One Billion Hungry: ASA offers new program in South Asia

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Source: Soil Science Society of America

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization released a report on June 19, 2009 stating that one in six people in the world — or more than 1 billion — is now hungry, a historic high. Compared with last year, there are 100 million more people who are hungry, meaning they receive fewer than 1,800 calories a day, the Food and Agriculture Organization said in the new estimate of food insecurity.

Almost all the world's undernourished live in developing countries, where food prices have fallen more slowly than in the richer nations, the report said. Poor countries need more aid and agricultural investment to cope, the report said.

Asia and the Pacific, the world's most populous region, has the largest number of hungry people at 642 million.

To increase agricultural investment, recently, The American Society of Agronomy (ASA) announced that it will develop and implement a highly qualified workforce program for private and public sector extension by establishing a Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) program in South Asia.

The main target for this program will be the frontline agronomists employed by private companies, non-government organizations, and public sector agencies. Certification by ASA ensures that crop advisers are competent in all aspects of crop production and provide services in an ethical manner.

ASA has partnered on the Cereal System Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), which brings together a range of public- and private-sector organizations to enable sustainable cereal production in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. CSISA is led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and three other centers with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $19.59 million, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) contributing more than $10 million, and the World Bank, $0.5 million, during the first three years of the program.

Many private companies in Asia are investing in new agribusiness and services infrastructure, including a substantial workforce of crop advisers who directly work with farmers, providing inputs, crop advice, and market information. High quality standards are vital for providing new technologies to farmers and developing sustainable production practices. This responsibility requires a proficient understanding of crop production science, food safety, economics, and the environment.

As J.K. Ladha, an IRRI soil scientist and leader of Objective 7 of CSISA, Creating a New Generation of Scientists and Professional Agronomists, said, “The private sector in India and in other countries in South Asia is moving aggressively in the agricultural area, but they do not have a certified program for crop advisers to help transfer knowledge for improving crop productivity.  Many technologies that we have on the shelf are not going efficiently and quickly to the farmer. About 25% of the overall CSISA program is funded for delivery of information to the farmer and that is the key in making this program successful.”

To address this emerging demand by the private sector and the continuing need of public sector extension systems, CSISA will facilitate the implementation of the a CCA program as a voluntary self-sustained program that establishes a base level of competency through testing, education, and experience requirements; and maintains or raises that competency through continuing education or requirements for participants in the program.

This program comes at a crucial time for key nations in the region—home to 40% of the world's poor with nearly half a billion people subsisting on less than US$1 a day—as they struggle to boost grain supplies in the wake of growing demand and strained natural resources. The project, which builds on past cereal research achievements in the public and private sectors, aims to produce an additional five million tons of grain annually and increase the yearly incomes of six million poor rural households by at least $350.

“This program is extremely important for the food supply of the most populous region of the world. We are honored to take part in this initiative with IRRI,” said Mark Alley, American Society of Agronomy President and W.G. Wysor Professor of Agriculture, Virginia Tech, “Our objective is to help build a certified crop adviser program to deliver higher quality production recommendations that will result in the more efficient use o f expensive resources, better protection of the environment and a higher quality of life for producers in India and the South Asia region.”

CSISA's 10-year goal is for four million farmers to achieve a yield increase of at least 0.5 tons per hectare on five million hectares, and an additional two million farmers to achieve a yield increase of at least 1.0 ton per hectare on 2.5 million hectares.

As stated in the FAO report, in the medium and long terms, the structural solution to the problem of hunger lies in increasing production particularly in low‐income food deficit countries. These countries must be assisted with the necessary technical and Linancial solutions and policy tools to enhance their agricultural sectors in terms of productivity and resilience in the face of crises. Stable and effective policies, regulatory and institutional mechanisms, and functional market infrastructures that promote investment in the agricultural sector are paramount. Investments in food and agricultural science and technology need to be stepped up.

The Certified Crop Adviser program, www.certifiedcropadviser.org, administered by the American Society of Agronomy and overseen by an international board of directors, is a voluntary certification program for individuals that provide advice to growers on crop management and inputs. A program which began in 1992, the certification gives growers assurance that advisers are competent in all aspects of crop production, up to date on the latest in crop management and government mandates, and provides all services in an ethical manner.

Photo provided by IRRI of a farmer using a hand tractor to prepare fields for wetlands rice.

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