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Innovations that Nourish the Planet

State of the World Brief Series
Chapter 1. Charting a New Path to Eliminating Hunger

Key Messages
According to the UN Food and Agriculture
Organization, 925 million people around the
world go hungry everyday, 239 million of whom
live in sub-Saharan Africa.
The current economic crisis offers a window of
opportunity for refocusing the worlds attention
on food, agriculture, and rural areas and for
reestablishing food security as a global priority.
Our team has traveled to 25 countries across
sub-Saharan Africa, where diverse innovations in
agriculture are supporting farmer incomes and
peoples nourishment.
These innovations are charting a new path to
eliminating hunger and serve as models for
large-scale efforts beyond Africa.
The Problem
Nearly a half-century after the Green Revolution, a
large share of the human family is still chronically
hungry. (See Figure.) The worlds approach to
combating hunger has not really worked. Past
attempts have focused narrowly on a few types of
crops, such as grains; relied heavily on chemical
fertilizers; and ignored women farmers. We must
shift our focus to a food system that nourishes the
planet without compromising the soils, crop
diversity, and fresh water on which we all depend.
Investments in agricultural development by
governments, international lenders, and foundations
are near historic lows. Agricultures share of global
development aid has dropped from more than 16
percent in 1980 to a meager 4 percent today. In
Africa, a majority of the poor and hungry depends on
agriculture for food and income, but only nine
countries allocate even 10 percent of their national
budgets to agriculture.

As petroleum and food prices soar, as climate

change intensifies, and as unfair trade agreements
persist, the challenge of reducing hunger will prove
that much more difficult. Still, the current crisis offers
a window of opportunity for refocusing the worlds
attention on food, agriculture, and rural areas and for
reestablishing food security as a global priority.
Over the last two years, Worldwatchs Nourishing
the Planet team has traveled to 25 sub-Saharan
African countriesplaces where hunger is greatest
and where rural communities have struggled the
mostto hear peoples stories of hope and success
in agriculture. Africa is becoming a rich and diverse
breeding ground for innovations in agriculture that
support farmer income and nourishment for people.
We highlight three major shifts that we invite
farmers, scientists, donors, agribusiness executives,
and the global community to consider:
Go Beyond Seeds. We must look beyond the
handful of crops that have absorbed most of
agricultures attention, and also beyond developing
new seeds as the default solution for hunger and
poverty. Seeds represent the short-term payoff

Member of a womens group waters their cabbage,

Zimbabwe. (IFAD/Horst Wagner)

option, but the truly long-term investment that has

big returns is investing in the soil and water that
nourish crops. In Mali and other parts of the African
Sahel, where soils are severely damaged from
overgrazing and drought, the use of green manure
and cover crops is a sustainable solution to Africas
soil fertility crisis. And across much of Africa and
Asia, where access to irrigation has been limited,
low-cost, human-powered pumps like the
MoneyMaker and the treadle pump are now used by
more than 2.3 million poor farmers.
Go Beyond Farms. Eliminating hunger will not
depend on the worlds ability to produce more food.
For many communities, the solution lies in making
better use of the food that is already produced. Some
2550 percent of the harvest in poorer nations spoils
or is contaminated by pests or mold before it reaches
the table. But innovative, low-cost fixesincluding
plastic bags for preserving cowpeas and better-built
silos for storing graincan go a long way in combating
food waste.
As more people migrate from rural areas, hunger is
moving to cities as well. In Africa, 14 million people
migrate to cities each year, and worldwide some 800
million people depend on urban agriculture for their
food needs. Through projects supported by Kenyabased Urban Harvest, urban poor are not only growing
food for their own communities, but also establishing
seed multiplication projects that supply seeds for
urban and rural farmers. Yet the most important offfarm investment may be ensuring that the farmers of
tomorrow have both the opportunity and desire to

become farmers. Ugandas Project DISC has found that

teaching students to grow, cook, and eat native
vegetables like spiderwiki and amaranth can give them
a reason to stay in rural areas and farm.
Go Beyond Africa. No matter where our food
comes from, people everywhere are tied to a global
food system. Agriculture encompasses such a large
chunk of the planet that healthy rural economies are
fundamental to global sustainability. International
solidarity in the realm of foodembodied by
farmers groups like Via Campesina and global
collaborations like the Global Crop Diversity Trustis
one of the most hopeful innovations for reducing
poverty and hunger.
The global impact of farming also extends to
climate change. African farmers could remove 50
billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
over the next 50 years, primarily by planting trees
among crops and stewarding nearby forests. By
rewarding farmers worldwide for building up the
carbon content of their soils, we can prevent
disastrous climate change. Farmers and communities throughout the developing world can play an
important role in solving these global problems,
leading to greater income, jobs, and self-reliance.
Looking Ahead
The innovations that the Nourishing the Planet team
uncovered in our journey across Africa represent the
kind of radical new thinking that more and more
people are calling for. The many simple, low-cost
innovations are models for larger-scale efforts and
applications beyond Africa. A rooftop garden
cooperative that is feeding people in Dakar, Senegal,
offers guidance for neighborhoods struggling with
food shortages in inner-city New York.
Agriculture is emerging as a solution to mitigating
climate change, reducing public health problems,
making cities more livable, and creating jobs in a
stagnant global economy. Given the limited ability of
scientists to find solutions, the finite generosity of
donors to support agricultural research, and the
overstretched patience of struggling farmers and
hungry families, shifting funds and attention in new
directions is long overdue.

This brief is based on Chapter 1, Charting a New Path to Eliminating Hunger, by Brian Halweil and Danielle Nierenberg,
published in the Worldwatch Institute report State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.
To order a copy of State of the World 2011 or to read more briefs in this series, visit