World Food Security

3.2.2009

In order to feed 9 billion people by 2050, global agriculture urgently needs to increase innovation and productivity growth now.

The 2009 Berlin Declaration and Call for Action is the result of the inaugural meeting of the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture, held in Davos, Switzerland, February 1st to 3rd, 2009.

The Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture is a leading think tank in global agriculture which brings together a unique mix of internationally recognised thinkers from science, civil society and industry. Its goal is to develop scientifically based policy recommendations for the future of global food and agriculture.

World agriculture has entered a new era. Global food demand has been outstripping the growth in supply. Despite some temporary relief the price of food will continue to rise again while world population continues to grow at a rapid pace and per capita food consumption increases, leaving almost one billion humans undernourished. Food riots have already occurred in a number of countries. At the same time, land, water and other resources are increasingly constraining the growth in global food production.

Against this backdrop the task of the meeting of the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture at Davos, Switzerland was to assess the current and future world food needs and to provide a road map for effective ways to eradicate undernutrition and food insecurity around the globe.

Long-term solutions for the world food problem must be developed which address issues related to access to land, water, energy, technology, knowledge and other resources. At the same time, a coherent response with immediate results cannot wait.

The Facts:

  • The turn of the millennium marks a megatrend reversal on international agricultural markets. Global food demand has outstripped the growth in supply. Food prices are rising. This trend is expected to continue for the next few decades, as global food requirements will double in the first half of the 21st century.
  • Land, water, energy, available technology, knowledge and other resources are increasingly constraining food production.
  • Global agricultural productivity growth has been slowing for several decades.
  • One reason for the slowing productivity growth in world agriculture is the neglect of publicly funded agricultural R&D investments. Others include decades-long neglect of agriculture in developing countries characterized by underinvestment in infrastructure in rural areas, education and extension services as well as inappropriate macroeconomic, monetary, agricultural and trade policies.
  • Global warming is beginning to reduce food production. Many of the world’s poorest countries are food deficit countries and they are located in agro-climatical zones which are most negatively affected by climate change.
  • Time is of the essence in two areas:
    – Immediate relief to alleviate undernutrition, and
    – Investment in research, education and infrastructure which will provide benefits over the long-term.
  1. Food First: Establish International Monitoring Board:
    A25 In order to give agricultural development and research the political attention and support it requires, we propose initiating an international monitoring board – an A25 group – analogous to G20. Agricultural ministers from the G20 countries plus from five least developed countries would meet regularly and explore joint strategies and policies which promote world food security and support sustainable agricultural growth.
  2. Food First: Return Global Agricultural Innovation to the Political Agenda
    Research shows that it takes an average of twenty-five years from initial design concept to seeing the practical benefits of an agricultural innovation being broadly applied on the farm. This time-lag must be significantly shortened. To combat global hunger, the economic, political, institutional, and legal environment must change in ways which ensure that research investment is fostered and that innovation reaches farmers around the world with minimum delay.

    Research investment in the areas of agricultural technology innovation, reduction of pre- and post-harvest losses as well as new and more efficient technologies in the production of bio-energy must significantly increase now, particularly as some of the resulting productivity effects will take more than two decades before they can contribute to food security. To make agriculture more productive and reduce pre- and post-harvest losses, new initiatives from the private and public sectors to build the necessary infrastructure are also urgently needed.
  3. Food First: Invest in Agriculture of Developing Countries
    Agriculture is the engine of growth and prosperity in developing countries. Many developing nations are well below their productive potential. Key reasons include: distorted economic incentives through agricultural and trade policies in industrialized and developing countries alike, underdeveloped infrastructure for storage, handling and transportation and lack of access to loans, fertilizer, crop protection, high yielding seed varieties, as well as extension services and other training. In too many countries an imperfect legal and institutional environment and bad governance contribute to low food production as well.

    Enabling developing countries to make use of existing productivity enhancing technologies - including infrastructure, extension services, seeds (traditionally bred or enhanced through biotechnology), fertilizer, plant protection and bio-energy production technologies - has the potential to swiftly and significantly increase agricultural production as well as reducing pre- and post-harvest losses.
  4. Food First: Refocus Resources and Stimulate New Funding
    Five percentage points of national sales tax returns from biofuel in the G20 countries should be dedicated to agricultural and bio-energy research, and be used also to reduce pre- and post-harvest losses as well as to improve rural infrastructure.

    • Each of the G8 countries should dedicate at least $500 million annually from their respective development budgets to agricultural research and rural development in developing countries.
    • The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) could be further strengthened and reorganized to lead and oversee these efforts.

  5. Food First: Food Production and Bio-energy can Co-exist
    To the extent that biofuel crops are grown on land suitable for food production biofuel production could contribute to increasing prices. The same holds true for other non-food crops such as cotton or rubber. As the prices of food and energy have become cointegrated, it follows that locally produced bio-energy could also help to control farming costs. In that context, it is important that the focus is on decentralizing energy generation, such as on-farm fermentation of organic waste. As energy will become increasingly expensive, the use of bio-energy is particularly relevant to farming in developing countries.

While it has now become clear that food and bio-energy production can co-exist, two core principles remain paramount:

  • Where there is a competition for land and other resources, food always must come first.
  • Innovation must continue to drive the development of bio-energy crops which are grown on land not suitable for food production.


The Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture urges agricultural ministers of the G8 countries meeting this week in Treviso, Italy to adopt this declaration and propose political measures in line with this call for action.


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