Ceres2030’s new research reveals that donor governments must spend an additional USD 14 billion a year on average until 2030 to end hunger, double the incomes of 545 million small-scale farmers, and limit agricultural emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement. This means roughly doubling the amount of aid given for food security and nutrition each year, and must also be accompanied by an additional USD 19 billion a year from low- and middle-income countries' own budgets.
We found that agricultural interventions are more effective with a population that enjoys at least a minimum level of income, education, with access to networks and resources such as extension services and robust infrastructure. We also discovered that it is much more effective to create integrated portfolios of interventions rather than seek improvements in isolation from one another. In addition, we learned that evidence-based policy is only as good as the available evidence—and regarding women’s empowerment, that evidence base is pretty sparse, especially gender-disaggregated statistics. In fact, only 10% of the papers reviewed considered gender differences in the outcomes of the interventions.
New Tools to Help Decision Makers Increase Poor Producer Incomes, Protect the Climate and End Hunger
Hunger is rising, reversing decades of progress. An estimated 690 million people are hungry, an increase of 60 million over the past five years, according to the UN. We predict that an additional 95 million people will be living in extreme poverty and hunger due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Perversely, it is poor farmers and their families—those who produce an important share of the world’s food, and whose livelihoods depend on food and agriculture—that are among the most likely to experience hunger.
Ceres2030: Sustainable Solutions to End Hunger was set up to provide donor governments with new tools to help them address these problems, in line with the United Nations’ goal to end hunger by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal [SDG] 2). It is led by Cornell University, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).
We worked alongside a range of other organisations to produce our findings, including Nature Research, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the Centre for Development (ZEF), and our funders the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
We produced two inter-linked pieces of research:
1) Evidence syntheses: We created a groundbreaking new AI machine-learning tool to analyze over 500,000 reports and articles. Using this tool, a young, female-led team of 78 researchers from 23 countries summarized the evidence from the last 20+ years of agricultural development literature. The evidence syntheses answered eight key research questions covering areas such as water scarcity and employment for the future. The findings were published by Nature Research in a new research collection of peer-reviewed journal articles.
2) Economic modelling: We created a computable general equilibrium (CGE) model to show how much it would cost to end hunger, increase incomes and protect the climate by 2030, assessing the best way to spend money across dozens of agricultural interventions in different countries. We applied thousands of equations to account for complex relationships across different levels of the economy from the global to the national right down to the household level. The results from the evidence synthesis were integrated into the model alongside data from existing sources.
What we found
The Investment Needed to End Hunger
Our modelling shows that an additional investment of USD 14 billion from donors and USD 19 billion from affected countries on average each year between now and 2030 could lift 490 million people out of hunger, reducing the prevalence of undernourishment below 3% in every country worldwide. At the same time, the funding could double the incomes of 545 million small-scale farmers on average, and maintain greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture below the commitments made in the Paris climate agreement.
Our model optimizes what types of interventions governments should prioritize, and when (and where) money should be spent, in order to end hunger as cost effectively as possible.
We split the interventions into three categories (or “buckets”), and find that the USD 14 billion on average each year should be divided between them as follows:
- USD 9 billion: On the farm—including training for farmers, developing climate-resilient crops, and improving livestock feed.
- USD 2 billion: Food on the move—ensuring food can get from the farm to market, through investments in storage, transport, and other infrastructure.
- USD 3 billion: Empower the excluded— measures to ensure the poorest are included, such as steps regarding social protection spending or training for rural youth.
Of the on average USD 14 billion donors should spend, USD 8 billion is needed in sub-Saharan Africa, USD 4 billion in other low- and middle-income countries, and the remainder on global R&D projects.
Below we set out our 10 key recommendations for donor governments—drawing on both the evidence syntheses and economic modelling—split across our three buckets of interventions.
Empower the Excluded
- Support participation in farmers’ organizations
- Invest in vocational programs for rural youth that offer integrated-training in multiple skills
- Scale up social protection programs to help create a bridge for people living in poverty to find productive jobs
Our research shows that agricultural interventions—whether climate-resilient crops, membership in a farmers’ organization, or reducing crop losses—work most effectively when people have a minimum level of income and education, as well as access to networks and resources. Unless particular care is taken, the poorest do not always see the benefits. In order to end hunger and achieve the ambition in the SDGs to leave no one behind, action is needed to drive inclusion.
