IRIN summarizes a discussion among “[a]griculturalists, scientists, businessmen, lobbyists, and policymakers convened in London’s Chatham House this week to debate how to feed the planet’s growing population without degrading the earth’s resources — if such a thing is even possible.” According to the news service, “Some attendees argued that current levels of food production — if better managed — could accommodate everyone,” some said “people could just eat less meat,” and others “want to tackle the problem through the application of science — for example, by breeding livestock that are more efficient at converting resources into meat or dairy.” IRIN writes, “The overall message was that … it will take a mix of ideas — some traditional, some futuristic, some large-scale, some small-scale — as well as research, the dissemination of knowledge, and the development of the supply chains and financing institutions to allow all farmers to run their businesses as profitably and productively as possible” (12/12).
Food Security and Nutrition
Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, writes in a Guardian opinion piece, “In order to support investment in agriculture, governments have … come to rely on private sector investment and development aid — and increasingly a partnership of the two,” and he notes “[t]he New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, proposed by [U.S. President] Barack Obama and the U.S. Agency for International Development and launched in May 2012, will draw more than $3 billion of private sector investment into food security plans in Africa.” He continues, “One potential danger of development aid, and particularly of private-led projects, is that the goals of poverty reduction and rural development can be relegated below the goal of raising food production.”
“A UNICEF progress report [.pdf] says that more than 850,000 children are expected to have received life-saving treatment for severe acute malnutrition across nine countries in the Sahel region during the course of 2012,” according to a UNICEF press release, noting the number is “based on the more than 730,000 children under five treated at centers between January and the end of September.” The press release continues, “The report says early funding by donors such as the Swedish and Danish Governments, the European Union and USAID meant crucial supplies of ready-to-use therapeutic food were purchased in good time and pre-positioned.” Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s acting regional director, said in the press release, “In 2012 a tremendous effort meant we were able to give every child who was able to arrive at a treatment center appropriate care. But we need to get to the state where more robust systems are in place and treatment centers see far fewer children” (12/11).
“Each year, the United States spends more than $1.5 billion feeding starving people overseas,” columnist Farah Stockman writes in a Boston Globe opinion piece. “But our charity comes with a catch: The food has to be bought in America, and much of it must be shipped on American ships,” she continues, adding, “Researchers estimate that buying food closer to where needy people are costs about half as much.” She continues, “We are the last donor country in the world to have these rules,” and writes, “At a time of budget cuts, you would think that one thing Republicans and Democrats could agree on would be making sure every tax dollar stretches as far as it can.” Stockman asks, “Why don’t we just change it?”
“Top United Nations officials [on Monday] called on the Security Council and the wider international community to support efforts to develop an integrated strategy to tackle the complex and multifaceted crisis facing the Sahel region of West Africa,” the U.N. News Centre reports. “‘The warning lights for the Sahel region continue to flash,’ Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Council, as it met to discuss the situation in a region that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, and includes Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and parts of Sudan, Cameroon and Nigeria,” the news service writes. “In addition to political instability in Mali, the region — particularly in its west — suffers from extreme poverty, with human development levels among the lowest in the world, porous borders that present significant security challenges, as well as human rights problems,” according to the news service.
“Excessive corruption, poor infrastructure and scarce government resources were deterring investment in agriculture and contributing to high levels of malnourishment around the world,” Xinhua writes, noting the release on Thursday of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) annual report. “A new investment strategy is needed that puts agricultural producers at its center,” FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said, Xinhua notes. According to the report, farmers in low- and middle-income countries invest more than $170 billion annually in their farms, which is “three times as much as all other sources of investment combined, four times more than contributions by the public sector, and over 50 times more than official development assistance to these countries,” Xinhua reports (12/7).
Climate Change Conference Postpones Discussion Of Agriculture; U.N. Warns Food Prices, Child Malnutrition Will Rise If Issue Not Addressed
“Discussions about much-needed support for agriculture — which is seen both as a victim and a cause of climate change — at the U.N.’s climate change conference in Doha have been postponed until next year,” IRIN reports. Agriculture affects climate change, with the production of greenhouse gas emissions, “[b]ut climate change also threatens agriculture, which most developing countries’ populations rely on for income,” the news service writes, adding, “The impact of climate change also threatens global food security; projections show that yields from food crops could decline by five percent for each degree Celsius increase in global warming” (12/5).
“Most people think malnutrition is all about not having enough food or enough of the right kind of food to eat,” but while “[t]his is a big part of the story … there are many other links in the chain,” Lawrence Haddad, director of the Institute of Development Studies, writes in a BBC Magazine opinion piece. “So dealing with malnutrition means fixing all the links in the chain — food, health, sanitation, water and care,” he states. “We know that handwashing with soap helps prevent diarrhea. We know that fortifying flour and salt with key vitamins and minerals bolsters nutrient intake for those with low quality diets. We know that deworming improves nutrient absorption by the gut,” he continues.
“Global food prices remained stable, though close to 2008 record levels, the World Bank said on Thursday, as it warned that a ‘new norm’ of costlier food was setting in and threatening to increase hunger and malnutrition in the world’s poorer regions,” Reuters reports. “In an update of its quarterly ‘Food Price Watch’ report, the World Bank said the absence of ‘panic policies,’ such as food export restrictions, had helped stabilize commodity prices since price spikes in July,” the news service writes. “The World Bank food price index shows that while prices have stabilized they are seven percent higher than a year ago,” according to Reuters. “In particular, grains are up 12 percent from a year ago and close to the all-time high set during a global food price crisis in 2008, when food riots broke out in Asia and Africa,” the news service notes. “The World Bank urged governments to strengthen safety nets for the poorest and ensure that nutrition was factored into the help given to poor households,” Reuters writes, adding, “U.N. agencies have estimated that some 870 million people are chronically malnourished” (Wroughton, 11/29).
“Poverty is the leading cause of many vitamin deficiencies, especially vitamin A,” and the problem is acute in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where food staples such as cassava and rice are high in calories but low in nutrients, Inter Press Service reports. Some experts say parents’ lack of knowledge about the nutritional requirements for children can lead to undernourishment, particularly in children under age five, the news service notes. “Still, there are signs that the trend is changing, largely due to a renewed push by development practitioners around the world to tackle the problem,” IPS writes and describes several efforts to improve access to vitamins. The news service concludes, “Nutrition plays a role in achieving almost every [Millennium Development Goal] — its impact on child health, for instance, could also boost the number of children attending school, promote gender equality by empowering women to take a more active role in their children’s health, and also improve maternal health, thereby reducing the maternal mortality ratio” (11/26).