Aiming at zero hunger: myth or reality?

By Charles Kwuelum

The second aim of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is zero hunger and malnutrition by 2030. This means that every individual would have enough healthy food for a productive life. Is this a fantasy or a realizable dream?

Progress has been made towards achieving the targets of the first set of Millennium Development Goals. But about 795 million people globally still face extreme hunger and malnutrition. Drought, violent conflicts, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity have stalled progress made by the international community.

The struggle against economic injustice in agricultural communities is key to achieving zero hunger. The G7 agricultural ministers’ declaration in Niigata, Japan in April 2016 called for revitalizing rural areas, thereby increasing farmers’ income, as well as improving sustainable agricultural production.

The declaration recognizes the vital roles played by the rural poor and marginalized. However, their ownership over lands has not necessarily been safeguarded. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, these individuals or families currently manage or run more than 90 percent of farms, producing 80 percent of the world’s food on 70-80 percent of farmland.

In eastern Congo, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has helped smallholder farmers who are hosting many people displaced from their homes by conflict start gardens. In East Africa and also in Zimbabwe’s rural Binga district, MCC supports education for small farmers on how to conserve moisture in the soil using mulch. This is one practice of conservation agriculture, an approach to helping increase crop yield and soil health that MCC and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank are promoting in projects around the world.

In central Burkina Faso, an MCC-supported agricultural project has helped small farmers in 42 villages by teaching methods of sustainable agriculture in cereal and rice production and also vegetable gardening. Farmers are able to harvest their crops and sell them as seed for planting, rather than as food. The change increased their income and enabled them to purchase agricultural tools to plant additional fields of beans, sesame plants and peanuts.

Supporting smallholder farmers such as these, including women and youth, is vital for addressing global hunger. According to a global food policy report, these groups often face constrained access to assets and markets and are at risk of exclusion from increasingly complex food value chains.

In order to achieve multiple Sustainable Development Goals, it is critical not only to maximize the potential of smallholder farmers, but also to ensure that countries integrate anti-poverty efforts along with reforms to agriculture and trade policies with the aim of benefiting all.

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