Can we feed the world and protect the planet?

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When Michael Fredericksen was in the Peace Corps in Tanzania about 20 years ago, the Great Ruaha River and the surrounding wetlands teemed with diverse wildlife and abundant water year-round. I met him on a recent trip to eastern Africa, where he still lives and works. Michael explained that deforestation, climate change, agriculture and hydroelectric dams have taken their toll on the region.

Wetland communities in neighboring Zambia also suffer under the weight of competing demands for water and other natural resources. There, I met with Wilfred Moonga, a passionate park warden and wildlife advocate at Lochinvar National Park. Wilfred explained how wildlife, native cattle farmers, migrant fishers, large sugar plantations and increasing hydropower demand are vying for resources.

Colleagues from World Wildlife Fund and CARE accompanied me on these trips as part of our Alliance, which promotes just and sustainable food systems. Building on a seven year-old pilot program in Mozambique, the Alliance is now exploring opportunities to advance environmentally, socially and economically sustainable food production systems in Tanzania and Zambia.

About 44 percent of Tanzanians and 74 percent of Zambians are living on US$1.25 a day or less. Most of them rely on agriculture to feed their families and generate income. According to the World Bank, “growth in agriculture is on average at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth outside agriculture.”

The CARE-WWF Alliance seeks to capitalize on this opportunity to address two concerns: the failure and inequities of existing food systems to meet the needs of a billion hungry people—particularly poor women and rural communities—and the negative impact that food production can have on our environment.

The Alliance has shown the transformative impact of integrated approaches through our work in coastal Mozambique for the last seven years. In the region of Primeiras e Segundas, farmers now institute conservation agriculture practices that have measurably improved soil health and water retention and led to a quadrupling of crop yields. The Alliance has also worked with communities to establish “no take” zones in key areas so depleted fish stocks can rebound. Within two years, the diversity of fish species inside these sanctuaries was 45% to 93% higher than outside of them. Fishers report that there were more fish and that the fish were larger than before. The Alliance also helped local farmers and fishers tap into larger markets and establish local savings and loan associations, which expanded opportunities for economic development. It is now empowering more than 40 community-based groups to improve their fishing and farming livelihoods by sustainably managing natural resources. These lessons learned in Mozambique can be applied in Zambia, Tanzania and elsewhere.

Protecting the environment, earning a living, and feeding the hungry are not mutually exclusive objectives. Indeed, we will not survive as a species if they are. Governments, businesses, NGOs and individuals must work together to achieve these goals.

These steps are among the most difficult, but we are taking them. Promoting just and sustainable food systems is no small vision, but it is achievable.

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