Wednesday was the Worldwatch Institute's 15th Annual State of the World Symposium, hosted at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. Bringing together leading thinkers in agricultural development, hunger, and poverty alleviation, the symposium took place following the release of Worldwatch's flagship publication, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.
Symposium keynote speakers and panelists included Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World; Hans Herren, President, Millennium Institute; Sara Scherr, President and CEO, Ecoagriculture Partners; Catherine Alston, Cocoa Livelihoods Program Coordinator, World Cocoa Foundation; and Stephanie Hanson, Director of Policy and Outreach, One Acre Fund.
Also participating, in keeping with the project's emphasis on 'voices from the field,' were two on-the-ground innovators from sub-Saharan Africa: Edward Mukiibi, co-founder and Project Coordinator of Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) in Uganda and Sithembile Ndema with the Food and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) in South Africa. The DISC project instills greater environmental awareness and understanding of nutrition, indigenous vegetables, and food culture in Uganda's youth by establishing vegetable gardens at pre-school, day, and boarding schools. FANRPAN's Women Accessing Realigned Markets (WARM) project recently launched a series of Theatre for Policy Advocacy (TPA) campaigns in rural Malawi, using an interactive model to strengthen the ability of women farmers to advocate for appropriate agricultural policies and programs.
State of the World 2011 is full of similar stories of success and hope in sustainable agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. The report draws from hundreds of case studies and first-person examples to offer solutions to reducing hunger and poverty. It's nearly a half-century since the Green Revolution, and yet a large share of the human family is still chronically hungry. Since the mid 1980s when agricultural funding was at its height, the share of global development aid has fallen from over 16 percent to just 4 percent today. Drawing from the world's leading agricultural experts and from hundreds of innovations that are already working on the ground, State of the World 2011 aims to help the funding and development community reverse this trend.
In Kibera, Nairobi, the largest slum in Kenya, for example, more than 1,000 women farmers are growing "vertical" gardens in sacks full of dirt poked with holes, feeding their families and communities. These sacks have the potential to feed thousands of city dwellers while also providing a sustainable and easy-to-maintain source of income for urban farmers. With more than 60 percent of Africa's population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, such methods may be crucial to creating future food security. Currently, some 33 percent of Africans live in cities, and 14 million more migrate to urban areas each year. Worldwide, some 800 million people engage in urban agriculture, producing 15-20 percent of all food.
In 2007, some 6,000 women in The Gambia organized into the TRY Women's Oyster Harvesting producer association, creating a sustainable co-management plan for the local oyster fishery to prevent overharvesting and exploitation. Oysters and fish are an important, low-cost source of protein for the population, but current production levels have led to environmental degradation and to harmful land use changes over the last 30 years. The government is working with groups like TRY to promote less destructive methods and to expand credit facilities to low-income producers to stimulate investment in more-sustainable production.
State of the World 2011 provides new insight into the often overlooked innovations that are working right now on the ground to alleviate hunger and deserve more funding and attention. Its findings will be shared in over 20 languages with a wide range of global agricultural stakeholders, including government ministries, policymakers, farmer and community networks, and the increasingly influential nongovernmental environmental and development communities.
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