Can we eradicate hunger and under-nutrition in 15 years or less even as the world continues to grow exponentially and it becomes ever harder to feed more people sustainably?
One major food research institute thinks it can, daunting though the task may be given that nearly 800 million people in the world today are left hungry, climates are changing, huge amounts of food are being wasted, and eco-unfriendly agricultural practices persist.
The key to achieving it, said the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), is to tackle the weaknesses in the current global food system.
Said IFPRI director-general Shenggen Fan at the launch of the institute’s 2016 Global Food Policy Report recently: “We must promote and support a new global food system that is efficient, inclusive, climate-smart, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven and business-friendly in order to ensure that no one goes to sleep hungry.”
The report, which provides an in-depth look at major food policy developments and events, key challenges and opportunities, highlighted several areas of weaknesses in the food system. Chief among them were: Climate change, diets, food loss and waste, and water management.
The IFPRI said there was strong evidence that agriculture will continue to be adversely affected by climate change.
Some 12 million hectares of land are being degraded each year because of drought or desertification. It is therefore vital to develop climate-ready crops — which can give improved yields and make more efficient use of water — to feed the growing population and to cope with or mitigate the effects of the world’s climate change.
Obesity is another big problem. According to the report, the number of overweight people worldwide is two-and-a-half times more than that of the under-nourished. This is due partly to changing diets in developing countries, brought about by urbanisation, increasing incomes and a high demand for animal protein.
The report suggests that “the path towards a sustainable food future will be marked by a shift away from a western-style diet that is high in calories, protein and animal-based foods as it poses challenges for food security and sustainability”.
The current dietary trend can be reversed by cutting back on calories, beef and protein and animal-based foods.
Over-consumption, said the IFPRI, also increases the size of the food gap, drives unnecessary agricultural impacts, and contributes to obesity.
It noted that global food companies can help to influence consumer choices and it hoped to engage these companies to move consumers towards sustainable diets.
It was not, however, inclined towards the use of food taxes — suggested by some economists to shift diets — as these can be politically difficult to implement.
Food loss and waste
Another area of concern highlighted by the IFPRI report was that of food loss and waste.
It estimated that about 27%-32% of food produced never makes it to the table. In the case of developing countries, much of the food is lost at the production level, but in developed countries, most of it is wasted at the retail and consumer level.
Measures must be taken to reduce food wastage. The report also warned that most people will live under severe water shortage conditions by 2050 unless “significant changes” are made in global water consumption.