"Agriculture can become a job engine"

How can agriculture modernise Africa? And does the road to the cities really lead out of poverty? Reiner Klingholz from the Berlin Institute for Population and Development in conversation with Jan Rübel.

Women working in the fields in their own vegetable beds, Machakos, Kenya. Photo: Christoph Püschner/Bread for the World
Women working in the fields in their own vegetable beds, Machakos, Kenya. Photo: Christoph Püschner/Bread for the World

Reiner Klingholz

Dr. Reiner Klingholz is director and board member of the Berlin-Institute for Population and Development. Previously, he was a member of the Enquete Commission on Demographic Change in Lower Saxony and worked as a Fellow at the Stellenborsch Institute for Advanced Studies in South Africa.

Mr. Klingholz, Africa’s young people are running for the cities. Can this trend be stopped? 
Dr. Reiner Klingholz: No. This urbanisation is caused by new job opportunities tending to be created where a critical mass of businesses, research institutions, and sharp minds come together – at least a few hundreds of thousands of people in one place. Ideas become new products and jobs. In times gone by, one needed coal and iron ore from the ground. In this day and age, however, knowledge is the basis for jobs.
 
Is that also true for Germany? 
This trend can be observed globally. In the German federal state of Vorpommern, there are relatively few innovative businesses, and in Berlin, a new one is started every 20 hours. In Africa, urbanisation also has additional dimensions: The high population growth occurs mainly in the rural regions. This is where the number of children is higher than it is in the city. And the number of jobs can keep up much less than it could in the urban regions. So young people migrate to the city because they are hoping to find better job prospects there. Futhermore, the people enjoy more freedom in the cities than the countryside where more social repression happens.
 
In the rural regions, most people work in the agriculture sector. How does this affect the young generation? 
They see how much hard work it is. The businesses are small and self-sustained. They cultivate crop for their own consumption and barely make money from it. Due to the high population growth, the fields become smaller and smaller. Young people are no longer interested in this traditional form of agriculture and for this tedious work. It is a trap. It means poverty and is yet the cause of a continuous population growth with high birth rates – a vicious circle.
 
And the farmers, male and female, are becoming older? 
This is why the population actively working in agriculture is getting older, obviously. It is mostly women who work in the fields. The agriculture sector must change fundamentally.
 
Does it still need to do that or is this already happening? 
Essentially, it still needs to change. After all, it is very difficult for people to escape the subsistence economy all by themselves. Modernisation and sustainable intensification are required. Productivity must increase in order to allow Africa to feed itself. Modern technology and higher chances of profit will make the sector more attractive for young people. What is important is downstream processing and that primary agricultural products become marketable food items. This is how money is made, and how new jobs are created. These young people do not merely want to stand in the field with pick and shovel...
 
... Otherwise they will go to the city and programme an app? Is this step not a little drastic? 
But this is exactly what’s already happening. It is not the perfect solution, however, given that there is not enough work in the cities. There is no doubt that people in the cities are better off than those in the countryside. Life expectancy in the cities is higher. Income levels are higher, and opportunities for education are better despite the fact that many people live in the worst slums.
 
Do the young people in the cities live like the British workers that Karl Marx used to describe? 
It is possible that this is a transition phase on the road to industrialisation. However, we do not know what consequences this would bring for Africa. Even with rapid industrialisation, it will be hard to find work for all those who are looking. Africa’s main problem is that the population fit for work is growing faster than the number of jobs available. This is the root cause of all social and political conflicts: young people who do not find a suitable place in society tend to choose radical solutions.
 
Why can agriculture become an engine for job creation? Why not the industrial sector or the service sector? 
This is because any country that has ever undergone such a development has started out in agriculture. With a growing agricultural sector, not only more people will have food, but they will also be healthier. Human capital is made through education and health. Adequate nutrition is essential for this purpose. Children with an empty stomach cannot learn. In the agriculture sector, jobs are created especially when you add the downstream sector: It goes without saying that, initially, jobs will be lost when the pick is replaced with a combine harvester. However, this also creates more and better paid jobs in processing what the farmers produce. The most large-scale structural change that Europe has ever undergone was away from agriculture and towards the industrial society. 80 percent of people used to work in agriculture. Today it is only one or two percent. Those who lost their jobs as farmers become available for more productive and innovative jobs that formed the basis of the wealth of these people. This is not only based on the agricultural sector but that’s where it first began.

 

Terraced areas in the Eastern Province of Kenya. (c) Christoph Püschner/Bread for the World
Terraced areas in the Eastern Province of Kenya. (c) Christoph Püschner/Bread for the World
Was this structural change back then in Europe larger in scale than the current one caused by digitalisation?
Without a doubt. The proportion of people affected by it was much higher.
 
