The release of the new Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) report “2018 - The state of food security and nutrition in the world” leads with the highlight, “Hunger is on the rise. 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.”
Should this FAO report alarm and be a wake-up call for all? Shouldn’t one be asking why the trend is going the wrong way? The FAO website notes, “Persistent instability in conflict-ridden regions, adverse climate events in many regions of the world and economic slowdowns that have affected more peaceful regions and worsened the food security, all help to explain this deteriorating situation.” Undoubtedly each of these issues do in part help explain the situation on food insecurity but that may not explain the whole story.
One needs to ask if we falling short by choice? What are the real drivers for failing to decrease food insecurity and malnutrition? Ponder the individual or collective impact of numerous production practice decisions, including no GMOs, organic, slow grow, free-range, clean-label, no growth promotion products and no chemicals. Each of these ‘choices’ also usually results in producing less food in a less sustainable manner. Areas of the highest prevalence of undernourishment, including Asia, Africa and South America, are often the areas with the slowest adoption, or non-adoption, of innovative agricultural practices. Temporal coincidence or causative correlation?
Historically, innovation in agriculture has been the savior for meeting food security and nutrition needs. Historically organizations as FAO and WHO (World Health Organization) and national governments have been champions of agriculture innovation –- in both food animals and crop production.
However, today, too often, these prior champions have components within that are obstacles to innovation. For example, are the same human and financial resources being applied to champion ‘GMOs’ as being applied to addressing climate change? Based on media reports, discussions around the Paris Climate treaty in Bangkok, Thailand, recently focused on funding of $100 billion annually for the most vulnerable countries. Think what impact $100 billion annually could have to advance the adoption of innovation for food production? The benefits for increased food production through the use of GMOs, productivity products and chemicals -- each as regulated product to ensure their safe use -- have been well demonstrated. In an ironic way, a $100 billion investment for innovation in food production would also lessen the climate impact from agriculture production through efficiency gains –- a double win – by reducing climate impact and enhancing nutrition.
Food security and nutrition needs can best be met by championing innovation in food animal and crop production. Encouraging farmers to grow the most appropriate food animal or crop for their locale in the most efficient and sustainable manner, and then facilitating trade, will provide so that nutritious food is available to those most in need. The United Nations and its member organizations of FAO, WHO and the international foods standards body of Codex, along with WTO (World Trade Organization) with OIE (World Organization for Animal Health), each have a critical role to play supporting food production and trade.
Collaboration in support of innovation and adoption of best agriculture practices will be key to feeding the world. And yes, climate, conflicts and such will impact food production -– but let’s also focus with the highest priority on what one can impact now to ensure we feed all today. The international intergovernmental organizations and national governments, along with all food chain stakeholders from the farm to the consumer, each have a constructive role to play advocating for innovation.
A rise in hunger should not be acceptable in today’s resource and knowledge rich world. Let’s ensure that we are not falling short by choice! One challenge is that those most in need are not given the choice, rather, such is often dictated by those who are well fed. The most needy and youngest are dependent upon those that have the resources to make the right decisions, on their behalf, to ensure their healthy future. Those in leadership and influence roles need to recognize their moral and ethical responsibility to be champions of innovation for a food secure world, thereby providing the basic nutrients for all. Through collaborative efforts supporting innovation we can be sure to not fall short by choice!
The FAO report is an alarming, but friendly, wake-up call, for all, to act now for the betterment of food security and nutrition for our world.