Oxford University, 12 July 2012
Lord Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University;
Lord Jacob de Rothschild, and other members of the Rothschild Foundation;
Sir David King, Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford University;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Thank you, Sir David King, for inviting me to participate in this important discussion and, thank you Dominic for your kind introduction.
Today’s topic is timely; it is clear that rising global demand and competition for the key, but finite resources of water, energy and food cannot be ignored. It is estimated that by 2030, the world will need 40% more fresh water and 50% more food and energy. This increase is partly due to expanding population, increasing urbanisation and prosperity.
In light of this, the world has to figure out how to optimise such vital resources, as we also search for new ones.
More specifically, we need to address the issue of food security. The actions that we take now will determine our ability to feed the nine billion people we are expecting by the year 2050.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world’s farmers actually produce enough food – in fact, they produce more than is required, and twice the minimum nutritional needs.
Yet, in spite of sufficient food production, there are still many food-insecure areas. The World Food Programme identifies more than one billion people world-wide as undernourished, most of them in Africa (34%) and Asia (23%).
This indicates that the question of food security is not about shortage per se, but rather, other issues such as distribution, markets, management and use of potential and available resources.
In addition, developing countries face the challenges of smallholder farming, lack of technology and inputs, globalisation, access to markets and undeveloped infrastructure.
To remedy this situation and put food where it is most needed, the right mechanisms and investments are required.
An example of this is an integrated approach to agriculture, involving water and land management, use of fertilisers, crop development, planned rural settlements and reform of land tenure. Facilitating elements of this approach include the development of financial services, technical training and increased access to markets.
As mentioned earlier, smallholder farming remains a challenge, and the key medium term solution is to maximise use of available land through consolidation, crop intensification, and increased use of fertilisers and irrigation. Just as important is adopting a green growth and climate resilience strategy, as Rwanda has done in the key resource sectors of agriculture, energy and mining.
In the long term, however, the most viable option is to keep moving towards commercial agriculture by instituting land policies that enable consolidation, secure ownership and transferability, and access to credit.
We can make more land available for agriculture and also raise citizens’ incomes through skills development and creating off-farm employment. In Rwanda, the introduction a few years ago of a nine-year compulsory basic education – now extended to twelve – and expansion of technical and vocational training aims to do precisely this.
It is also important that we look at the expanding population as a potential resource in itself, and not always a liability. They can be part of the solution if we ensure that productivity increases as the population does. People should be empowered to find ways to increase resource efficiency reduce waste and manage demand effectively. Education, technology and better management, as well as research, play critical roles in developing innovative ways to use our resources sustainably.
Not every country can produce all the food it requires, and it may not even be the most cost-effective way of meeting food needs. This calls for specialisation in food production.
And to create sustainable benefits and growth nationally and across the world, we must continue to make global market linkages and address other barriers like subsidies and stringent quality standards whose main purpose seems to exclude products from some places.
Agriculture will only become more productive and profitable when investments are made in terms of technology, research and development, processing and marketing. For this to happen, international cooperation is vital.
Equally crucial will be the increased involvement of the private sector in agricultural production at all stages of the food chain. A favourable business climate has made investment in Africa increasingly attractive. The World Bank reports, for instance, that eight out of twenty of the most rapidly growing economies in the world in 2011 were in Africa – achieving 8 – 12% growth per annum. Rwanda has had sustained economic growth of between 7 – 8% per annum over the last ten years.
It makes sense for financial and business interests from across the world to invest in Africa.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;
Given the one billion people who suffer from malnutrition and the nine million people who die each year from hunger, we must place issues of agriculture and food security high on the international policy agenda, national development plans and investment priorities. We need to take bold steps, mobilise resources and goodwill, and treat food insecurity as a threat to human existence in the same way we have tackled and reduced other issues of our time.
Thank you for your kind attention and I look forward to our continued discussion.