Last year, about 193 million people in 53 countries or territories experienced a form of food insecurity.
Food insecurity is not the same as going hungry, but the two are closely correlated. Where food availability is insecure, it is more likely that people will become susceptible to hunger.
Hunger is related to malnutrition, disease, and poverty. However, it is not only people living below the poverty line who suffer food insecurity. Those living above the poverty line can also experience it.
But what is food security, and why is it a concern for today’s communities?
What is food security?
Food security, as defined by the United Nations Committee on World Food Security, means that “all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.”
Food security is the combination of the following three components:
- Food availability. Food needs to be available in sufficient quantities and consistently. Food availability considers stock and production in a region or area and the capacity to import food from elsewhere through trade or aid.
- Food access. People must be able to regularly acquire adequate food quantities either through purchase, home production, barter, gifts, borrowing, or food aid.
- Food utilization. Consumed food must have a positive nutritional impact on people. It entails cooking, storage and hygiene practices, individuals’ health, water and sanitation, and feeding and sharing practices within the household.
What causes food insecurity?
1. Growing population
Although trends vary across countries, it is worth noting that Africa is expected to double its population to 4.3 billion by 2050. This trend will also see more people in developing countries moving from the countryside to the cities and becoming more urbanized.
2. Food preferences
Not only will the world's population grow, but their diet and food preferences are evolving too. As more developing nations become more affluent, they begin to eat more meat, dairy, and processed foods. However, this will mean more land is required for livestock to graze and more land to grow grain to feed them.
3. Climate change
Presently, 40% of the world’s landmass is arid, and rising temperatures will increase desertification, like the zones around the Atacama desert in Chile. At the current rate, the amount of food we are growing today will feed only half of the population by 2050.
4. Water scarcity
Irrigated agriculture represents 20% of the total cultivated land but contributes 40% of the food produced worldwide. It takes about 1,500 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of wheat. It takes an astounding 16,000 liters of water to make a kilogram of beef. Plus, not enough of us are recycling water, wasting a precious resource.
5. Not enough farmers
Fewer people are choosing farming and agriculture as an occupation. Furthermore, even fewer farmers in developed countries are growing crops or breeding animals for food. Meanwhile, food prices are rising, with only the current crop of farmers unable to support producing enough food for the world's population.
6. War, conflict, and pandemics
Conflicts, wars, and pandemics impact food production and supplies. Food insecurity is high in most countries where internal conflict has been prevalent. Conflict-related or pandemic-affected supply chains cause food shortages that will trigger years of food insecurity even if the fighting has ended. A recent example is Ukraine, where the reduction of shipments has left African nations short of grain.
Solutions to eradicating food insecurity
Food insecurity affects millions worldwide, and no part of the world is immune. Being a global challenge, public and private organizations are utilizing all possible means to eradicate food insecurity.
The United Nations has set ending hunger, achieving food security, and improved nutrition, as one of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. The UN also wishes to promote sustainable agriculture alongside ending hunger and food insecurity.
Therefore, every individual, family, group, organization, corporation, institution, and government must achieve food security before 2030. Most institutions and countries have not done much. Still, there are hopes for a food-secure future, for example building sustainable earth cities that will encompass food security within their new communities.
Here are some of the possible ways to eradicate food insecurity.
1. Reduce food waste
Food waste occurs primarily because of spoilage during storage and transport, exposure to insects and rodents, bacteria or mold, or over-selective customers who wish to have perfect-looking fruits and vegetables.
If storage facilities are improved, and we accept that blemished or imperfect produce is okay to eat and stop buying more than they need or can consume, we will waste less food. Not only is edible food wasted, but all the energy, fertilizer, and land use that goes into producing that food are also wasted.
After all, the FAO reports that food waste globally is about 1.3 billion tons annually.
2. Improve existing infrastructure
Improving existing infrastructure is imperative if we are to enable the eradication of food waste. Better infrastructure, transportation, and storage facilities boost the ability of food producers to grow, transport, and store food for those within their own countries and worldwide. If the infrastructure is improved, more food will be available in the market, and food insecurity levels can decrease.
3. Promote crop diversification
Focusing on one food crop or staple can produce horrendous outcomes for attempting to reduce food insecurity. To improve food security, there needs to be a reassessment of the importance of diversified and healthy diets to improve food nutrition.
With more varieties of food and an educated community on the importance of a diversified diet, there will be sufficient staple foods available in the markets. For instance, in developed countries, rather than focusing on meat and dairy diets, they can promote other staple foods like grains, cereals, and vegetables that provide valuable nutrition and require fewer resources than meat and dairy producers.
4. Improve crop yields
Most of our farming lands are drained of their natural fertility levels and cannot produce as much as they did years ago. To close the gap, governments and agricultural institutions have developed strategies and programs for improving crop yields, especially location-specific methods of sustainable agricultural intensification, such as soil management and land improvement.
We should avoid land conversion as it encroaches into natural habitats and forests, affects biodiversity and wildlife, and increases greenhouse gas emissions. The strategy should ensure that food is available for all and that nature and forests are not affected.
5. Defeat climate change
Climate change impacts our lives and the sustainable production of food. If governments, businesses, and individuals fight climate change and farm sustainably, we can ensure there is enough food today and for our future generations, reducing food insecurity by 2030.
6. Build new sustainable cities
Related to the previous point, Earth cities are a 21st-century response to reducing the environmental footprint of societies. Earth cities harness existing knowledge, technology, and resources so that we will drastically reduce the human ecological footprint. Earth Cities apply them together to create a sustainable way of living in the real world.