Recreating the global food system

The challenge is to create a sustainable system wherein everyone is food-secure.

Zeeshan Shah August 19, 2012


Although the world currently produces enough food to feed everyone, over a billion men, women and children go to bed hungry every night. Hunger and malnutrition (both under- and over-nutrition) continue to be a threat to the overall healthiness of the average human being. Additionally, given current population growth trends, experts predict that there may not be enough food to feed everyone by 2050.

Not surprisingly, it is the urban and rural poor that are more frequently undernourished. They also form the population segments that are the most powerless and without means to withstand the effects of climate change, increasing food and energy prices, the negative impacts of agribusiness, the global marketplace and unfair terms of trade (whether at the local, national or international level).

The numbers of hungry and malnourished individuals began to rise in the mid-1990s, and then surged during the 2008 food price crisis. It has been speculated that the number of hungry persons will increase to well over a billion as many staple food prices have continued to rise.

As of 2010, a total of 925 million suffered from chronic hunger: 578 million people in the Asia Pacific region, 239 million in sub-Saharan Africa, 53 million hungry in Latin America, 37 million in North and North East Africa, and just a little over 19 million in the developed countries.

For agricultural economies like Pakistan, colossal damage from natural calamities has disrupted food production and affected the food price index within the country and nearby regions. Agriculture has never been high on the development agenda: as an example, in real terms, the share of overseas development aid to agriculture fell from 18% in the 1980s, to less than 4% in 2007. One of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals is to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015 – in which respect we are falling behind. Pakistan also has an ailing health sector – due to water scarcity and minimal disease control – which eventually affects food intake, consumption and production.

The flipside of the coin is over-nutrition. As people change their diets from traditional foods to processed and calorie-dense foods, they are experiencing the health effects – notably cardiovascular problems, diabetes and other lifestyle illnesses – of too much of the wrong type of food. Globally, one of the ten major causes of heart disease remains to be over-nutrition.

So, how do we go about correcting our problems?  Improving agricultural practices is only one of the solutions to the hunger problem. More global action is needed to address fundamental issues such as poverty and inequality; climate change and its effects on crop yields; land degradation and desertification; and the depletion of, and growing competition for, the vital resources of land and water. Similarly, urgent action is necessary to stem the continuing rise in food prices exacerbated by commodity speculation; to discourage the use of land for bio-fuel rather than food production; and the acquisition of land in low-income countries by financial speculators.

Water is a key challenge. Every human being has the right to water and sanitation. The obligation that water and sanitation is available, accessible, affordable, acceptable and safe for all without discrimination, at all times, must be progressively realised by countries within available resources. States must take concrete and targeted steps towards ensuring universal access to water and sanitation. Where domestic re¬sources are insufficient for such efforts, states must seek international cooperation and assistance.

The challenge is to create a system in a sustainable manner wherein everyone is food-secure. Hunger and food insecurity involve not only a lack of sufficient food for a healthy life, but also the anxiety associated with meeting future food needs. Hunger and malnutrition increase people’s vulnerability to shocks and crises, weaken their capacity to produce food and/or to access affordable, nutritious food and undermine their health and future potential. Severe malnutrition permanently impairs children’s capacity to learn. Consequently, providing sufficient nutritious food to everyone is a major goal for all concerned with ensuring people’s well-being – including governments and humanitarian agencies.


Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2012.


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