What’s the first step we have to take to feed the planet?
It has been made abundantly clear that we will need more food to feed the 9 billion people that we will be in 2050, but not only we will need more food, we will also need better food, more nutritious food, more sustainable food. The problem is that 85% of agriculture sector is represented by smallholder agriculture, i.e. farmers who own less than two hectares of land.
This is essentially a market of lonely poor farmers, which is not attractive for private sector players and investors, who prefer doing their business somewhere else. As a consequence, these farmers are affected by low access to credit, low access to markets and high environmental risks.
That’s why we believe that to feed the planet in a sustainable way we have to start investing in rural people, in order to increase their productivity and their revenues and to reduce poverty through rural development programs.
How can international institutions such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) support this process?
IFAD (a specialized agency of the United Nations) has been working to promote investments and projects for a long time. Our objectives now are to use public money to attract private sector to invest in smallholder agriculture and to reconcile short-term objectives, as the ones we face when we talk about poverty, with long-term ones, as the ones we face when we talk about sustainability.
Agriculture is, essentially, a private sector activity. It is crucial to integrate this sector in production chains and in agribusiness. Otherwise, we will never achieve a win-win situation with long-term sustainability targets.
What is the impact of climate change on food safety?
Climate change can potentially make our food system vulnerable towards issues in relation with the occurrence of contaminants, particularly of natural toxins. There is a great variety of different contaminants which can enter the food supply, and while pesticides are very well known, less known are so-called natural toxins or also mycotoxin.
Since climate change can have an impact on the production of mycotoxins, to ensure food safety it is important for us to know why some fungi produce toxins which enter the food supply and how can we actually make a food crop, for instance wheat or maize, fit to fight these toxins. There are some resistent plants which are able to detoxify the toxins in the plant: studying them is crucial to know which genes are responsible for the production of the toxins and which genes are responsible for the plant to detoxify these toxins.
How can these studies help ensuring food safety?
When we understand the entire biological system, then we can find the right strategies, like breeding techniques, to breed resistent plant genotypes which have a genetically based resistence against fungi production on the one hand and against mycotoxins production on the other hand.
Our research focuses very much on detection techniques, so before you find a strategy to fight mycotoxins you have to control mycotoxins and identify with novel analytical methods which contaminants produced by fungi are there. Once you know about this, then you can identify right strategies. Nowadays we are looking at the entire food chain to prevent fungal growth on the soil to breed resistent wheat or maize and to identify the right milling strategies and baking strategies to reduce mycotoxins in the food factory.
The Government of Nepal wants to amend its Food Safety Act to broaden the definition of food and define more types of malpractice in food trade. The changes in the law are being designed to control food adulteration and “other wrongdoings”.
A spokesman for the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC) said the changes will involve all types of edibles, but not tobacco or cosmetics. Nepal law currently defines adulteration as that involving food. The changes will add chemical residues, microbes and toxins to the adulteration category.
Government action will also come faster with the changes. Currently, DFTQC can only file violations. Under new laws fines will be increase by about 20 times current rates.
Nepal’s existing food act was written in 1967. It establishes four areas where misconduct could be found: selling contaminated food, selling sub-standard products, running a food business without a license and receiving compensation payments.
Food Safety News, 28 June 2016 – www.foodsafetynews.com
Read more: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2016/06/first-update-to-food-safety-law-since-1967-in-nepal/#.V3Ul51ey_8l
What role can European food research play in meeting the feeding the planet challenge?
First of all I have to say that the food sector in Europe has to change. If we really want to feed the world, as we all would like to do, and if we want to do it sustainably, that comes with a lot of challenges and all these challenges are basically music to the ears of scientists. They should therefore interpret these challenges because we need to find new ways of protecting crops, we need to find new ways of improving the agricultural production systems, making them more sustainable, making them more robust and resilient.
What is the first step we have to take?
We have to close cycles in nitrogen, in fresh water, in phosphate and much more. There is a treasure chest of challenges for food and agricultural research in Europe and the only thing I can say now is let’s get it started. Let’s start collecting what we have and implementing it and building on that to take the next step in the challenges that we face.
Haiti has about 3.6 million food insecure people, including 1.5 million in critical situations. The food aid program implemented by France, aims to strengthen local production and to support the national school feeding policy.
In order to guarantee income for Haitian farmers, France has been the first partner of Haiti to allocate all of its food aid credits to a program of purchases of local products. More than 12,000 tons of local products have been purchased from 7,500 small Haitian producers between 2005 and 2015, 11,985 tons of cereals (rice and ground corn) and 55 tonnes of pulses (beans and pigeon peas).
This strategy has contributed effectively to the development of a national policy of purchasing of local agricultural products and a school feeding policy, respectively controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development and the Ministry of National Education.
Haiti Libre, 14 June 2016 – www.haitilibre.com
Read more: www.haitilibre.com/en/news-17733-haiti-humanitarian-france-improves-food-security-in-schools.html
How is China addressing the food sustainability issue and what role are research and innovation playing in this process?
In the next five years in China the innovation, genetic ad productivity improvements will be emphasized to increase yields instead of the use of land and water. Moreover, we will be working to improve food quality instead of quantity to make consumers confident in the use of domestic food as well. These are our main prioirites as far as research and innovation are concerned.
The World Food Research and Innovation Forum is working to promote international cooperation to meet the Feeding the planet challenge. What is the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences doing as far as international cooperation is concerned?
We are working with several Institutions all over the world and we are working to strengthen international cooperation in science, technology and research in several ways. First of all we are building up some joint labs with international institutions. Second, we are exchanging some young talents. Third, we are joining international programs with our Centers. Last, but not least, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences is home to science and technology innovation programs, some of which are open to international cooperation.
Bioenergy development and food security can be simultaneously improved, contrary to the popular belief that biofuels displace food crops, according to a report released by an international, multidisciplinary team of experts from 10 institutions, with prof. dr. Joy Clancy of the University of Twente as one of the co-authors.
“Reconciling Food Security and Bioenergy: Priorities for Action” identifies science-based steps to ensure that biofuels, food crops and natural resources can be managed sustainably together. The report, published in the journal Global Change Biology – Bioenergy, was coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
The recommendations include increasing production of “flex-crops” that can provide fuel, food and other services; working with local populations to assure benefits target the right people; diversifying crops, land cover, and product markets to increase resilience against external forces; and ongoing education and analysis.
Phys.org, 21 June 2016 – www.phys.org
Read more: http://phys.org/news/2016-06-bioenergy-food-sustainable.html
What are we doing to promote sustainable agriculture in the developing countries?
As far as sustainable agriculture is concerned, the European Union has a constant attention for the emerging countries. We see it back in bilateral projects, for example with India and China. We see it back in projects all around the Mediterranean area, with the North African countries. And we also see it back in general for specific topics addressing sustainable agriculture in Africa.
How can the European Union further support this process?
The question for me is back to the Commission and is: would it be wise to regroup activities in a kind of forum with the emerging countries and to do it not only in a kind of project forum, but also a kind of program forum where we follow the impact of our projects and where we are able to monitor in an objective way what we have realized and what we have set? I’m thinking about a kind of Governing Council which could be potentially related to the World Food Research and Innovation Forum, involving not only the European Commission but also the emerging countries in a kind of co-construction. If we do that, I think we can have much more impact on the development than we currently are.