What is the beginning of agricultural modernisation – Is it education?
It is a combination of education and the use of knowledge. New techniques and tools, better quality seeds, and artificial fertilizer have all once been invented in Europe. Africa can build on this knowledge and avoid the mistakes that we made. Africa can focus on digitalisation from the very beginning: For example, the farmers can use sensors to measure humidity and nutrient levels in the fields, and they can use irrigation only when it is actually required.
 
What mistakes that were made in Europe can be avoided?
Exposure to pesticides, overfertilising the land, and the threat to drinking water are all challenges that Africa needs to overcome. As well as the wrong type of subsidies, those that might lead to overproduction and distorted prices, should be avoided.
 
There are two schools of thoughts: The one preaches about the strictly necessary green revolution, and the second insists on ecological farming. Where do you stand on this issue?
The truth lies somewhere between the two. Not everything falling under even the broadest definition of genetic engineering should be deemed useless because of the technology used. We have to see what advantages that can be gained from this technology. Technology alone does not make a product evil. However, it does not necessarily make a product useful. With seeds for example, revenue can be increased and other properties desired can usually be realised, using traditional methods of crop cultivation. In individual cases, hybrids can be helpful, for new pests that have come about due to climate change, for example.
 

Small farmers, leading an contemplative life in harmony with the environment is a naive idea

 
And what about fertiliser?
Soil in Africa is no worse than soil in Europe, on average. However, using organic fertiliser is challenging given the degradation rate of organic fertilisers. This rate is very high due to the climate in Africa. I can barely imagine how intensifying activities in the agriculture sector can be possible without artificial fertiliser. Africa cannot do this without this type of fertiliser. Having said that, it must not be used either according to the motto of: Using a lot helps a lot. In Europe we did this for a long time, with all the damage to our soil and our water that resulted from this. What Africa needs is precision farming using any technique possible to increase revenue but without destroying the basis of agricultural work. This is called sustainable. There is no alternative to it.
 
Is the issue of land access a problem for young people?
Land rights are a general problem in Africa. In many places, the land is owned by the state. This makes it hard to motivate farmers to make long-term investments. Alternatively, there may be big landowners who hire people but only pay them the absolute minimum. In an ideal world, every farmer should be able to farm and keep their own land. This is when farmers develop the level of responsibility required. After all, the farmer will still need his land tomorrow, and he might also want to pass it on to his children.
 
How can this situation be addressed?
Some countries give access to land through reforms. Where the areas are too small, agriculture cannot become productive. Then you have to have co-operations in which people share machines. Nobody will buy a tractor to farm half a hectare of land. The goal should be to ultimately combine small surfaces. For example, one farmer sells his land because he is taking up a different type of employment, and his neighbour, who purchases the land, will then increase his area. The idea, partially promoted by Europe, that small farmers have a quiet and peaceful life with the people around them that needs to be preserved is naive. The only thing that will be preserved this way is the poverty trap.
 
How should big players be viewed in this context – as an opportunity or as a curse?
It is hard for me to make this judgement. Research is not conclusive. It could be that a big investor may be able to increase productivity massively and that the country benefits from this. However, the example of Ethiopia shows that productivity can be increased even for small cultivation areas: The government employs tens of thousands of agricultural advisors, and it is offering better seeds. The negative scenario is that a large investor from outside comes, hires only a few people, and that this person will then take both the products and the revenue out of the country. Investors from outside need not be bad. After all, one problem of African agriculture is that the means for the investments needed are lacking.

 

A farmer family in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, posing for the camera. Photo: picture alliance/Westend61
A farmer family in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, posing for the camera. Photo: picture alliance/Westend61
Why has this potential of agriculture been missed?
Agriculture has long been viewed as not sexy by development programmes. The governments wanted to build roads, bring industry to the country, establish a banking sector fast, and extract raw material from the ground. Agriculture is a lot of work initially, and the population working in this sector does not have a very high status. Young people at university level are looking to work in the administrative sector, to become doctors or engineers, but not farmers. There is an issue with the image of the sector. This is yet another reason why agriculture needs to be modernised.
 
Have the developed countries also missed the boat with Africa in this context?
Back when development cooperation was still referred to as development, people used to say this: We will take our machines and our technology there, and everything will be okay. This approach was naive because the knowledge required was lacking. There have been a lot of severe failure. White elephants were placed in the fields. The machines would rot away while the farmers would continue their traditional type of agriculture.
 

If population growth does not slow down, people will remain trapped in the poverty trap.

