The fight against hunger is at an "inflection point" today and supporting family farmers is critical to its success, FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva told British lawmakers late Monday.
"The main cause of hunger nowadays is not the lack of food, but the lack of access to it," he said in an address to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development.
It's a paradox that family farmers - those who produce most of the world's food - are the most at risk of food insecurity. Graziano da Silva called for greater awareness and support of the worsening predicament such people - many of whom live in rural areas of developing countries and "barely manage to survive" - face as a result of climate change and, increasingly often, civil conflict.
Investments to help them improve their own productivity and use of natural resources are essential, he said, noting that many households in developing countries are unable to afford investments to boosting their resilience, such as introducing water-conserving drip irrigation schemes.
"It is a two-way street: Family farmers need our assistance, but we also need family farmers to be part of the sustainable and food-secure future we all want," he said.
That's especially true as industrial farming techniques are stretching their natural limits, and while they did contribute to a 40 percent increase in per-capita food output since the 1960s, hunger has not been eradicated. Around 815 million people chronically undernourished last year, even though the world produces enough food to feed everyone.
Food system challenges today relate to greenhouse gas emissions, economic distribution and growing incidence of obesity and overweight, and such concerns need to be tackled with farmers in mind, he said.
Integrated social protection
Social protection programmes for vulnerable rural family farmers are also necessary and offer a chance to reap systemic gains, Graziano da Silva told the Members of Parliament, pointing to Brazil's success in linking cash transfers to households who keep their kids enrolled at school. This is complemented in turn by laws that require local food procurement for school feeding programmes, a scheme which enhances market outlets for smallholders while also improving nutrition outcomes.
FAO, together with the World Food Program, the Government of Brazil and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, has been working to roll out local variants of Brazil's scheme in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger and Senegal, he added.
The role of legislatures
As parliamentarians enact laws and approve budgets, they have a major contribution to make to food security and nutrition, which are public issues that need good governance as well as specific norms and legislation, Graziano da Silva said.
"Where public policies and programs are anchored in appropriate legislation, the indicators on malnutrition improve significantly," he noted.
FAO has been actively supporting the creation of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger and Malnutrition for almost a decade, and a new alliance was recently established in Japan to accompany existing ones in Latin America, Africa and also in the European Parliament.
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