A global food security challenge
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to 10 billion people. The world faces an essential yet daunting challenge in feeding a rapidly growing population. It is no longer only about providing sufficient quantities of food, as malnutrition has become increasingly complex. Often referred to as the “triple burden,” countries can simultaneously experience undernutrition (not enough calories), micronutrient deficiencies (not enough vitamins and minerals), and over-nutrition (too many calories).
No country can confront these tremendous challenges alone, nor should it. Along with other countries, Canada has endorsed the UN Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, otherwise known as Agenda 2030. The second SDG, and the most challenging, is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture globally.
Canada has a lot to offer, and gain, from international collaborations aimed at tackling national and global challenges in food security. Advances in science and technology not only boost our domestic food security, but provide opportunities for Canada to contribute internationally, assisting countries in the Global South.
Canadian agricultural R&D is vital for the global economy
I grew up on a farm in rural Manitoba, was doing chores at the age of four, learned to drive stick shift at 11, and was seeding and harvesting fields as a young teenager. Farm life instilled in me many things, including a strong work ethic, love of the outdoors, and knowledge of how to grow food.
But the average Canadian need not have a deep personal connection to a farm, nor even be a “foodie” to know that agriculture is fundamental to the Canadian economy – reported as one of Canada’s top five industries, with nearly 2.1 million Canadians (working as farmers, suppliers, processors, transporters, grocers and restaurant workers.
Jobs are tangible things to which we can relate, with direct benefits. But how would supporting agricultural research and development in countries in the Global South benefit Canadians?
Remaining at the cutting-edge of agricultural research helps Canada safeguard our domestic food security, opens new markets for new products, and maintains regional and international trade leverage. To ensure we can confront new challenges, scientists continue to be innovative—looking for ways to improve existing crop varieties, making them resistant to disease and drought; keeping animals healthy through vaccines, better diet or farming practices; ensuring our food is safe, affordable and nutritious.
Meeting wicked problems with innovation: the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF)
These and similar concerns were all driving motivations behind a unique and innovative Canadian initiative: a funding program to invest in and support Canadian-Southern agriculture- and nutrition-related research partnerships.
I have been involved in this program—the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF)—since its inception. A partnership between Global Affairs Canada and the International Development Research Centre, CIFSRF was built on the firm conviction that this type of collaboration holds the promise of innovations that will benefit the poor and food insecure, and builds stronger alliances and programming for agriculture and food security both at home and abroad.
From 2009- 2018, Canada committed CA$124 million dollars to fund the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF), funded by IDRC and Global Affairs Canada and part of Canada’s commitment to the G-8 L’Aquila Food Security Initiative. Carried out in two phases, CIFSRF brought together the best of the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. It was designed to increase collaboration between Canadian and developing country research experts to solve global problems of food and nutrition insecurity through applied, collaborative, research.
During the first phase, over 144 evidence-based food security innovations –ranging from seeds, technologies, machinery, methods, models, as well as policy recommendations— were developed and field tested, with promising initial results. Many of these innovations had meaningful positive effects on food security and nutrition at a pilot level. For the second phase, the most promising innovations were scaled-up, where they could benefit a larger numbers of smallholder farmers (particularly women) and food consumers and contribute to global food and nutrition security.
The path ahead: where CIFSRF takes us next
To remain at the top of the curve and keep up with rapidly-changing markets and consumer demand, Canadian farms are diversifying, relying on a wide range of technological advances. Adopting innovations can increase farm productivity, helping Canada maintain its place as one of the world's largest exporters of agricultural products.
Research and innovation remain critical to the Canadian economy, notably emphasized in the 2018 budget, when the federal government committed to the largest investment in fundamental research in the nation’s history.
Results from CIFSRF are demonstrating positive impacts on the lives of smallholder farmers and consumers, contributing to the food security needs of vulnerable populations in the Global South, and Canadian expertise significantly contributed to achieving these results (for research results and impacts, see www.idrc.ca/cifsrf).
And Canadians are benefiting.
CIFSRF-supported innovations are helping solve problems of food and nutritional insecurity in the Global South. These innovations are helping Canada’s environment and economy, and range from resilient new crops and vaccines, to agriculture practices that reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and water demand. At the same time, collaborating with researchers from around the world has strengthened Canada’s reputation for world-leading research and helped foster the next generation of Canadian researchers and leaders, giving them the global perspective they need to succeed.
As the program winds up this year, I remain convinced that Canada needs more of this kind of collaborative research, working together to find global solutions to global problems.
Wendy Manchur is a program officer for the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund at IDRC.