News  Third annual McGill global food security conference

Tuesday: Global prospects
Last Tuesday, October 19, McGill hosted a Public Lecture Forum as part of its Third Annual Conference on Global Food Security. The event featured David Nabarro, the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition and Beverly Oda, the Canadian Minister for International Relations. The forum also marked the official launch of the McGill Institute for Global Food Security.

Daniel Jutras, Dean of the Faculty of Law, began the conference by welcoming the establishment of the new institute that would help tackle “one of the key dimensions of our collective future.”

Nabarro was “delighted that McGill is taking leadership on an issue of such importance,” adding that “we can’t move forward on food security without the combination of natural and social science research.”

He said food security should encapsulate not only universal access but also “access to nutritional food within a sustainable environment.” Because of this, any approach will require governments and communities to come together in a manner that is interdisciplinary. He continuously emphasized the importance of trade but stated that community and small stakeholder involvement is integral to any sustainable approach. “[This] approach,” he said, “puts people at the centre, not production.”

Oda discussed the Canadian International Development Assoc-iation’s (CIDA) belief that women are key when discussing food security. “Women are the guardians to nutrition,” she said. “Small farmers are the backbone of the rural economy and the majority of these farmers are women.”

Food Security is at the heart of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG). “Unless we make sure that people, and not production, are placed at the centre of our goals, we risk a very embarrassing miss come the MDG 2015 deadline,” said Nabarro.

McGill hopes that its new institute will be well placed to help bring an end to food insecurity worldwide.

—Stephen Eldon Kerr and Rachel Reichel

Wednesday: Water management
One of Wednesday’s panel discussions included representatives from Indian, Chinese, and Costa Rican institutions. The question and answer period was sometimes tense because of the disagreement that members of the audience had with India and China’s practices regarding water management.

M. Gopalakrishnan, Secretary General of the Indian International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage started off the talks by explaining the current and future situation of India.

“Extreme conditions are becoming a yearly phenomenon,” said Gopalakrishnan. “India has to learn to live with water scarcity.” he maintained that 27 per cent of the world’s undernourished are Indians, and that thus far government intervention has failed to redistribute wealth to the rural poor. However, he concluded that India may see sustainability of food production and water management by learning from “success stories.”

Zhanyi Gao, director of China’s National Centre for Efficient Irrigation Technology Research, talked about how China will respond to its foreseeable problems, involving mostly technological innovations – like building thousands of reservoirs and implementing drip irrigation systems. For China, it will be a difficult task to manage demand for food and water, as China’s population will reach 1.5 billion by 2030. With rapid development of urbanization, and there will be an increase in water competition between industry, domestic use, and agriculture.

José Joaquín Campos, the Director General of the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center in Costa Rica viewed socio-ecological rural systems not as problems of technology, as the two previous speakers had done, but as “interconnected, complex, and dynamic.” Campos stated that “both social and ecological resilience is key for local and sustainable development, [since] seventy per cent of poor live in rural areas.” Campos also stressed the importance of social responsibility and equity, which could be achieved through local “collective action.”

In the question and answer session, one audience member questioned China’s research in food diversity and resilience. Another doubted that China could solve its problems through its increase in damming and water reservoirs, especially because global warming will make such water storage facilities unsustainable because of increased evaporation.

— Aaron Vansintjan

Thursday: Response of international agencies
Day three of the conference brought together four representatives from various international development agencies. They evaluated the different strategies used to deal with the 2008 food price crisis, and highlighted future areas of focus for improving agricultural productivity.

The panel acknowledged the importance of empowering small-scale agriculturalists, who are responsible for eighty per cent of the food production in developing countries, yet constitute fifty per cent of the worlds malnourished people.

The panel suggested helping these farmers to expand their enterprises by improving market access and scaling up their businesses. The panel said that because the world faces unprecedented population growth and a subsequent strain on global food resources, there was even more urgency to help small-scale farmers.

Rebekah Young, from the Canadian Department of Finance, cited innovative technologies as a means of accomplishing this, charging the private sector with the responsibility of funding research and development initiatives.

Meanwhile, Cheryl Morden of the International Fund of Agricultural Development (IFAD) discussed tailoring agricultural solutions to the specific ecological and economic needs of small-scale agriculturalists. Calling the population “a huge untapped potential for meeting the increasing global demand for food fuel and fibre,” she advocated for their direct involvement in the planning, development and decision-making processes, as well as the increased involvement of traditionally marginalized groups, namely women, youth ,and indigenous peoples.

The need for sustainability in any proposed solution was also heavily emphasized, despite the fact that governments tend to favour short-term solutions with immediately tangible results.

“Everyone wants results; not because they’re perverse, but because they’re out of business themselves if they can’t show results,” said Carlos Delgado, Strategy and Policy Adviser for the Agriculture and Rural Development Department of the World Bank.

Florence Rolle of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) proposed a combination of short-term solutions, directed at consumers, and long-term solutions. She gave the example of Ethiopia, where immediate government responses such as subsidies were paired with time-intensive solutions, such as the preparation of a five-year development plan.

—Nouran Sedaghat