“Can we sustainably feed the 9 to 10 billion people in our planet in 30 years?” asked Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation. “This question becomes even more challenging with two current game-changers – conflict and climate change.”

Quinn recently spoke at the Borlaug Dialogue and awarding of the 2019 World Food Prize, held in Des Moines. The event showed how global focus has shifted in the past few years from food to food systems. Those systems involve health and nutrition.

Bram Govaerts, director of the integrated-development program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, said, “We need an integrated agri-food system approach for food security, nutrition, nature conservation and human security.”

Speakers at the Borlaug Dialogue said that to meet current challenges of nutrition and climate change, transformation of the global food system is necessary. The speakers highlighted several areas that must be considered in the transformation.

Food security needed

The theme of the 2019 Borlaug Dialogue was “Pax Agricultura: Peace through agriculture.” Speakers addressed the interconnected issues of food security, conflict and development. In a keynote address, Mark Green, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, issued a call to action “to take on the food and economic insecurity issues emerging from this era’s unprecedented levels of displacement and forced migration.”

Ambassadors, ministers and development experts gave examples of the interdependence of agriculture and peace, how droughts and floods could create conflict in a country, and how peace can be rebuilt through agriculture.

“Agriculture could root out the insurgency better than anything we did,” said Quinn about the Khmer Rouge surrender in Cambodia where he had served as an ambassador.

Geraldine Mukeshimana, minister of Rwanda’s Agriculture and Animal Resources, said more than 1 million people died in 100 days during the 1994 genocide in her country. All policies in rebuilding Rwanda are now centered on agriculture, she said.

“Almost no country has come out of poverty without an agricultural transformation,” said Rodger Voorhies, president of global growth and opportunity at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In another keynote speech Víctor Villalobos, Mexico’s secretary of agriculture and rural development, spoke about the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, the MasAgro project and the need to improve food systems and agriculture to fight violence and forced migration.

“Agriculture, prosperity and peace are inextricably linked together,” he said.

Technological innovations must work 

The Borlaug Dialogue featured panelists who discussed the issue of food security in the next decade. They discussed technologies about which they’re most excited – data, gene editing, synthetic biology, data science and precision farming.

“We must have mechanization,” said Josephine Okot, managing-director of Victoria Seeds Limited. “The fact that Ugandan women farmers still rely on hand tools is a disgrace to humanity.”

The Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security organized a session where panelists discussed how to realize a transformation in food systems through next-generation technologies. They addressed the role regulatory frameworks and policies play in the adoption of new technologies. Making innovations work is about more than developing a product.

“It takes a lot more than just a good seed to get a farmer to use it,” said Simon Groot, founder of the vegetable seed company East-West Seed. “It includes good distribution, good marketing, good training and more.”

Groot was named the 2019 World Food Prize Laureate. He was recognized for his work by helping smallholder farmers in more than 60 countries to improve vegetable production.

During the World Food Prize ceremony the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research launched a new initiative called Crops to End Hunger. The program aims to meet the food, nutrition and income needs of producers and consumers, respond to market demands, and increase resilience to challenges of the climate crisis, said Martin Kropff, director-general of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

Elwyn Grainger-Jones, the center’s executive director, said the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research in 2018 released 417 new varieties.

“We can do more,” he said. “Crops to End Hunger will rapidly excel breeding cycles.”

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Mary Donovan is a junior communications consultant, digital at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.