Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank (image on Flickr by International Monetary Fund).
Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, spoke today (6 July 2011) at the 40-year-anniversary celebrations of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) at the World Bank in Washington, DC. His presentation followed a film about the historical beginnings of the CGIAR, including interviews of Norman Borlaug and Robert McNamara.
‘Both Norman Borlaug and Robert McNamara believed that it is possible to defeat hunger,’ Zoellick said. ‘They both worked to boost food production through science. And they both died within a few months of each other in 2009.’
Zoellick said that agriculture is a subject of strong personal interest for him; he grew up around farm families in the American midwest. And he said few things were as satisfying for him as speaking to farm families that had doubled, tripled or quadrupled their incomes through improved farm practices, which in turn rely on agricultural science.
Zoellick said that high food prices today are pushing 44 million people into poverty, and the global population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050.
‘We’ll have to increase food production by 70% to feed everyone by mid-century,’ he said. ‘And we’ll have to do that with the rate of production increases dropping and in the face of climate change, which is predicted to decrease crop yields in Africa by 28%.’
Zoellick reported on some of the great achievements of the CGIAR over the last four decades. Among them, he cited the following work by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its partners, including the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.
There is now a vaccine for East Coast fever, which kills 1 cow every 30 seconds in 11 countries of Africa. The vaccine is expected to save more than a million cattle, with benefits worth up to USD270 million a year in the countries where the disease is now endemic.
‘I’ve been urging the G20 to put food first this year,’ said Zoellick. ‘One of my key messages at both G8 and G20 is the need to support agriculture and agricultural research.
“I see a 5-step challenge for the CGIAR,’ said Zoellick.
(1) Donor agencies increase funding to the CGIAR from USD670 million last year to USD1 billion by 2013.
(2) Donor agencies commit to multi-year predictable funding.
(3) Research institutions place greater focus on research to reduce post-harvest food losses (which can make up 20–50% of yields).
(4) Developing countries themselves increase their investments to agricultural research and development.
(5) Researchers and their supporters stand up for science and fight the current trend of cloaking ignorance in fashionable causes.
The moment is right to push the agricultural research agenda, Zoellick said. ‘The agricultural sector is fertile for innovation. And we can demonstrate the intimate links between this work and two of the big issues of our day—food security and climate change.’
Given the ammunition, he said, he’ll push this agenda forward.