 
Is there are time window for modernising agriculture, or is it never too late?
Compared to other regions, Africa is just running late and trying to catch up. This makes it even more important to act fast. Countries need to develop quickly, and their people need perspectives. Without perspectives, they cannot plan their lives which makes family planning difficult as well. Along with development and better education, the number of childbirths will decrease. This is the only way to solve Africa’s biggest problem – the fast population growth. There is no humane alternative to this. When population growth does not slow down rapidly, people will remain trapped in the poverty trap. This will have horrendous, almost Malthusian, consequences: A lot of people will starve. Mortality rates will rise, and distribution conflicts will increase. Nobody wants this to happen.

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More than just a seat at the table

By Welthungerhilfe

Africa is home to the world’s youngest and fastest growing population. For many young people, agriculture could offer a job perspective. But to improve the living conditions and job prospects of young people in rural areas, political reforms and investments are desperately needed, as these people will be at the centre of agriculture and agricultural development in the future.

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Global responsibility: Tackling hunger is the only way forward

By Lisa Hücking (WHH)

Chancellor Merkel has begun an ambitious European political programme: Striving for compromise in budget negotiations, an orderly Brexit as well as an appropriate response to the corona crisis. Unfortunately, one of her positions that she previously held is nowhere to be found: Africa's prosperity is in the interest of Europe. 

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Reference values: A building block on the road to social equality

Article by Friederieke Martin (GIZ)

A quick and cost-effective method calculates living wages and incomes for many different countries. The GIZ together with Fairtrade International and Richard and Martha Anker have developed a tool that companies can use to easily analyse income and wage gaps.

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Quinoa could have a huge potential in Central Asia, where the Aral Sea Basin has been especially hard-hit by salinisation.

Supermarket Scorecard on Human Rights

By Dr. Franziska Humbert (Oxfam)

Oxfam’s supermarket scorecard, which is in its third year, shows one thing in particular - it works! Supermarkets can change their business policies and focus more on the rights of those people around the world who plant and harvest food. However, this does not happen without pressure. 

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Quinoa could have a huge potential in Central Asia, where the Aral Sea Basin has been especially hard-hit by salinisation.

Africa's face of agriculture is female

By Beatrice Gakuba

Africa has a huge opportunity to make agriculture its economic driver. However, the potential for this is far from being made exhaustive use of, one reason being that women face considerable difficulties in their economic activities. The organisation AWAN Afrika seeks to change this state of affairs.

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Success story allotment garden: Food supply and women's empowerment

By Nadine Babatounde and Anne Floquet

To prevent malnutrition among young children and strengthen the role of women in their communities, Misereor, together with the local non-governmental organisation CEBEDES, is implementing a programme on integrated home gardens in Benin - a series of pictures.

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Quinoa could have a huge potential in Central Asia, where the Aral Sea Basin has been especially hard-hit by salinisation.

Video: 4 Questions to Claudia Makdristo

By Seedstars

Startups are booming in African agriculture. What are the current trend and challenges – and can other regions benefit from innovative approaches? A Video-Interview with Claudia Makadristo, Regional Manager of Seedstars  

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Quinoa could have a huge potential in Central Asia, where the Aral Sea Basin has been especially hard-hit by salinisation.

Planetary Health: Recommendations for a Post-Pandemic World

By Dr. Kathleen Mar and Dr. Nicole de Paula

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, health is receiving unprecedented public and political attention. Yet the fact that climate change is also affecting the environmental and social determinants of health in a profound and far-reaching way deserves further recognition.

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Innovations for a secure food supply

By German Agribusiness Alliance

The COVID 19 pandemic is hitting developing and emerging countries and their poorest populations particularly hard. It is important to take countermeasures at an early stage. Companies in the German agricultural sector want to make their contribution to ensuring the availability of urgently needed operating resources.

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Turning many into one: CGIAR network restructures

By Jan Rübel

International agricultural research is responding to new challenges: Their advisory group is undergoing a fundamental reform process and unites knowledge, partnerships and physical assets into OneCGIAR.

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The human finca

Interview with Marvin Antonio Garcia Otero

In Eastern El Salvador, campesinos are cultivating a self-image to encourage rural youth to remain in rural areas. With help from Caritas, they have adjusted the cultivation methods to their soils and traditions - Marvin Antonio Garcia Otero,the deputy director of Caritas of the Diocese of San Miguel believes this is the best way to prevent rural exodus and criminality.

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Good health is impossible without healthy food

By Heino von Meyer

Corona makes it even more difficult to achieve a world without hunger by 2030. So that this perspective does not get out of sight, Germany must play a stronger role internationally - a summary of the Strategic Advisory Group of SEWOH.

