Who Will Feed the World?

The production challenge

Publication date: 26 April 2011
Author: Lucia Wegner (Senior development economist and independent consultant) and Gine Zwart (Senior policy advisor, Oxfam Novib)

This report focuses on the production challenge contained with the ambitious question of “Who will feed the world?” It acknowledges that this is just one part of the solution to feeding the world, along with waste management; (inter)national trade regimes; (inter)national rules, regulations and laws; the policies and practices of companies; etc.

The results of the report shows that policy matters more than geography and history when it comes to agricultural production and that unless strong regulation is in place to secure property rights, discipline land acquisition, and ensure transparent and participatory negotiations, adverse social and environmental effects will outweigh the benefits of large-scale agriculture. The need for investment in technology, infrastructure, market access, and institutions suggests that private investment could contribute in many ways which do not involve large-scale land acquisitions. On the contrary, a variety of institutional arrangements could be used to combine the assets of investors with those of local communities and small-holder farmers.

A four-pronged approach is argued for in this report: a mix of large- and small-scale, and Low External Input and High External Input production methods. There are pros and cons in each approach, and the conditions for success or failure are very context-specific and contingent on a country’s institutions, tenure, policy, culture, and demographic considerations. The main conclusion is that whatever mix of the four-pronged approach is adopted, major commitment and investment by governments, development agencies, and private-sector actors, to reverse the trend of the last 20 years, will be essential to achieving sustained agricultural growth and to making a major dent in the levels of poverty and hunger.

Key recommendations

  • Develop a country-led long-term vision where technologies and institutional innovations are tailored to the local context and involve broad consultations among the large number of players involved.
  • In developing countries, supporting small-scale farmers would provide the greatest impact in terms of income creation and food security, in particular when associated with LEI agriculture methods. Adopting sustainable farming methods would also be crucial to improving productivity while conserving the natural resource base and responding to climate-change challenges
  • There is a need for renewed commitments by governments and international donors to ensure that food availability and accessibility keep pace with population growth, while enhancing resilience and achieving sustainability. National and international donor agriculture policies must: support subsistence farmers to cope with risks and vulnerability; empower smallholder farmers, especially women, with capacity, finance, and a regulatory framework that encourages organisation and enhances productivity; regulate agro-industrial operations to enhance social benefits and good environmental stewardship; and promote synergies between small-holder and agro-industrial operations, building on complementarities and linkages wherever possible.
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