February 1, 2017 | By

A Food-Secure Future: The Promise and Power of Agricultural Development

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to launch a new blog series, “A Food-Secure Future,” to explore the challenges that threaten global food security and the opportunities that exist to overcome hunger and malnutrition once and for all. We will publish one post each week addressing these issues, and our series will culminate with the release of a new Council report at the Global Food Security Symposium 2017. Join the discussion using #GlobalAg, and tune in to the symposium live stream on March 30.

Poverty and Hunger on the Decline

In the fight to end global poverty and hunger, no effort has proved more effective than the promotion of small-scale agriculture as a development tool. Agricultural development works—not only because the world’s poorest and hungriest are most often small farmers, but because of the amplifying impacts of rural poverty alleviation on nutrition, health, education, and community development.

Over the past two and a half decades, the world has seen impressive reductions in hunger and poverty. Between 1990 and 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty—on less than $1.90 a day—decreased by more than 1 billion, even as populations grew significantly. The number of undernourished decreased by over 200 million. And, these gains have been even more pronounced in low-income countries, with these regions seeing 75 and 50 percent reductions in numbers of poor and hungry people, respectively.

With nearly 80 percent of the world’s poor reliant on farming for income, it comes as no surprise that agricultural development has driven much of this advancement. Agricultural development efforts include a variety of activities: promoting access to finance, inputs, and new technologies, training on optimal agricultural techniques, encouraging the full participation of women throughout the sector, facilitating market access, and building research and government capacity, among others.

Together, these activities generate significant impact: growth in the agricultural sector is up to four times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest people as compared to other sectors. As efforts to expand the output, market reach, sustainability, and resilience of agriculture in low-income regions have taken shape, so too have effective pathways out of poverty. As families expand their agricultural production, they earn greater incomes—allowing them to access more diverse and nutritious diets, pay for school fees and healthcare, and invest in their business or communities.

Persistent Challenges Demand Action

Despite this progress, too many people and too many nations stagger in their attempts to eliminate hunger and poverty. 700 million people worldwide are still impoverished. Nearly 800 million people around the world remain undernourished, with more than 2 billion overweight or obese and another 2 billion suffering from micronutrient deficiencies—a rising “triple burden” of malnutrition. Only 51 countries are on track to meet the SDG targets for hunger, and more than twice the current rate of progress would be necessary to meet global targets for stunting.

Agricultural productivity still lags in low-income countries—particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, which will only be able to meet 12 percent of its food demand by 2030 if current projections for agricultural productivity hold. Over half of the 48 developing countries that are most in need of heightened agricultural productivity saw a reduction in cereal yields between 2013 and 2014 in the face of conflict, adverse weather, and disease. It is true that the elimination of hunger and poverty is within our grasp—in the near future, no less—but we stand at a critical moment. Without decisive action, progress will slip away, and gaps will widen—with severe economic, security, and humanitarian consequences for us all.

Moving Forward

To end hunger and malnutrition, we must address the hurdles that remain with great flexibility and consciousness as a new global order changes our food system. Urbanization dramatically alters global food demand. Climate change increasingly jeopardizes robust agricultural production. Growing, hungry youth populations present a potential threat to stability and security if their immense potential is left untapped.

We must double down on our efforts to address global poverty and food and nutrition insecurity with these challenges in mind. How? Over the next eight weeks, the Council will explore this question ahead of the Global Food Security Symposium 2017. At that event, we will release a report offering a refreshed food security strategy to the global policy community—one that will help solidify progress to date, and set us on course to—finally—end hunger and poverty in our lifetimes.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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