The state of the world; today and tomorrow
The Report of the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 2013) revealed that about 870 million people, that is, one-eighth of the world population are suffering from chronic hunger. Statistically, the developing countries largely account for about 98% of the world hunger population. In addition, there is evidence that infant mortality as a result of hunger and malnutrition cluster most in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. Apparently, malnutrition has been ascertained to be responsible for one out of every two children deaths in developing nations.
In essence, achieving the objective of the 1996 World Food Summit and the Millennium Development Goal to reduce the number of undernourished people by half in 2015 appears desolating and may end up as sarcasm considering the world’s slow pace of progress since 1990-1992. Furthermore, the present tension is heightened by the forestalled challenge of feeding additional 2 billion people in the world by 2050 considering the exigent global economic climate and declining ecological footprint.
Apparent manifestations of global hunger in forms of undernourishment and malnutrition are undisputable realities today and it could best fit into the context of what was described as a ‘wicked problem’ by the Australian Public Service Commission and further labeled as a ‘super-wicked problem’ by Aidan Connolly, Alltech VP for Corporate Account. Obviously, efforts aimed at solving this ‘super-wicked problem’ require unconventional thinking to innovate for short and long-term sustainable solutions. Less whining and more actions are immediately required if the world would really have to alleviate this menace in the present time and be in a strategic position to feed the additional 2 billion people by 2050.
The puzzle of gains and pains
The global process of solving the problem of world hunger and food insecurity could be best described as a puzzle with scores of players (governments, civil societies, academics, farmers etc.), with each stakeholder devising diverse strategies towards a common goal. Similar to every other game in life, the puzzle is accompanied with expected gains but also often with pains which could be regarded in this context as unintended consequences. The unintended consequences could be more devastating and more often than not exacerbate the problem. For instance, governmental efforts, in collaboration with foreign investors, characterized by large scale farming on pieces of land carted off from local and vulnerable farmers may sound capital and positive towards growing the national GDP but may equally do little to help the displaced peasants and their families.
Additionally, a critical analysis of the global food production over the past 30 years revealed a rapid growth that has managed to outstrip population growth and can provide every person with more than the World Health Organization recommended 2700 Calories per day and this positive trend is proposed to continue over the next decades. In spite, we still live in a world where hundreds of million people go hungry. Thus, we are obliged to ask these two fundamental questions: first, “where is the world food?” and second, “why is the world still hungry?” This clearly indicates that efforts solely aimed at increasing production/acreage may not exclusively be the panacea that the world needs to combat this menace and hence, painstaking efforts to provide exhaustive answers to the questions raised above will be more rewarding to provide emerging and sustainable solutions.
Where is the world food?
Most of the world food could be traced to have been lost in the food chain. Figures from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers showed that as much as 1.2 to 2 billion tonnes of food never made it to a plate. This figure represents 30-40% of the world food production. These losses could be tracked to pre-harvest losses due to pest and disease damages, inefficiency in harvesting, poor infrastructure and storage facilities, and ineffective supply chain of food distribution. It is imperative to note that most of these losses are pertinent to the developing world.
In addition, much of these losses could be attributed to certain policies and food culture typical of developed countries as manifested in unwarranted strict sell-by dates, promotional sales, over-consumption habit evident in rampage of obesity status among citizens and also, consumers’ demand for cosmetically perfect food. The concept of wastage during social events characteristic of many developing countries is also a point of concern. In addition, the increasing global trend in the use of grains for bio-fuel production may be critically subjected to moral questioning.
In order to prevent further food losses, governments, development agencies and organizations like the United Nations, must work together to help change people's mindsets on waste and discourage wasteful practices by farmers, food producers, supermarkets and consumers. Better food distribution chain, more education to farmers to increase efficiency in farm practices and knowledge transfer will also be instrumental to prevent food losses.
Why is the world still hungry?
The strong interconnectivity between poverty and hunger could largely explicate why hunger is still widespread in developing nations of the world. While war, civil disturbances and political instability appear to constitute the primary cause of increased hunger in the Middle East and North Africa, they are minor factors in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of wars has dramatically decreased after the mayhem of the 1990s.
Heightened level of corruption in developing countries results in wide economic margin between the rich and the poor. This consequently restricts majority’s access to food or resources to make food. Most people are embattled with chronic hunger because they lack access either to land and the resources it takes to farm or a job that pays enough to allow them to purchase sufficient food to meet their own nutritional needs and those of their family members. Undoubtedly, the growth of national economy would not solve the problem of hunger under conditions of growing economic inequality. However, governments supported by civil societies can formulate ration cards system such as the nutrition program in the US through which lower class may get food at cheaper rate.
As accentuated by FAO, the quest for economic growth should be accompanied by purposeful and decisive public actions, including public policies and programs targeting the poor and ensuring the provision of public goods and services. These should be targeted towards the development of the productive sectors, equitable access to resources by the poor, empowerment of women and, design and implementation of social protection systems. Dauntingly, most of the policies geared towards poverty alleviation by governments of most developing countries and in particular Africa, are all gliding in opposite directions.
Emerging directions for achieving progress
Though, it seems logical to agree that part of the future challenge may be to intensify agriculture and food production. However, it should be simultaneously recognized that minimizing harm to the ecological footprint and the wider environment upon which present and future generations depend, should be of paramount consideration in any intensification option. Also, there should be strict adherence to the global guidelines aimed at safeguarding the rights of local and vulnerable people in the occasion of large scale land acquisition either by the government and/or foreign investors. All global business chains should recognize zero tolerance to the phenomenon of ‘land grabbing’ as a crucial virtue for conducting business in a more ethical way.
Furthermore, policies and effective implementations encouraging research investments and efforts directed towards the development of production techniques that could adapt to the emerging effects of climate change would be most rewarding. In addition, pertinent interests in policies that will support smallholders particularly women sustainability in farming and food systems would be worthwhile in tackling the problem of low food productivity in the developing world. Issues and challenges raised by the financial and economic crisis as well as social and environmental dynamics require a consistent rethinking of the basis of economic policies and this implies an increasing need for well integrated economic expertise for the management of these policies.
Ultimately, the global hunger and food insecurity should be recognized as a multi-factorial problem that requires close collaboration and concerted efforts of all the players in the puzzle to unconventionally mediate in an attempt to provide unequivocal answers to the questions raised. It is only then, that effective and sustainable solutions necessary to alleviate this ‘super-wicked problem’ can be innovated. More importantly, it should be noted that every government should be responsible to its people and lack of sincere commitment of government of individual countries will indisputably jeopardize the efforts of all other players and hence, lead to dead ends. The fight against global hunger and food insecurity is a fight for all!
*1,2Saheed Ayodeji, Salami and 3Olatunji Anthony, Akerele
1Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands;
2Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth, United Kingdom
3University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
Picture credit: Puzzle, by chadou99.