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Food Insecurity: How Do We Feed the World? (Part 2)

Posted in Food Insecurity,Food Policy on June 8, 2018

Feed the World. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization: “For the third year in a row, there has been a rise in world hunger. The absolute number of undernourished people, i.e. those facing chronic food deprivation, has increased to nearly 821 million in 2017, from around 804 million in 2016. These are levels from almost a decade ago.”

In part one of this series, the topic of food insecurity was addressed as part of a holistic methodology introduced by the United Nations. It is one of its top priorities as approximately 815 million people go hungry. Perhaps the greatest challenge that is upon us is how to feed a growing global population that is projected to increase to around 10 billion by 2050. In order to accomplish this, food production will need to increase by 50 to 75 percent globally.

Types of Food Insecurity

Not only is malnourishment a tremendous concern, but food insecurity also manifests itself in overweight and obese individuals. Obesity can result from the consumption of too many “empty” calories and insufficient nutrients derived from highly processed foods. According to a joint study by the United Nations entitled The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017, “the prevalence of undernourishment is highest in Africa; the absolute number of undernourished people is largest in Asia”, and this is inclusive of malnourishment and obesity. Effective, increased, and sustained food production is essential to address these issues.

Stunting is a physical state in which children are too short for their chronological age, and this is primarily influenced by a chronic state of undernutrition. Estimates recorded in 2016 evidence that 155 million children under five years of age worldwide suffer from stunting, and this in turn can lead to poor cognition and learning disabilities later in childhood. Stunting is caused by low birth weight, inadequate diet, subpar health care procedures, and infections.

Sustainable Food Practices and Food Insecurity

Our worldwide food supply is fragile: floods, droughts, other natural disasters; politically and socially divergent governments; inequitable distribution methods together contribute to all forms of food insecurity. Political and social unrest can subject people to food shortages; conversely, food shortages can lead to the same.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, an increase in the amount of food produced is imperative, and the concurrent projected increase in yield would derive from more “intensive” agricultural methods rather than from farming new lands. Developing countries will depend even more on imported food. As of 2012, net imports to these areas increased to more 160 million tons. However, attempts to yield abundant crops through necessary expansion and intensification come with associated challenges:

  • Soil erosion and land degradation due to clearing forests or growing crops in large, unprotected fields
  • Salinization and waterlogging due to poor drainage severely limit productivity in countries that irrigate their crops
  • Excess use of fertilizers and pesticides lead to pollution of surface and groundwater sources that can lead to the growth of pathogenic bacteria
  • Deforestation causing the loss of more than 15 million acres of rain forests each year to allow for agriculture. Also, 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions are caused by deforestation and rangeland burning.

There exists a great expanse of agriculturally-suitable land in Africa and Latin America; however, planting and harvesting crops comes at the cost of exerting a heavy toll on the tropical rain forests in terms of the indigenous forest inhabitants and of the potential destruction of fragile biologically diverse ecosystems. Additionally, with the expectation that food production must increase at least 75 percent over the next 30 years, successful harvesting will depend upon higher yields from already taxed land. Therefore, a “green revolution” must combine the best in modern research methods and technology incorporated with traditional agricultural knowledge.

The “Green” Approach to Agriculture

The development of more efficient, effective, and eco-friendly farming techniques has been researched for well over 30 years, and has succeeded in doubling yields in sustainable fields in order to keep pace with the directive of increasing production to feed an increasing world population. An important facet of this research is the emphasis on alternative approaches to improve farm management and information systems in order to minimize environmental damage that may inadvertently occur from poor farmers in marginal areas, such as:

  • Breeding varieties of crops such as salt-tolerant and drought-resistant species in order to withstand adverse conditions
  • Cycling of soil nutrients through crop rotation and biomass recycling
  • Increased reliance on genetic engineering methods of pest and disease resistance to reduce usage of chemical control
Private Sector Investment

The big business of food industry must also “step up to the plate”, so to speak when it comes to protecting its constituents: the very consumers who purchase food products. As a whole, our nation is becoming unhealthier, and Western-based diets have been making their way across the globe, bringing with them a plethora of processed foods loaded with extra sugar, salt, fat, and preservatives. Government initiated policy frameworks should be instituted with the willing assistance of the food industry, from farm to table. We should be protecting children worldwide from unhealthy diets and instead be providing access to nutritious foods that are easily available and affordable. The food industry can be a huge catalyst for significant change, so such businesses must be included in the development of regulatory frameworks that will be the impetus for meaningful change in both nutrition and sustainable business operation.

Some Progress

From 2012 to 2017, there was a 9 percent decline globally in the number of children with stunted growth due to undernourishment.  While this is a significant decline, in 2017 there were still 150,800,000 children with stunted growth.  There are far, far to many hungry children.

Feed the World. Make it a Better Place.

Finally, the concept and reality of food insecurity involves a myriad of interventions and solutions. It is a diversely complex issue precisely because it truly involves all of humankind. The challenge today and for the impending future will be to ensure adequate and perhaps abundant nutrition for each and every person globally by intensifying production and safeguarding the environment.

By:  Kerry Bazany, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)