“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Maimonides
Despite global relief efforts, over 800 million of the world’s population do not have enough food to maintain a decent quality of life. Factors that affect food security are complex and often interrelated.
“Poor harvesting practices, as well as food wastage have contributed to food scarcity. Political instability and wars have also had a negative impact on the availability of food and have led to a destruction of the environment, which is critical to grow food.”
With the current world population at 7.7 billion and projected to reach nearly ten billion by 2050, food production needs to increase to feed another two billion people (WE Schools, 2018). Governments across the globe must take steps to address the root causes of food insecurity and show a strong commitment to ending the crisis.
Food security is the ability to locate and purchase adequate amounts of nutritious food. On the other end of the spectrum, food insecurity is the inability to obtain or consume sufficient food that is both affordable and healthy. With wide-ranging and lasting negative impacts on physical, mental and social health, food insecurity is a devastating problem around the world.
“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
World Food Summit (1996)
Poverty is the leading cause of food insecurity and must be alleviated to increase access for food for everyone. Households need adequate and secure levels of income to locate and buy sufficient amounts of healthy food. Climate extremes and disasters are a key factor behind the rise in global hunger. Destructive climate disasters, such as hurricanes, floods or drought, prevent food production and supply in high-risk areas of the world. Many of the world’s poorest countries are hit the hardest by extreme weather forces. Conflicts cause food insecurity by preventing farming activities and disrupting imports and exports of agricultural products. Famers stop or reduce production or escape from the war zones. The labor force is further reduced.
“When food becomes scarce, hygiene, safety and nutrition are often ignored as people shift to less nutritious diets and consume more 'unsafe foods' — in which chemical, microbiological, zoonotic and other hazards pose a health risk.”
World Health Organization, 2018
Without access to nutritious food, the health of vulnerable populations decreases. Long term food insecurity leads to hunger and malnutrition. Childhood diets that lack sufficient calories, protein, vitamins and minerals will impede normal growth and development. Poor diets in expectant mothers can cause low birth weights which lead to restricted growth or stunting in the critical first two years of life. Food insecurity contributes to overweight and obesity as well as undernutrition. With early disadvantages in growth and development, poorer children do not have the capacity to learn and access opportunities for education. These disparities affect communities and productivity of society around the world for years to come.
“Globally, one in nine people in the world today (815 million) are undernourished.”
United Nations, 2018
Everyone should have access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food as a basic human right. Food security priority should be given to vulnerable groups including infants, and children, as well as adolescent girls and women. Challenges to food security are many and complex including rising food prices, decreasing water and arable land, globalization, urbanization and climate change. Achieving food security requires that all factors are adequately addressed.
“the ability to prevent disasters and crises as well as to anticipate, absorb, accommodate or recover from them in a timely, efficient and sustainable manner”
UN Food and Agriculture Organization
An assessment of a country’s risk and resilience of its food systems can predict its level of food insecurity to prevent and reduce impact of disasters. The promotion and practice of sustainable agriculture can help to build resilience to the impacts of climate change. Sustainable agriculture optimizes resources such as energy and water, restores soil fertility and utilizes genetic resources to increase efficiency and build rural livelihoods.
The Zero Hunger Challenge
There must also be political will to address the complex, multi-faceted problem of food insecurity. Over the past two decades, leaders world-wide pledged to reduce hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.
Food policy should be integrated in a global policy landscape that encompasses the economy, society and the environment. Addressing food insecurity requires collaborative actions on economic policies that impact supply and demand, agriculture practices such as sustainable farming, and the environment and waste reduction to name a few. Policy actions must be considered for their impacts on the needs of the world’s most vulnerable populations and the changing environment.
Pledges must translate into tangible policy and implementation. Governments around the globe need to commit to leadership to mobilize resources to tackle the growing threat of food insecurity.