FIGURES paint a stark picture: 842 million people are undernourished, about 45% of 6.9 million children's deaths are linked to malnutrition and obesity is on the rise in many countries, according to the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Although some countries have made great strides since the first international conference on nutrition was held in 1992, progress on reducing hunger and improving nutrition has been unacceptably slow, FAO said last week.
Malnutrition, in all of its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and overnutrition), places an "intolerable burden" on individuals and communities as well as on the cultural, social, economic and health fabric of nations, FAO said.
Recognizing that global problems require global solutions, FAO and the World Health Organization are jointly organizing a high-level, intergovernmental conference on nutrition to be held Nov. 19-21 in Rome, Italy.
The overall goal of the conference is to improve diets and raise levels of nutrition globally.
It is well recognized that global malnutrition problems exist, and a number of recent initiatives shed light on potential solutions.
Purdue University researchers Thomas Hertel and Uris Baldos recently noted that global malnutrition could fall 84% by 2050 as incomes in developing countries grow — but only if agricultural productivity continues to improve and climate change does not severely damage agriculture.
"The prevalence and severity of global malnutrition could drop significantly by 2050, particularly in the poorest regions of the world, but if productivity does not grow, global malnutrition will worsen, even if incomes increase. Climate change also adds a good deal of uncertainty to these projections," said Hertel, a distinguished professor of agricultural economics.
Hertel and doctoral student Baldos developed a combination of economic models — one that captures the main drivers of crop supply and demand and another that assesses food security based on caloric consumption — to predict how global food security from 2006 to 2050 could be affected by changes in population, income, bioenergy, agricultural productivity and climate (Flowchart).
According to the models, income growth coupled with projected increases in agricultural productivity could raise more than a half-billion people out of extreme hunger by midcentury, Purdue noted.
Income is also set to eclipse population as the dominant driver of food security, a "historical first," Baldos said.
"We expect that the population driver will diminish relative to per capita income in the coming decades, especially in the developing world," he said.
Growth in income will allow people to increase the amount of food they consume and "upgrade" their diets by adding more meat and processed foods to staples such as crops and starches. The shift toward a diet higher in calories and richer in protein could lift many in hunger-stricken regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, China and Mongolia above the malnutrition line, the Purdue announcement said.
Globally, the volume of food consumed per capita could increase by about 31%. In developing regions with strong growth in income and population, consumption could rise by about 56-75%, the Purdue researchers said.
However, these projections depend heavily on corresponding increases in agricultural productivity, Hertel said. Productivity is a measure of crop yields relative to the inputs used to produce the crops, such as land, labor and fertilizers. Increased global productivity improved the availability of food over the last 50 years, but this trend must continue between now and 2050 to buttress food security.
"There is a clear link between productivity growth in agriculture and the number of malnourished people," Hertel said. "Boosting productivity tends to lower food prices, and declines in the cost of food, in turn, can allow for better nutrition. Income growth alone will not be enough to solve the malnutrition problem."
Historically, agricultural productivity has been driven by investments in agricultural research and development. The researchers said improvements in food security depend on increasing research spending, especially over the next two decades.
"The decisions we make now about funding for agricultural research will have implications for a number of malnourished people in 2050," Hertel said.
The researchers also cautioned that the impacts of a changing climate on crop yields remain uncertain.
Rising temperatures could extend the growing season in northern latitudes, and an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could benefit some crops by improving water efficiency, but climate change is complicated, Hertel said.
The models show that climate change is a less influential driver of global food security than income, population and productivity, but it could still pose a significant risk to the nutrition levels of people living in the world's poorest regions, Baldos said.
Hertel and Baldos published a paper on their research in the Australian Journal of Agricultural & Resource Economics.
Source: Australian Journal of Agricultural & Resource Economics.
East Africa dairy
In celebrating World Hunger Day May 28, Elanco announced a $500,000 commitment to Heifer International's East Africa Dairy Development Project (EADD), continuing the company's long-term partnership aimed at breaking the cycle of hunger for those most in need.
EADD aims to provide sustainable livelihoods for 1 million people in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya by 2018, Elanco said.
Initiated in 2008, EADD has provided extensive training on dairy husbandry, business practices and operations as well as the marketing of dairy products for 179,000 farming families in the region, an announcement said. EADD has grown to be one of the leading market-oriented development initiatives in eastern Africa, earning the farming families more than $131 million.
The next phase will employ new technologies and practices regarding feed production, alternative energy sources and milk transport systems, Elanco said. The project will prioritize social capital and gender equity to increase the impact and will reach 136,000 primary beneficiaries.
Elanco's commitment includes the donation of product to help dairy farmers improve the health of their cows, the service of Elanco employees to provide on-site training in cow health, value chain and policy engagement and financial support through 2018, including $500,000 this year.
Elanco's ongoing partnership with Heifer International started in 2007, the announcement said, with Elanco contributing more than $3 million to date in the form of training and animals to break the cycle of hunger for families in Indonesia, Zambia and China.
"We're particularly excited about the EADD project because it represents an evolution in sustainable development," Elanco president Jeff Simmons said. "Moving beyond individual gifts of animals to offering connections to technology and marketplaces can deliver social, economic and environmental benefits that will build stronger communities throughout the entire region. Not only will we help provide better diets with access to animal protein, but greater human potential will be realized as we improve livelihoods."
U.S. government action can curb the risks climate change poses to global food security, according to a recent report by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Building on the recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and the U.S. National Climate Assessment, The Chicago Council's study explains how higher temperatures, changes in rainfall and natural disasters caused by climate change could undermine food production and put food supplies at risk. In total, climate change could reduce food production growth by 2% each decade for the rest of this century, the council said.
The report calls on the U.S. government to integrate climate change adaptation into its global food security strategy. Recommendations include:
* Passing legislation for a long-term global food and nutrition security strategy;
* Increasing funding for agricultural research on climate change adaptation. Research priorities should include improving crop and livestock tolerance to higher temperatures and volatile weather, combating pests and disease and reducing food waste;
* Collecting better data and making information on weather more widely available to farmers. There are significant global data gaps right now on weather; water availability, quality and future requirements; crop performance; land use, and consumer preferences;
* Increasing funding for partnerships between universities in the U.S. and universities and research institutions in low-income countries to train the next generation of agricultural leaders, and
* Advancing international action by urging that food security be addressed through the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.
"As a global leader in agriculture, the U.S. should act now," former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, a co-chair of the study, said. "It has much to gain by doing so: the continued productivity of the U.S. farm sector, strong international agricultural markets, more stable societies and demonstration of its national commitment to food and nutrition security for the world's people."
The U.S. global food security strategy is strong, the study found, because it focuses on small-scale farmers in developing countries whose productivity must be increased if the world is to boost food production 60% by 2050. However, these efforts do not do enough to counteract the effects of climate change.