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Food Security: A Ripe Opportunity For The G8

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This piece is part of a series of blogs by leading NGOs to call attention to a range of issues that should be raised at the G8 summit at Camp David in rural Maryland from May 18-19.

The upcoming G8 summit gives world leaders an important opportunity to address some of the most urgent challenges that our world faces. Of these, one of the most pressing and complex is ensuring the future of our food supply while simultaneously improving environmental sustainability within our globally interconnected food system.

There is real promise that this year's G8 Summit will announce a new food security initiative. Depending on what it includes and the scope of its vision, such an initiative could lay the foundation for a new era of innovation, prosperity and sustainability in our food system -- something we desperately require.

In short, our window of opportunity to avert a humanitarian, environmental and climate crisis is rapidly closing. Currently, the global food system contributes 19 - 29 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and is seen as one of the main drivers of global climate change. There are currently 1 billion people hungry and in only 15 years' time, there will be 1 billion more mouths to feed. Ironically, there are also 1.5 billion overweight people in the world. Consumer food waste in the developed world can be considerable (30 percent in the UK, for instance) while in the developing world, an equal percentage (or more) can be lost during and after harvests due to poor pest control, inadequate storage facilities as well as lack of access to markets for selling crops.

These simple facts tell us that not only that we must redouble our efforts to increase our overall food production, but that we must do this with a smaller impact on the climate while promoting sustainable diets and uncovering new methods for efficient distribution and waste prevention.

Fixing our food system is indeed a colossal task, but there are huge opportunities for transformation, should global leaders take heed. Agriculture accounts for almost 40 percent of employment around the world, as well as 70 percent of water use, and covers more land that any other human enterprise. In addition, 95 percent of the world's farmers live in the developing world and produce the majority of the world's food. They are also among the most vulnerable to climate change shocks such as floods or drought. As such a vital part of the economy and of society, how can agriculture not be a top priority on the global political agenda?

A recent report by the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change recommended seven major strategies for creating a "safe space" for agriculture in the future. Specifically, these high-level scientists and economists encourage leaders to commit to policies and programs that prioritize sustainable agriculture that delivers food security, improved livelihoods, resilience to climate change and environmental co-benefits. Such programs should emphasize improving infrastructure and land rehabilitation and increasing knowledge of best farming practices as well as resilience to weather variability and shocks.

Specific examples include the development of "index-linked funds" that provide rapid relief when extreme weather events affect communities or further investment in agricultural research, both public and private as well as through public-private partnerships.

Back in 2009, G8 leaders in L'Aquila pledged U.S. $20 billion to boost food security, yet only 22 percent of these funds have been committed. The L'Aquila food security initiative resulted in strong but underfunded programs for the developing world. At this year's G8 meeting, world leaders have a opportunity to renew and extend their commitment to these goals and they must take it.

Transformation of our food system cannot be achieved through the efforts of a single government or organization; collaboration between governments, businesses, farmers and development agencies is key. This kind of collaboration will be on display at Agriculture and Rural Development Day, a meeting that will be convened in June in the lead up to the Rio+20 summit by a broad consortium of leading agricultural organizations where hundreds of people will gather to share examples of innovative farming practices and best ways forward.

It is of vital interest to every person on the planet to prioritize sustainable agriculture, and everyone -- producers, consumers, businesses, policy makers -- has a role to play. Yet G8 leadership is critical to set the example and to create the framework we need for a food-secure world.

Dr. Bruce Campbell is the Chair of Agriculture and Rural Development Day and Director of the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) He is based at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

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