Cross-posted from
By: Marcia MacNeil

The great hope that rose from the Arab awakening is being continually tested—not only by ongoing political unrest, but also by lesser known forces: volatile food prices and supplies, and grinding poverty. Translating hope to better lives rests on effective policy—and effective policy rests on access to adequate and accurate information, also in scarce supply in the region. For instance, only around half of the region’s countries make poverty figures publicly available, and the frequency and accuracy of those figures varies widely.

Cross-posted from University of Bonn's Center for Development Research

Summary of the international expert consultation organized by the Center for Development Research (ZEF) and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) held at ZEF in Bonn, Germany on January 31 and February 1, 2013.

By Joachim von Braun (ZEF) and Maximo Torero (IFPRI)

On January 22, the FAO launched the 2012 edition of its annual report, “The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2012: Investing in Agriculture for a Better Future", in the US. The launch event was hosted by IFPRI, FAO, and the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa and featured speakers from all three institutions.

One of the biggest challenges faced by smallholder farmers today is climate change, and the increasingly variable weather patterns that result from it. While farmers in some tropical regions may benefit from rising temperatures, the majority of the world's smallholders will face increased hardship as a result of warmer weather and uncertain rainfall. Future food security, particularly for developing countries, will depend on how populations react to and cope with the challenges presented by climate change.

Food assistance programs are a staple in the international development world, used to address both humanitarian crises and longer term development goals. But what type of food assistance program is most effective in the fight against hunger and malnutrition?
A new IFPRI report examines this question.

Small farms, meaning farms with two ha of land or less, make up 80 percent of all farm holdings in Africa south of the Sahara (SSA). Such a large population clearly has the power to spur economic development in the region, and needs to be included in any economic discussion. But smallholders often find themselves confined to local markets or subsistence-level farming, leaving them trapped in poverty. What can be done to allow Africa's small farms to reach their full potential?

As one of the world's most important staple crops, wheat plays a crucial role in the global agricultural economy and in global food security. The grain accounts for an estimated 20 percent of calories consumed throughout the world. But a burgeoning global population and changing climate are putting ever greater pressure on wheat farmers to produce bigger yields. A new multinational initiative, the Wheat Yield Network, has recently been launched to help raise global wheat yields and develop new wheat varieties that are better adapted to meet the world's changing needs.

Asia is home to more than two-thirds of the world's poor and hungry. And as populations around the world continue to grow, the region's most vulnerable people will be faced with even greater challenges in the coming decades. Climate change and unsustainable resource use are likely to impede agricultural productivity, exacerbating already high and volatile food prices and presenting significant barriers to poor populations' access to affordable food supplies. But the news is not all bad.

For many smallholder farmers, accessing larger, more lucrative markets can seem like an impossible proposition. While contract farming (a set agreement between a farmer and a buyer) can help establish set prices and more reliable links to domestic and international markets, contracts are typically signed with more educated, medium-sized farmers rather than smallholders.

A new report from the African Development Bank (AfDB) examines the food security situation and needs of North Africa. The Political Economy of Food Security in North Africa finds that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is the world's largest importer of cereals, with dependence on food imports expected to increase by 2050 due to a burgeoning population, decreasing agricultural productivity, and rising incomes.