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Looking towards the future: Govaerts examines food security and nutrition in a changing world

July 6, 2015
Bram Govaerts speaking on stage.

Bram Govaerts shares a quote from Dr. Norman Borlaug with the audience: “I personally cannot live comfortably in the midst of abject hunger and poverty and human misery, if I have the possibilities of—even in a modest way, with the help of my many scientific colleagues—of doing something about improving the lives of these many young children.” Photo: Jennifer Johnson

Bram Govaerts, associate director of the Global Conservation Agriculture Program (GCAP) and leader of the Sustainable Modernization of Traditional Agriculture (MasAgro) program, made a presentation on the future prognosis of food security and the actions that must be taken to achieve it at the Prospectiva del Mundo (World Prospective) Mexico 2015 conference on 25 June. The conference, organized by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Mexican chapter of the World Future Society, brought together national and international experts in fields such as development, education, finance and agriculture.

These experts were gathered in order to draft a “charter of human duties,” an initiative proposed by the late Nobel Laureate Jos Saramago, who believed that there was a global need for a charter that would define the responsibilities, not just the rights, that each human being has to the development of their surroundings. The charter will later be presented to the United Nations.

Govaerts co-presided over a panel on nutrition and food production alongside Fernando Soto Baquero, FAO representative in Mexico. The panelists were tasked to propose duties for the charter and to answer the question: “How can we improve food distribution in a way that does not harm consumers while maintaining a profitable industry?”

In his presentation, Govaerts highlighted the challenges facing food security in the coming years. “It is not just a question of producing more food, but of producing food that is more nutritious and affordable, with less impact on the environment,” said the recipient of the 2014 Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application. “We must end hidden hunger.”

He emphasized the necessity of using the genetic materials stored in CIMMYT’s gene banks to develop improved varieties, and to ensure that these varieties can be productively used by farmers. “CIMMYT is the home of one of the greatest jewels in the world: 130 thousand wheat accessions and 35 thousand maize accessions that represent the global biodiversity of these grains. However, if we don’t take advantage of our stored genetic material to create better varieties, our collection is nothing more than a refrigerator full of boxes.”

Govaerts proposed five duties for the charter of human obligations: investing  in research for sustainable rural development; giving priority to family farming and small and medium producers; more equal opportunity for farmers, especially women; sustainable intensification; and further developing market opportunities for producers. He ended his presentation with a call to action, urging the audience to take the world’s duty to agriculture to heart.

“We have a great challenge before us, and a great decision to make: we will need to feed 9 billion people in 2050, and we can either do it unsustainably or sustainably. There is a lot of potential in this room, but we cannot feed 9 billion people on potential alone. We need everyone’s help and actions, and I invite you to join us.”

Farmers bring a direct seeder/fertilizer to a field in Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo: Jelle Van Loon

Farmers bring a direct seeder/fertilizer to a field in Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo: Jelle Van Loon