Date: Sunday December 3 2017
The triple burden of malnutrition affects all countries in the world
Malnutrition, including over- and under-nutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies, is the top contributor to the global disease burden. Globally, 800 million people are under-nourished, 2 billion are overweight or obese and 2 billion are micronutrient deficient.
The vast majority of the world’s hungry live in developing countries. Southern Asia faces the greatest hunger burden, with about 281 million undernourished people. In sub-Saharan Africa, the current rate of undernourishment is currently around 23 per cent. Despite decreasing under-nutrition, levels remain unacceptably high.
Despite improved food access at all income levels, diet quality is declining. Notwithstanding recent food production increases, nutritious foods remain unaffordable for many. The consequences are severe; poor nutrition causes nearly half the deaths in children under five, and one in four children suffer stunted growth; 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone. Without policy changes, obesity will increase in all countries and reach 3.28 billion by 2030, increasing non-communicable disease prevalence and health costs.
Sustainable agriculture is the foundation of food security and has the potential to secure livelihoods
Agriculture is the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for 40 per cent of today’s global population and it is the largest source of income and jobs for poor rural households. Investing in smallholder farmers is an important way to increase food security and nutrition for the poorest, as well as food production for local and global markets.
However, providing food and securing livelihoods must be done in a manner which does not compromise the environment. Since the 1900s, some 75 per cent of crop diversity has been lost from farmers’ fields. Better use of agricultural biodiversity can contribute to more nutritious diets, enhanced livelihoods for farming communities and more resilient and sustainable farming systems.
When it comes to ensuring food security and sustainable agriculture, there simply is no one size fits all. Many interventions which have attempted to address the challenges of food security have not considered adequately complexity of the problem nor the need for locally-driven solutions. The 3rd International Conference on Global Food Security has intentionally included a focus on local solutions in its thematic approach for this very reason.
Another reason why solutions to the challenge of food security have proven elusive is the failure to consider issues from a systemic approach, a food systems approach – from field to fork – is needed to find viable solutions. In addition, the interrelated nature of the SDGs clearly illustrates a reorientation towards complexity thinking and the need to consider the interrelated nature of the various ecological and social systems which intersect and must be considered in relationship to each other. The Conference themes have been explicitly selected to provide spaces for dialogues that acknowledge complexity.
Demographic shifts must influence approaches to food and nutrition security
General population megatrends have far-reaching implications for sustainability. As the world population continues to grow for decades to come, it is anticipated that by 2050, the world needs to produce at least 50 percent more food than it does today. Populations are also increasingly moving to urban areas, and by 2030 it is projected that 6 out of 10 people will be urban dwellers.
High-income and rising-income countries, are experiencing slow population growth or no population growth at all. Whereas developing continue to have large, growing, populations of young people (known as the youth bulge). Pertinently, the African Union Heads of State and Government declared the theme for 2017 as ‘Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth’. These shifts in population will bring challenges, but they also represent opportunities which need to be harnessed.
These trends affect economic development, employment, income distribution, poverty and social protections. They also affect efforts to ensure universal access to health care, education, housing, sanitation, water, food and energy. To more sustainably address the needs of individuals, science must consider populations in its academic endeavours. The cross-cutting theme of Societal Dynamics calls on its participants to consider the five themes with a demographic lens.
Innovation and technology can be catalysts for transformative change
Bill and Melinda Gates made their “big bet” that Africa will be able to feed itself by 2030 – an ideal which will only be attainable by accelerating the rate of innovation and access to agricultural extension services for smallholder farmers. Innovation broadly defined, includes the implementation of “new or improved” things (whether technology or otherwise) in products (goods or services), processes, or organizational methods. It is context-specific, in that it involves applying ideas, knowledge or practices that are new to a particular context with the purpose of creating positive change that will take on challenges or seize opportunities.
This cross-cutting theme encourages the innovators and maverick thinkers along the food system to share their innovations – whether technological, social or institutional.
The gender agenda is a developmental imperative
Women prepare up to 90 per cent of meals in households around the world, yet during hard times, women and girls may be the first to eat less. In poor households, women are less likely to get the nutrients they need, including to manage the demands of pregnancy and breastfeeding. Gender inequality intersects with inadequate health care, insufficient education and limited income to drive these inequalities.
Inequities in food consumption are in stark contrast to women’s role in agricultural production. Women comprise on average 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, and over 50 per cent in parts of Asia and Africa. Yet their contribution to food security remains restricted by unequal access to land and other productive assets. If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million. Hosted for the first time on the African continent, and marking the significant role of African women in Agriculture, this cross-cutting theme focuses discussions on eliminating gender inequality in all its form in the food system.