Agricultural Solutions to Chronic Hunger

By Jeff Palmer, CEO on October 26, 2017 | Print

We’ve talked a lot these past few weeks about large-scale hunger projects related to food distribution and acute crises. I would like to wrap up our current posts on hunger by circling back to some practical suggestions and things to think about for chronic hunger situations. I won’t delve too deeply in the solutions (such as improved agriculture) to these problems since I covered most of this back in our previous posts regarding agriculture projects. However, I would like to mention briefly some key things to think of when addressing chronic hunger issues.

Identify the root cause of the hunger problem and focus on that cause. When we see hungry people, our natural inclination is to give them food. However, chronic hunger cannot be solved by food giveaways. Underlying themes of poor production, lack of capital to invest, poor farming methods, etc., need to be addressed in order for people, families, and communities to come out of hunger. This takes time, patience, and a lot of face to face with hungry people getting them to participate and eventually take charge of their future food needs.

The poor, developing country farmer and farm family faces huge problems such as soil erosion and declining soil fertility. While it is tempting to aggressively introduce hybrid seed, exotic livestock, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides for an immediate boost in food production, most experiments of this type worldwide usually prove to not usually work and even detrimental in the long run. People who have been farming and subsisting with their decades old farming methods are in no position to make huge jumps to what we call “modern agriculture.” It is best to start slow, where they are, with what they have and build a little at a time with sustainable solutions to their problems.

For instance, we might help farmers learn simple ways to improve the seed germplasm they use. We also might introduce improved seed and plant varieties that are short seasoned, drought tolerant, and/or insect resistant. The more local the new seed or plant variety, the better. We definitely would focus on open pollinated varieties (OPV) and not hybrids since they can save an OPV and plant it year after year. Simple but a step in the right direction.

You can teach improved farming methods to assist with water and soil conservation and food security such as conversation and no-tillage farming. One approach is to find locally existing soil fertility enhancing sources such as nitrogen-fixing trees/plants or underutilized animal manures. They don’t cost a lot (mainly labor) but can help improve production of even their existing local varieties.

Diversification of farming systems is also a good way to help but not overtly threaten their already existing farming systems. Small amounts of long term crops like fruit trees and/or forestry species can be planted in farm borders and otherwise underutilized areas. They can give significant income and improve farmer livelihood both for the short and long-term.

Simple animal systems and improvement to their existing animal systems can make big gains in terms of food and income in a relatively short period of time.

Finally, improved grain storage methods and insect control for stored grain, while sounding simple, can do a lot to improve food quantity and saleability in the local markets.

I know I’ve covered a lot in this short blog and have not done justice to the topic but I hope it has stimulated you to think about ways to help people and communities with food security problems. I would love to hear from you, your ideas, about other things that you have seen are positive influences in helping to fight hunger.