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© GIZ

Actual Analysis: The locusts came with the crises

By Bettina Rudloff and Annette Weber (SWP)

The Corona-Virus exacerbates existing crises through conflict, climate, hunger and locusts in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. What needs to be done in these regions? To face these challenges for many countries, all of these crises need to be captured in their regional context.

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© GIZ

One Health – What we are learning from the Corona crisis

Dr. May Hokan and Dr. Arnulf Köhncke (WWF)

Due to the coronavirus crisis, the connection between human and animal health has gained new attention. Politicians and scientists are joining forces to propagate the solution: One Health. But what is behind the concept? And can it also guarantee food security for all people worldwide?

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© GIZ

Resilient small-scale agriculture: A key in global crises

By Kerstin Weber and Brit Reichelt-Zolho (WWF)

Biodiversity and sustainable agriculture ensure the nutrition of whole societies. But there is more: These two factors also provide better protection against the outbreak of dangerous pandemics. Hence, the question of preserving ecosystems is becoming a global survival issue.

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© GIZ

Ideas on the ground: Local solutions for global challenges

Interview with Sebastian Lesch (BMZ)

A world without hunger and with sufficient healthy food as well as climate-friendly agriculture can only be achieved if ideas are transformed into innovations and ultimately also applied - a conversation with BMZ Head of Division Sebastian Lesch on the Innovation Challenge programme of the new Agricultural Innovation Fund.

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Developing countries hit doubly hard by coronavirus

By Gunter Beger (BMZ)

In most African countries, the infection COVID-19 is likely to trigger a combined health and food crisis. This means: In order to cope with this unprecedented crisis, consistently aligning our policies to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is more important than ever, our author maintains.

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“Corona exposes the weaknesses of our nutritional systems"

Interview with Arif Husain (WFP)

The United Nations plan a Food Systems Summit - and now the Corona-Virus is dictating the agenda. The Chief Economist of the UN World Food Programme takes stock of the current situation: a conversation with Jan Rübel about pandemics, about the chromosomes of development - and about the conflicts that inhibit them.

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“Healthy ground brings good and many fruits”

Interview with Ben Sekamatte and Boaz Ogola

Africa's cotton production plays a key role in the fight against poverty. The "Cotton Made in Africa" initiative promotes sustainable cultivation - one element of which is the use of organic pesticides. Entomologist Ben Sekamatte and cotton company manager Boaz Ogola talked with Jan Rübel about soil and yields.

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Hier steht eine Bildbeschreibung

Statement from GAFSP Co-Chairs: GAFSP and COVID-19 Pandemic

By GAFSP

COVID-19 has unprecedented effects on the world. As always, the most vulnerable are the hardest hit, both at home and - especially - abroad. A joint appeal by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) and the Department for International Development (DFID).

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(c) Welthungerhilfe

5 questions to F. Patterson: Why is there more hunger?

Interview with Fraser Patterson

Every year in October, the "Welthungerhilfe" aid organisation, with the Irish "Concern Worldwide" NGO, publishes the Global Hunger Index, a tool with which the hunger situation is recorded. What are the trends - and what needs to be done?

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(c) Joerg Boethling/GIZ

What it takes now

By Heike Baumüller

Artificial intelligence, big data and blockchain are the hottest topics of our time. The digital transformation of the African agricultural sector is ready for take-off. What will it take for the future of technology to hit the ground running?

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(c) Katapult/GIZ

The digitised farmyard

By Jan Rübel

Lots of apps are entering the market, but what really makes sense? For African agriculture, some of it seems like a gimmick, some like a real step forward. So this is what a smallholder farm in Africa could look like today - with the help of smartphones, internet and electricity. 

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(c) Christoph Pueschner/Zeitenspiegel

Can this end world hunger?

By Stig Tanzmann

Time to dig deeper: We can only benefit from technical progress if we have a solid legal framework for everybody. But so far, none is in sight - in many countries. Instead, international corporations grow ever more powerful.

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(c) Christoph Pueschner/Zeitenspiegel

From start to finish: a vision of interconnectivity

By Tanja Reith

At the moment, the agricultural industries of African countries exist in relative isolation. Imagine peasant farmers digitally connected to the value chains of the global food industry. How could this happen? A guidebook.

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"Pandemic increases violence against women"

Interview with Léa Rouanet

African countries still face huge gender gaps in terms of access to work and capital. What are the consequences of Corona for women in Africa? Jan Rübel interviewed Léa Rouanet on lockdowns and gender-based violence. The economist works at the Africa Gender Innovation Lab of the World Bank.