We found that farmers’ organisations are strongly associated with improvements in farmers’ income, crop yield, crop quality and environmental impact. However, the poorer a farmer is, the less likely they are to join an organization. Fees to join farmers’ organisations are a barrier for poor households often prohibitively high, and they also aren’t set up to work for the poorest farmers, especially women, who are less likely to be represented at governance level because of limited time and other constraints. This needs to change.
Social protection —that is, public or private initiatives that aid the poor and protect the vulnerable against livelihood risks, and take the form of cash or in-kind support —is vital for ending exclusion. Although expensive, well designed programs, given sufficient time, can help poor people into productive work—for example by providing skills training, access to credit, or guaranteed employment alongside food or cash payments. Social protection has played a critically important role in limiting suffering during crises, including for people unable to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the Farm
4. Invest in information and training, particularly for women, to increase the uptake of new technologies
5. Ensure new environmentally-friendly farming methods are also economically viable
6. Support the adoption of climate-resilient crops
7. Increase research on how to help small-scale producers in water-scarce regions
8. Target improvements in the quantity and quality of livestock feed to small and medium-sized commercial farms
Perversely, smallholder farmers are among the most likely to experience hunger. Policy-makers face a set of interlinked challenges. These include growing the incomes and productivity of farmers—while at the same time helping them improve their resilience to droughts, floods, and other climate shocks—and ensuring their access to the best climate-adapted technologies and practices.
These challenges must be considered together. Our research found that interventions are more likely to be successful if they meet more than one objective simultaneously, for example, paying attention to the marketability of a crop and not just its climate resilience or resistance to pests.
Productivity gaps are still a major obstacle in many low and middle-income countries, particularly in Africa. Milk yields for cows in Africa, for example, are 20 times lower than the yields in Europe. Useful options to increase milk yields are overlooked and understudied, for example the use of crop residues. At the same time, livestock is not just an important source of food for people: they also serve vital roles on-farm, including plowing and providing compost for crops. Understanding this context is needed to improve targeting of interventions designed to increase productivity and limit greenhouse gas emissions per litre of milk.
Significant public investment has gone into successfully developing climate-resilient crops: where they can access them, small-scale producers use climate-resilient crops to cope with such problems as drought, heat, flooding, salinity, and changes to the growing season. Yet the evidence also shows important barriers to adoption, too. Climate-resilient crops are more likely to be used when training and support are available to farmers. They are most successful when they are accessible through a variety of distributors, reliable, affordable, easy to grow, and produce a crop for which there is market demand.
Nearly 80% of small-scale farms across low and middle-income countries are located in water-scarce regions, but only around 35% are irrigated. Both more research and more investment is needed to improve water access for small-scale producers.
Food on the Move
9. To reduce post-harvest losses, look beyond the storage of cereals to also focus on other food groups and other parts of the food value chain
10. Invest in the infrastructure, regulations, services and technical assistance needed to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that supply or buy from small-scale farmers
In addition to growing our food, producers must also store it and transport it to market. Our research looked at interventions that are effective at reducing post-harvest losses for 22 food crops, with a focus on Africa and South Asia. We found that airtight containers, simple improvements in handling practices (such as choosing the right time to harvest), and good drying and harvesting practices reduced the waste of cereals and pulses.
However, we also found that there was not enough existing research on the storage of non-cereal foods and that existing research tended to focus on technologies rather than training, finance, policy, infrastructure, or market interventions.
There is also a need to look more closely at enterprises beyond the farm. We confirmed the growing evidence that SMEs are flourishing in many rural areas, providing farmers with a host of services, including providing credit and training, buying crops, connecting farmers to processors, and offering market information. However, the coverage SMEs provide is often patchy and informal. In addition, government agencies often fail to make the most of the services provided by SMEs by, for example, setting up competing services rather than complementing existing activity.
Hunger has been on the rise for the last five years, reversing decades of progress. The COVID-19 pandemic is only making things worse. Globally, we are not producing affordable healthy diets for all in a sustainable way. And food production is caught in a vicious circle, with agriculture driving greenhouse gas emissions—and climate change and extreme weather conditions making it harder to grow our food.
This is not how the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was meant to unfold. The ambition was transformative. Governments acknowledged the central importance of ending hunger, but set themselves a bolder target: they wanted everyone to enjoy an affordable, healthy, and nutritious diet, and committed to support the most vulnerable food producers to earn the means to live in dignity —while at the same time preserving the environment and biological diversity.
Ceres2030 was set up to show governments what they need to do to take back control and realize their bold agenda. We’ve provided the evidence. Now donors and governments need to act.
Discover more about each Ceres2030 research team
Ceres2030 offers path to ending world hunger within decade, Cornell Chronicle, October 12, 2020