The world (produce) is not enough

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Most of us reading this are fortunate enough to be taking multiple shots of our gorgeously plated meals possibly with the ‘portrait mode’ of our ridiculously expensive and arguably worth-it camera phones simply to channel our inner foodie or maybe even to post it on our professional food blogs. We work hard and believe we deserve this lifestyle. For some of us, food review and photography are how we earn our bread and butter. Definitely a lucrative career option.

But amidst the food-glorification culture, do we often forget that there are approximately 160 million children under the age of 5 facing stunted growth due to undernourishment, that about 600 million women in the reproductive age suffer from anaemia, that over 190 million people are malnourished in India alone. Are we oblivious enough to be forgetting our responsibility to provide humanitarian assistance to communities in crises due to food insecurity?

As natural disasters like drought and famine continue to be popularly disguised as the prime causes of food insecurity around the world, one can simply not turn a blind eye towards the rather culpable roots of these disasters: conflict and climate change. Food insecurity situations at the risk of turning into famines have been identified by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, UN) mostly in conflict affected countries of Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia. In fact, South Sudan was struck by a famine in 2017 that lasted for several months. Conflict impacted parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, South Eastern and Western Asia depict visibly worsened conditions of food insecurity compounded by climate related shocks like that of the El Nino phenomenon.

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. The problem is primarily due to mis-allocation, “rich” wasting food or over consuming, and poor not getting any. Food availability per capita has significantly increased over the years. The actual concern lies with how the food is grown, distributed, wasted and more often than not, paired with politics. According to FAO Director General, Peace is the key to ending these crises but one cannot simply wait for peace to take action. It is the need of the hour to help vulnerable people build resilience to the aforementioned crises.

WHAT ARE THE WAYS TO DO THAT?

We really don’t have to double the amount of food, just the amount of food AVAILABLE

We really can’t expand land or water. Though a lot of innovative work in the field of biotechnology is aiming at making the available land more productive and the produce more water and fertilizer efficient. For example, companies like Beyond Meat are trying to curate meat substitutes so that wasteful production for consumption by livestock that is in turn consumed by humans is minimized. Apeel Sciences is another organization trying to improve the sustainability and efficiency of resources that go into production by reducing the reliance on chemicals and using plant-based technologies to protect crops and harvest.

However, what we must aim at is making the existing produce accessible to all.

Grocery chain Kroger has launched a Zero Hunger | Zero Waste plan in partnership with Feeding America to work with a network of food banks across US to provide balanced meals and eliminate food wastage along the supply chain. France made it illegal for supermarkets to throw away food waste. They now have to donate the leftovers which serves the dual purpose of hunger as well as waste elimination. Can something similar be done in other countries too?

A lot of fruits and vegetables are discarded on the account of being weird looking or oddly shaped. However, these are as much consumable and nutritious as their pretty looking counterparts. Hungry Harvest takes the ‘Ugly Produce’ which is very much edible but doesn’t get picked and distributes it to the food insecure. Another initiative, Copia picks up surplus food and safely delivers it to local non-profits in need. They are also generating employment as one can become a driver with them too! Similarly, Olio connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses so surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. This could be food nearing its sell-by date in local stores, spare home-grown vegetables, bread from your baker, or the groceries in your fridge when you go away.

Restaurants in some parts of the world are using innovative ways to not discard leftover food and ingredients at the closing time each day when starvation prevails worldwide. Instead they can be donated or sold at a discounted rate. Freshy is one app that helps them do this. Similar services are being provided in various countries but also need to be brought down to the developing nations with a huge divide between the haves who on one hand throw away the excess food on their plates and have nots who scavenger hunt for a bite of it in dumpsters.

Social Entrepreneurs have also targeted particular sections of the society to serve them specifically. Meals on Wheels and No Kid Hungry are two services that target senior citizens and kids respectively to get food delivered to them. Such initiatives can help one keep a focussed eye and achieve clearer goals showing better and clearly measurable results.

Other Angles of the problem

United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals that encompass 17 objectives meant to address world’s most pressing socio-economic issues by 2030 place Zero Hunger at Number 2. Apart from making food accessible to all, attention must also be paid to encouraging small scale food producers, prevention of agricultural trade restrictions, market distortion and export subsidies. This is basically where the larger authorities and the governments step in.

Timely access to information is another important pillar in elimination of hunger. According to estimates, 70% of world’s food comes from small isolated farms and people working on these farms rely on word of mouth to solve life’s daily puzzles. Their access to information is being transformed by WeFarm which is a social network for farmers to access crucial information in a timely fashion. It is a Q&A platform to help small farmers combat factors beyond their control such as climate change, failing seeds, volatile markets and infectious crop diseases by helping them understand these better.

Possible areas of research

  • Can more food supplements like Plumpy’nut be developed by scientists and food technicians so as to solve the prevalent problem of hunger in different age groups or different sections of those affected eg: anaemic women in the reproductive age, malnourished children below the age of 5, stunting and wasting of growth.
  • Can harnessing Solar power to cook food be made faster than the existing HotPot Solar Ovens so that more and more households are encouraged to stick to sustainable methods of cooking.
  • More ideas … ?

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