The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragilities in our agri-food systems and the inequalities in our societies, driving further increases in world hunger and severe food insecurity. Up to 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021, an increase of 150 million from 2019.
We need more integrated and holistic systems-oriented solutions to put us back on track to ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition, to protect our planet and to reduce poverty, inequality and inequity that are endemic to our current agri-food systems. Producing more with less has never been so imperative.
We are not on track to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 and revolves around 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Worryingly, only seven planting seasons remain until 2030.
The Strategic Framework 2022-2031 of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is focused on supporting the achievement of the SDGs through the transformation to more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems. FAO has been assisting countries in identifying options and solutions to increase productivity and save on external resources.
The world needs to produce more with less, with more quantity, higher quality and more food diversity, but with less inputs and less impacts on the environment. The only solution is science and innovation, enabling policies and increased investment.
We are witnessing a revolution in science and technology that is moving at an incredible speed. For example, genetic improvement of crops and livestock, innovations in breeding methods and gene-editing technologies offer significant potential to develop crop tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses, and resistance to pests and disease.
Precision agriculture covers a range of technologies that generate and analyse data to help farmers understand how much water and fertiliser they need and when. Using algorithms that combine information from satellite imagery, drone footage, weather forecasts and data from sensors in the soil, farmers can understand day by day and field by field how their crops are doing and what inputs they need and when.
Technology and innovations in remote sensing and satellite information, for example, offer strategic opportunities to provide early warning to governments, farmers and other value chain actors to help them better adapt to threats and crises. Data science is changing the way policymakers, agricultural professionals and farmers make decisions. For example, a mobile phone is also a new and effective farming tool in the hands of modern farmers.
Data science is changing the way policymakers, agricultural professionals and farmers make decisions
But we need to invest more in agricultural research for development, especially in low- and lower-middle-income countries where for around every €100 of agricultural GDP, only between 34 and 72 cents are being spent on agricultural research and development.
Equally, governments must upgrade technological infrastructure, increase levels of literacy and skills, improve access to services, reduce the costs of technology and strengthen regulatory frameworks to ensure that smallholder farmers benefit from the use of appropriate technologies and innovations.
Lastly, to reach impact at scale, governments must develop new and transformative partnerships, including with the private sector and civil society, and place science firmly at the centre of their decisions and actions so that we end hunger once and for all, leaving no one behind.