutrition. A 2011 Montpellier Panel briefing paper gives a short overview of the movement and the evidence base that supports it.

A recent scientific review by the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) and the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) documents the scope for fertilising crops with micronutrients to improve nutrition and health, a relatively novel approach with particularly strong results for certain micronutrients, crops and regions, for example zinc fortification of wheat crops in Turkey.

Market access

A 2011 report from the FAO High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) outlines the threat that price volatility poses for food security and how it can be addressed through trade and policy instruments. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs 2103 report Advancing Global Food Security: The Power of Science, Trade, and Business urges the US government to focus its global food security strategy on prioritising science, increasing global trade flows for agriculture and food, and incentivising greater agricultural business activity in low-income countries. Another report from the UK-based Overseas Development Institute and the London-based advocacy initiative Agriculture for Impact, Leaping & Learning: Linking Smallholders to Markets, offers a comprehensive review of efforts to help African farmers access markets for agricultural inputs, such as fertilisers.

The website from the 'Making the Connection' conference, organised last year by several international organisations, hosts comprehensive information on agricultural value chains for smallholders. And a guide [check link website was down 7/11/13] prepared by the German aid agency GIZ outlines how to help farmers engage with value chains.

The proliferation of mobile phones and other communication technologies (ICTs) could potentially improve future food security by improving the affordable and reliable collection of data and provision of services. A 2011 report by Vodafone and management and technology consultants Accenture looks at the role of mobile phones in driving efficiency and sustainability in the food and agriculture value chain. And a recent report by the financial services company Rabobank focuses on the contribution ICTs make to improving food security.

Gender issues in farming

The 2010-11 Women in Agriculture Closing the Gender Gap for Development report from the FAO is arguably the most comprehensive on the subject, and is the basis for the ‘Female Face of Farming’ infographic co-produced with Farming First. 

The 2010 Chicago Council’s Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies report and the Montpellier Panel briefing paper Women in African Agriculture: Farmers, Mothers, Innovators and Educators also outline the gender gap in agriculture and offer recommendations for how to bridge it. The fellowship programme African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) maintains a resources list containing academic literature on gender-sensitive approaches to agricultural research and development.

Food waste

The FAO’s 2011 report Global Food Losses and Food Waste is a comprehensive review of the extent of the problem, its causes and prevention measures. Tristram Stuart’s book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal also discusses this challenge, from a consumer’s point of view, and his blog lists key facts. The website Food Waste News provides news, videos, facts and infographics on food waste.

The 2011 World Bank-led report Missing Food: The Case of Postharvest Grain Losses in Sub-Saharan Africa examines the scale of the food waste problem on this continent and technologies available to tackle it. The African Postharvest Losses Information System (APHLIS) has tables and maps of losses, and reviews and guidance on quality maintenance and loss reduction. For Central America the SDC Agriculture and Food Security Network programme POSTCOSECHA provides similar information and recommendations on technologies and training to address losses.

In 2014, the High Level Panel of Experts of the FAO's Committee on World Food Security will present a comprehensive review of post-harvest losses, the proposed scope of which is here.

Michael Hoevel is the former deputy director of Agriculture for Impact at Imperial College London and continues to consult for organisations working in the agricultural sector. He can be contacted at m[email protected]

This article is part of the Spotlight on Ensuring food security for the future.