Committed to combating world hunger
- Christina Pfänder
Supplying everyone with adequate food is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Yet the number of hungry people in the world is increasing. Germany’s alumni and alumna from around the world are involved in the much needed transformation of food supply chains.
The COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, climate change and species extinction: multiple crises are resulting in increased food insecurity in many countries. The world’s most significant trade fair covering nutrition, agriculture and horticulture, International Green Week (IGW) in Berlin, drew attention to this at the end of January 2023. A main focus there of the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) set up by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) was food security and the transformation of food supply chains: the international opening conference at IGW was the scene for lively discussions among renown experts and political decision-makers on how crisis-proof and eco-friendly food supply chains can be established.
A look at the statistics clarifies the urgency of the task: the BMEL reckons that globally in 2021 there were between 702 and 828 million hungry people, which is 46 million more than in 2020 and 150 million more than in 2019. The war in Ukraine has further aggravated the situation in many countries to an extent that threatens the greatest global food supply crisis since the Second World War.
International cooperation is needed to come up with the innovations and viable solutions that can in equal measure address food insecurity, climate change and species extinction. The DAAD provides support in this respect – in part via its SDG Alumni Projects which are geared towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations.
The topic of food security was also a focal point of SDG Alumni Project IGW 2023 as part of Green Week: Germany alumni and alumnae from the Global South attended seminars at multiple German higher education institutions and engaged in dialogue with academic and research partners from Germany and many other countries at Green Week and the GFFA. They established contacts, obtained information about the latest research results and technologies, and can now take that knowledge back to their own countries.
Interchange involving bright minds
They themselves also contributed valuable input: DAAD alumna Professor Farhat Naz, Associate Professor and Head of the School of Liberal Arts at the Indian Institute of Technology Jodhpur (IITJ), is a development sociologist whose research focuses on sustainability, policy and governance in the fields of natural resource and water management, climate change and disaster risk reduction. ‘My current work involves investigating how local communities in the Thar Desert region in India are coping with climate change, whereby my focus is on water and agriculture’, she says.
Her expectations regarding SDG Alumni Project IGW 2023 were high – and were fully met. ‘It was really interesting listening to different points of view in relation to agriculture, food security and sustainable development’, she recalls. ‘The interaction with bright minds led me to the realisation that we should share our knowledge as a global community and tackle the challenges together.’
She feels that a dynamic and integrative policy geared towards people and communities is required in the areas of food security, water and agriculture – along with rapid action. ‘Climate change means that the entire world is facing a long-term food supply crisis, but especially South Asia and Africa’, Farhat Naz explains. ‘We Germany alumni and alumnae have the skills, diverse academic backgrounds, strong networks and top positions in science, politics and industry to be able to make a significant contribution towards sustainable development, including with the help of intergovernmental cooperation.’
Ukraine's role in global food security and the challenges faced by its farmers
One example of a successful bilateral project financed by the BMEL is the German-Ukrainian Agricultural Policy Dialogue (APD), which is being expedited by DAAD alumna Mariya Yaroshko as project manager. ‘We’ve been advising the Ukrainian government with respect to agricultural policy and rural development since 2006’, explains the Ukrainian.
Yaroshko, who trained as a vet in Ukraine and then completed an MBA in agricultural management at Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences, has been working on international projects in the fields of agricultural policy and rural development for more than ten years. She specialises in the establishment of a sustainable and effective administration. The DAAD’s SDG Alumni Project IGW 2023 enabled her to get to know international specialists and learn about the challenges in other countries. ‘I’m very grateful for that’, she says.
It simultaneously gave her the opportunity to raise awareness of the difficult situation in her country of origin and of the global consequences of Russia’s war of aggression: ‘Ukraine is an important producer for the international agricultural market, especially when it comes to cereal crops, and the war has reminded us of that’, she says. ‘The lack of exports caused the wheat prices in numerous Asian and African countries to rise to such an extent that the people there could no longer afford to buy staple foods.’
Ukrainian farmers also suffered due to the situation; they were either unable sell their crops at all, or only at much lower prices. ‘That casts doubt on the continuation of agricultural production in Ukraine.’ Long-term negative consequences have also been caused by contamination of soil over large areas due to contaminants from bombs and other weapons. The war is also said to have reduced the population of animals such as pigs, cattle and chickens by around 20 per cent. ‘This ultimately means that agricultural production in Ukraine will be restricted for the next decade’, says Yaroshko. Ukraine does of course at the same time have to confront climate change and the loss of biodiversity. ‘Ukraine can at least adopt solution strategies from other countries that are already more severely affected by climate change’, she reflects. ‘The opportunity for exchange as offered by the DAAD's SDG Alumni Projects is extremely important, especially in times of crisis.’
Competition between biofuels and food
Agronomist Silvia Navaro also benefited from the scientific dialogue with other Germany alumni and alumnae. It was the first time that the Argentinian, who is currently working as an analyst and food security expert for financial services provider S&P Global in Brazil, took part in an SDG Alumni Project run by the DAAD. ‘It gave me an insight into various regions of the world and the different contexts relating to sustainable nutrition’, explains Navaro, who was awarded a DAAD scholarship to complete her master’s degree in Agribusiness at the University of Göttingen and the University of Talca.
Even Argentinians and Brazilians are said to be impacted by the global food supply crisis, which has become particularly evident due to higher food prices. ‘Both countries grow agricultural products like maize and sugar cane, which can also be used to produce bioenergy’, she recounts. ‘This has generated competition regarding their use as food or as biofuels.’ Overcoming such fatal competition would require altered parameters as well as interdisciplinary collaboration involving politics, businesses and researchers. Alternative resources should also be found for energy production. ‘I can hopefully collaborate with other Germany alumni and alumnae to come up with solutions’, says Navaro. ‘Exchanging ideas with them gives me inspiration and motivation. It proves to me that I’m not alone.’
Rising prices for staple food
Dr Erick Towett, who was attending the GFFA for the fourth time, is also concentrating on internationally coordinated, forward-looking strategies. This DAAD alumnus from Kenya gained his master’s degree in Tropical and International Agriculture at the University of Göttingen and was then awarded his doctorate in Global Food Security at the University of Hohenheim. He has been working for over 15 years in agricultural research and development, and his specialism involves innovation relating to spectrometers, software and capacity development. He is currently the director of Kiperam Fam Ltd. – his own consultancy.
‘Food insecurity is rife in Kenya at the moment’, he says. He feels that drought is one of its multiple causes: there hasn’t been rain for over three years in many regions of Kenya. ‘Harvests have been below average and the number of grazing animals has also reduced.’ The population is also having to cope with high inflation of around ten per cent, which is causing drastic increases in food, transport and fuel prices. ‘A further significant factor in this crisis is the government’s decision to discontinue major agricultural subsidy programmes. This is also fuelling the prices of staple foods such as maize.’
In light of the multiple crises, Towett is advocating partnerships among the global community – and national strategies. He deems an announcement by the Kenyan government that it will subsidise fertiliser for the next season to be a positive step. ‘Regions where there’s sufficient rainfall should in my opinion receive additional state funding’, he says. As an expert in spectral techniques and data analysis, he is also focusing on systematic investigation and qualitative improvement of the soils, plants and water to combat hunger and the climate crisis. ‘I can make a contribution to these aspects as a researcher’, says Erick Towett. ‘My measurements enable me to provide important information to stakeholders, such as the government and farmers.’