Innovations in food production could alleviate hunger for millions of people, according to Britain, which hosted a global summit on food insecurity Monday, but critics say the focus on technology ignores the growing inequality of wealth.
The summit was a joint initiative between Britain, Somalia, the United Arab Emirates, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed at boosting food security through science and innovation.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said a renewed focus was needed to alleviate hunger.
“It can’t be right that today in 2023, almost 1 billion people across the world regularly do not have enough to eat, that millions face hunger and starvation, and over 45 million children under five are suffering acute malnutrition. In a world of abundance, no one should die from lack of food and no parent should ever have to watch their child starve,” Sunak told delegates in London.
He outlined Britain’s plans to host a “virtual hub” for innovation in food production, known as CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research), aimed at making global food systems more resilient to future shocks in a changing climate.
“We’ve already helped develop crops that are drought-resistant and even richer in vitamins, now feeding 100 million people across Africa. And we’re going further, launching a new U.K. CGIAR science center to drive cutting-edge research on flood-tolerant rice, disease-resistant wheat and much more. These innovations will reach millions across the poorest countries, as well as improving U.K. crop yields and driving down food prices,” Sunak said.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud also addressed the summit, telling delegates that the country’s stabilization program, developed in partnership with Britain, was working on tackling his country’s humanitarian crisis.
Somalia is among the countries worst-hit by climate change and food insecurity. The government recently declared a state of emergency after 113,000 people were forced to flee their homes following extreme rainfall and extensive flooding, which also caused widespread damage to crops and farmland. The floods come a year after Somalia suffered its worst drought in 40 years.
Can new technology end global food insecurity, like that endured by Somalia and many other poorer nations? It’s one tool in the box, said analyst Steve Wiggins, a food security specialist at the ODI development think tank.
“The fundamentals of global hunger are the fundamentals of poverty, marginalization, and people being in situations of extraordinary vulnerability. Those are the fundamentals of hunger and that’s what we have to drive towards,” he told VOA.
“Of course, there are technical advances that we get that we’re very happy for, which make things a little bit easier,” Wiggins added, highlighting innovations like solar-powered irrigation in Mali. “So, if you want to pump water onto your fields, it’s becoming increasingly easy without having to spend money on diesel to do so.”
Critics say the focus on technology ignores the main driver of food insecurity.
“This summit is welcome. I think some of the solutions are welcome. But I think it’s not going to be enough to tackle that huge problem of hunger, which has been with us for decades and which we seem to be going backwards in many steps,” said Nick Nisbett of the Institute of Development Studies.
“Technological solutions tend to focus on the supply side, so new tech for agriculture and supply chains and so on. But what we actually need to do is to tackle the inequalities that lie behind that hunger.”
“Possibly the simplest thing to do is actually to give people food or to give people the money to [go] out and buy and purchase food in [the] markets themselves,” Nisbett told VOA.