The rippling ocean water tilts the lone fisherman's boat from side to side. He waits patiently for his fishing line to jerk so that he can snag a hungry fish. Each year, his catch is smaller than it was the year before. He looks back at his small village and feels the despair of not being able to provide for his wife and children. He asks himself, "Why can't I feed my family like I used to?"
The United Nations estimates that food insecurity is a daily reality for about 1 billion people. The inability of these people to secure food is the result of many factors, including poverty, conflict, and social or gender issues. But in many places, it's also a result of people no longer being able to rely on nature to provide them with the food they need.
As CI continues to empower societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature for the well-being of humanity, John Buchanan, CI's Senior Director of Food Security, is helping to highlight the connections among food production, nutrition, and nature.
The Environment: One Slice of the Food Security Pie
Food security is a global issue being tackled by many. But as the world seeks ways to produce food more efficiently, John wants to make sure that the methods implemented are sustainable.
Food, after all, is a product of nature. And like all products of nature, it is vulnerable to nature's destruction. Often, people pursue food security through the overuse of natural resources. That's understandable, but it also undermines the long-term stability of food production, negatively impacting human well-being.
"The rural poor are often the most directly dependent upon natural resources, and they can get stuck in a real dilemma," John says. "Immediate needs for food and income can lead to unsustainable production practices or over-harvest of resources, which undermines the long-term viability of those same resources. Furthermore, (the rural poor) often don't have control of those resources, making them even more vulnerable."
The solution? Making sure that nature's contributions — through, for example, fisheries and other wild foods, pollination, and the provision of fresh water and other services essential to agriculture — are recognized contributors in the ongoing effort to achieve global food security.
This isn't just jargon. There is strong scientific evidence, John says, showing that sustainable practices are key to achieving higher food yields and creating food security.
Take fisheries. Science shows a strong link between the production of a fishery and the protection of its coral reefs, fish spawning areas, mangroves, and other natural components. Quite literally, healthy coral reefs mean more fish for more people.
Telling the CI Story
CI has developed a threefold approach to harnessing the contribution that nature makes to food security:
- Conserving healthy, wild food sources;
- Promoting sustainable production systems, and;
- Planning for resilient, sustainable landscapes and seascapes.
This can be challenging, particularly given CI's disparate geographies and field programs. It's John's task to face these challenges head-on — and to work with CI's field programs around the world to achieve meaningful, tangible improvements in food security at the local level.
"There is no 'one size fits all,' " John says. "We have to work with programs to understand the local dynamics and develop interventions accordingly. Our field teams do the hard work of implementation, and I try to provide technical input, support strategy development, engage partners, fundraise, and tell (the CI) story." This includes talking with companies, donors and policymakers about the role of CI.
John is especially reaching out to communities to which conservation groups often don't speak. "That's a key part of the Food Security team's role — playing in those new circles, being a bit of that ambassador and looking for opportunities for our experts." This is the case whether CI is lending its expertise on fisheries, food-security metrics, or any other topic on which it can have a voice.
A Journey Toward Food Security
John humbly points out that he is just a "guy from a small liberal arts school, Washington and Lee (University), with bachelor's degrees in French and political science working in the world of Ph.D.s and heavy science." However, his work in food security is more of a fit than you'd think.
"It was a natural thing," John says of his latest role at CI.
John began his career as an international salesperson in a food packaging company. During his time there, John traveled to areas throughout the Caribbean and South America, which ultimately steered his career path toward CI.
"During the weekends of my sales job, I would often go far out in the woods and return in time for sales meetings in the morning," John says. "In doing that, I saw the connection between poverty and natural resource degradation, biodiversity loss and deforestation. You do meetings in the city, but it's when you get out into the countryside that you see some of those issues.
"I wanted to start working with the environment," John recalls. "Drawing upon past interests, and more recent experiences seeing the connection between poverty and deforestation — that's when I started to look at groups that were working at that nexus between conservation and development."
John joined CI in 1997 and began in the Conservation Enterprise Department, creating markets for products such as cocoa and nuts from sustainable-livelihood projects. In 2001, John joined the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, where he witnessed the potential for CI to make conservation allies with unexpected actors. John watched fertilizer salespeople in Brazil get into a passionate debate over how to best work with farmers, for example, while explaining their environmental role and their impact on biodiversity.
"We had been targeting these agribusiness and fertilizer companies forever," he says. "It's one thing to target the higher-ups, but it's another when you hear a bunch of the fertilizer sales guys out in the field talking about biodiversity and conservation. That was pretty cool."
John began the current leg of his CI journey when he moved to CI's Global Initiatives Division in June 2010 to lead development of the food security strategy.
Motivation Through the Challenges
When John steps away from the office, he spends his time cycling, exercising and "getting my kid, Sawyer, out in the woods." John grew up exploring the previously unspoiled hills of Southern California, where coyotes, horned lizards and snakes were common. Now, he and his son often "play with sticks and look for critters. We're really big on sticks, throwing rocks, and stomping in puddles." It won't be long until his newborn daughter joins the games, too.
John's children continue to be a motivation as he deals with the ongoing challenges of his work. It can be a hurdle, he says, to get people — especially hungry people in a state of short-term, dire need — to think about long-term sustainability. But John knows the impact this work can have. Seeing "the people and places where we work, and seeing the potential to help improve their lives," is what food security at CI, and John's role, are all about.