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Gender equality: Essential for food and nutrition security

By Carsta Neuenroth (BfdW)

The majority of producers in developing countries are women. Although they contribute significantly to the food security of their families, they remain chronically disadvantaged in male-dominated agriculture in terms of access to land, credit, technology and education.

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Building our food systems back better

By Jes Weigelt and Alexander Müller

What is required to make food systems provide sufficient, healthy food while not harming the planet? How should food security be maintained given the threat posed by climate change? Our authors look at some aspects of tomorrow’s food systems against the backdrop of the corona crisis.

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"We must mobilise all available resources"

By Ismahane Elouafi (ICBA)

Freshwater deficits are affecting more and more people throughout the world. In order to counter this, our global food system will have to change, our author maintains. A case for more research on alternative crops and smart water solutions.

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Do we have to dare a new food system?

By Dr. Felix zu Löwenstein (BÖLW)

Lack of seasonal workers and virus explosion in slaughterhouses, rising vegetable prices, climate crisis – all this demonstrates: Our food system is highly productive and (at least for the rich inhabitants of planet earth) guarantees an unprecedented rich and steady food supply - but it is not resilient.

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Video diaries in the days of Corona: Voices from the ground

By Sarah D´haen & Alexander Müller, Louisa Nelle, Bruno St. Jaques, Sarah Kirangu-Wissler and Matteo Lattanzi (TMG)

Young farmers’ insights on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on food systems in Sub-Saharan Africa @CovidFoodFuture and video diaries from Nairobi’s informal settlements.

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"The virus does not need visa"

Interview by Dr. Ahmed Ouma (CDC)

Countries across Africa coordinate their efforts in the fight against corona by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) of the African Union in Addis Abeba. Until now, the curve of new infections has been successfully flattened – why? Dr. Ahmed Ouma, Deputy Director, explains the work of CDC in an interview with Tilman Wörtz.

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Double interview: The Forest Maker and his director

By Jan Rübel

Tony Rinaudo uses conventional reforestation methods to plant millions and millions of trees – and Volker Schlöndorff is filming a cinema documentary about the Australian. The outcome so far: An educational film on behalf of the BMZ (Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development).

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Ms Rudloff, what are the benefits of a supply chain law?

By Jan Rübel

The Federal Government is fine-tuning a law that would require companies to ensure human rights – a supply chain law. What are the consequences for the agricultural sector? Dr Bettina Rudloff from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) discusses linking policy fields with added value.

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School Feeding: A unique platform to address gender inequalities

By Carmen Burbano de Lara (WFP)

Besides the well known impacts of Covid19 lockdowns for the adult population, the associated school closures led to 90 percent of the world’s children with no access to schools. However, school meals are in often the only daily meal for children. Without access to this safety net, issues like hunger, poverty and malnutrition are exacerbated for hundreds of millions of children.

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Africa's rapid economic transformation

By T. S. Jayne, A. Adelaja and R. Mkandawire

Thirty years ago, Africa was synonymous with war, famine and poverty. That narrative is clearly outdated. African living standards are rising remarkably fast. Our authors are convinced that improving education and entrepreneurship will ensure irreversible progress in the region even as it confronts COVID-19.

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From Berlin to Yen Bai: 10,000 trees for Vietnam

By GIZ and BMZ

It began with clicks at a trade fair and ends with concrete reforestation: a campaign at the Green Week in Berlin is now enriching the forests of the Yen Bai Province in Vietnam. A chronicle of an education about climatic relevance to concrete action - and about the short distances on our planet.

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Podcast: Fighting world hunger together

Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Podcast of the Federal Government

At the start of World Food Week around World Food Day on 16 October, Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that the fight against global hunger will only be successful with international responsibility and solidarity (german only).

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A partnership to fight hunger

By GAFSP

The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) was launched by the G20 countries in 2010 in response to the 2008-09 food price crisis to increase both public and private investment in agriculture. An overview of the programme's approach, results and impact.

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'It has never been more possible'

Interview with Carin Smaller (Ceres2030)

Over a period of two years, the Ceres2030 team spent researching answers to the questions of how much it will how much it will cost to realize SDG 2 and where that money should be spent most effectively. IISD Senior Advisor and Ceres2030 Co-director Carin Smaller about small farmers, machine learning and women empowerment.

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5 Questions for Gunther Beger (BMZ): What must be done?

Interview with Gunther Beger (BMZ)

How much will it cost to sustainably end world hunger by 2030? This question was posed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) that commissioned two research teams with finding an answer. The results of the studies will be presented on October 13 in the run-up to World Food Day.

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