The recent COVID-19 pandemic and several other drivers have put the world off track to ending hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030. The latest FAO report “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021” estimates that between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020 – as many as 161 million more than in 2019. Nearly 2.37 billion people did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of 320 million people in just one year.

“To underline the urgency of enhancing our efforts and defining a roadmap for the international community, ICRISAT brought together global leaders in science and policy making to brainstorm the current state of food and nutrition security in drylands and define the future roadmap”, said Dr Rajeev K Varshney, the Principal Organizer of the panel discussion while setting the scene. The panel discussion, organized as the International Borlaug Dialogue side event of the World Food Prize Foundation 2021, aimed to create awareness and discuss the future course of action for the global scientific community and international development agencies towards this pressing issue. The panel had eminent research scientists and administrators from international agricultural organizations across India, Eastern & Southern Africa, West & Central Africa and Australia.

The panel highlighted several key areas for urgent interventions to complement ongoing global efforts towards addressing food and nutrition insecurity. Some of these include diverse global partnerships, enhanced investment and funding for agricultural R&D, gender integration, adoption of value chain approach, deployment of advance scientific tools and technologies in crop improvement programs, strengthened seed systems, etc.

Providing the donors’ perspective, Dr Julianne Biddle, Director – Multilateral Engagement, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), highlighted the role of global partnerships to tackle complex food systems challenges in dryland agriculture and emphasized the importance of gender integration in our approaches to ensure food and nutrition security.

“We need to work with the agenda to turn the tide and leave no one behind,” said Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). “International development agencies need to enhance their focus in the dryland regions, as the population living in these regions accounts for high hunger and malnutrition, and without addressing the challenges of these regions, we cannot achieve global food and nutrition security,” he added.

“A strengthened seed system is as important as developing improved crop varieties with higher yield, nutrition and resistance to several biotic and abiotic stresses, for ensuring accessibility of these improved varieties by smallholder farmers at the right time and in the right place,” underlined Dr Jane Ininda, Head, Seed Research & Systems Development, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, Secretary, Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE) and Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Government of India, mentioned the urgent need for adopting a multisector approach for inclusive development across agricultural value chains.

Dr Mohapatra also highlighted several flagship initiatives of the government of India that include crops, livestock, horticulture, soil health etc., which can be replicated across dryland regions of the world under south-south collaboration.

From development of improved varieties (including through molecular breeding),   seed systems and value chains, to water management interventions and land restoration, Dr Arvind Kumar, Deputy Director General-Research, ICRISAT, portrayed the success stories delivered by ICRISAT together with partners. Dr Kumar also underlined the importance of organizations like ICRISAT, which is well positioned to deliver impact on ground and the recent recognition to ICRISAT with the Africa Food Prize 2021 as a testament to this.

Dr Rajeev K Varshney, while thanking all the panelists, appreciated them for highlighting challenges, opportunities and potential interventions, which may serve as food for thought, for developing an effective roadmap toward achieving food and nutrition security in dryland regions.

The event was co-organized by Drs Anthony Whitbread, Research Program Director – Resilient Farm and Food Systems; Michael Hauser, Research Program Director – Enabling Systems Transformation; Rebbie Harawa, Regional Director – Eastern & Southern Africa; Ramadjita Tabo, Regional Director – West & Central Africa, and supported by Mr Nilesh Mishra, Senior Scientific Officer, RP- ACI and Mr Prasad Bajaj, Manager- Computational Biology, Genomics, Pre-breeding & Bioinformatics.

About World Food Prize Foundation’s International Borlaug Dialogue

Held each October in conjunction with the presentation of the World Food Prize, the “Borlaug Dialogue,” is a three-day symposium that brings together international experts, policy leaders, business executives and farmers to address cutting-edge issues in global food security and nutrition. The event, which takes place in Des Moines, Iowa, USA, and regularly attracts over 1,000 participants from more than 50 countries, has been referred to as “the premier conference in the world on global agriculture.” The Borlaug Dialogue has featured an array of celebrated international speakers, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, AGRA Chairman Kofi Annan, HRH Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bill Gates, who launched his multi-million-dollar initiative to uplift Africa at the World Food Prize in 2009. Through the Borlaug Dialogue, the World Food Prize Foundation helps build alliances in the struggle against world hunger and malnutrition.

Reported by: Nilesh Mishra, Senior Scientific Officer
Research Program- Accelerated Crop Improvement, ICRISAT