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Can science help improve food security?

September 23rd, 2014 | by MuslimScience
Can science help improve food security?
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by Lazarus Sauti    

This humble pen picked from Jan Piotrowski, specialist in science and technology issues, says food security is an issue that touches all aspects of the sustainable development agenda, from agriculture and environmental management to economics, governance and social equality.

He also stresses that food security is a challenge with no simple solution.

True to Piotrowski’s assertions, it is estimated that the world’s population will reach around nine billion by 2050, and as a result, demand for food is going to increase.

For that reason, the Southern African Development Community is not spared by this population growth, and would need to increase crop production since it has the greatest potential to feed this projected population.

Sadly, while the world population is growing, the amount of available cropland, fresh water and other key resources is not. The number of undernourished people, for instance, already exceeds one billion.

Providing solution to these and other pending challenges demands answers to these all-important question: “How do we feed the world without exacerbating environmental problems and simultaneously cope with climate change? How can the SADC region ensure everyone has access to enough safe and nutritious food? Can science help to improve food security in the regional bloc?”

British biochemist, Professor Douglas Kell, acknowledges that food security is a complex and wide-ranging challenge but science can play an important role in improving it. “New science, new genetics, genomics, genome sequencing, modern plant breeding techniques – all of these improve all aspects of sustainable food production,” says Kell.

Sharing same sentiments, the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, says science is an essential contributor to solving the triangle of the global problems of hunger, poverty and environmental degradation.

“Without sound scientific input of different kinds, the challenges will not be addressed. Science, including the biological sciences and increasingly the social and physical sciences, must be applied to agriculture, fisheries, and forestry, and to those rural, coastal, and urban ecosystems and human systems within which hunger and poverty persist,” asserts FAO.

A researcher in plant sciences, Professor Dale Sanders, is of the view that science, especially plant science offers new ways to “sustainably increase crop yields, while at the same time reducing inputs such as fertiliser and pesticides.”

Further to that, Dr Achim Dobermann, soil scientist and agronomist, believes science is key in increasing food security, but so are policies and strategies. “Science can offer tools and strategies that are critical in increasing food security; science programmes for crop improvement are essential for future food security but policies must change, too,” says Dobermann.

However, not everyone supports the idea that increasing yields through scientific advance will deliver food security.

Tim Lang, an expert in food policy, says just focusing on the role science can play in increasing food production is ‘nonsense’.

“I belong to a school of analysis that says the problem of food security is not just scientific or technical, but the problem is societal, cultural and economic. This appeal that only science will resolve the food problem is, therefore, folly. It is bad policy,” he says.

Accordingly, Professor Lang calls for a greater focus on the social dimension of food policy – behaviour, consumption, expectations. “Policies should encourage farmers to adopt alternative strategies, and must be reformed to stimulate innovation, and access to new technologies,” he adds.

This means policy makers in countries within and across the SADC region must support research that improves lives and livelihoods of citizens. They need to focus on cutting edge technologies and state-of-the-art developments to guide the regional bloc to solutions in challenging areas.

However, in most – if not all – SADC countries, the ‘extension’ systems that bridge the gap between laboratories and farmers’ fields are often weak, forming major obstacles to the diffusion of scientific knowledge.

Therefore, governments, policy decision makers and other critical stakeholders must work to avert this challenge.

They simply need to collaborate across disciplines and across borders as science, to improve food security, needs more development.

Honestly, with proper planning, science can help improve food security not only in the SADC region but in the entire world. SADC countries must, therefore, harness the best technologies, building the required infrastructure, developing effective institutions and crafting appropriate policies with a view to realising the full potential of the region’s agrifood systems to contribute to broad-based economic growth.

 

Source: The Southern Times