GLOBAL – Diversity of food and food production methods is the answer to the undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies affecting the world’s populations, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations ahead of World Food Day 2013.
The FAO believes that understanding more about food production can address the current challenges that beset policy makers as 2 billion people in the world go malnourished and 1.4 billion are classed as overweight.
The costs of malnutrition, through lost productivity and healthcare, could be as high as five per cent of global income, the FAO has revealed.
Other revealing figures are laid out in the group's World Food Day paper which communicates a simple ethos: Healthy People Depend on Healthy Food Systems.
The report explains the importance of eating a ‘variety of foods’ and that this involves a balance of quality and quantity to provide a full range of nutrients.
Agriculture’s role in providing such a balance is emphasised as part of a three way combination also consisting of health care and sanitation.
Without the right people, processes and environment in place, food systems are not ‘healthy’ and, in the absence of a properly functioning food system, the paper said that medical technologies are often forced to intervene.
"Greater attention must be paid to ensure that food systems are sustainable and that the transition to healthier and sustainable diets results in a healthier ecosystem"
The report states that medical action, such as vitamin supplements, ‘cannot substitute in the long term for the broader nutritional benefits offered by healthy, balanced diets from a well-functioning food system.’
Instead, the answer lies in consumers opting for healthy dietary choices. Even in countries where malnutrition is a perennial problem, the FAO is working to prevent a long-term rise in obesity.
This can be achieved by lobbying and education, of which one such example is World Food Day, explains FAO spokesman Erwin Northoff.
“World Food Day is an awareness raising event. As such it aims to highlight the high levels of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies that continue to exist today, despite progress in many countries.
“At the same time, overnutrition is rising rapidly and many countries are experiencing all three types of malnutrition at the same time. Addressing these issues requires a multi-sectoral approach that includes health, sanitation and food systems.”
The report also discusses the impact that supply chains have on food availability, both in developed countries with supermarket chains, packaging and refrigeration and in poor rural and urban areas where traditional food distribution networks channel nutrient rich fresh fruit and vegetables.
Mr Northoff told TheMeatSite that food systems, as the starting point, hold sway in what is available for consumers.
But he added that the effect can work the other way, and that better diets can mean better ecosystems.
“Greater attention must be paid to ensure that food systems are sustainable and that the transition to healthier and sustainable diets results in a healthier ecosystem,” said Mr Northoff.
He said that this puts agricultural research in the spotlight in terms of driving innovation in order to diversify production.
A Kansas State University food scientist is in agreement and has bookmarked this year’s World Food Day against the seventy year anniversary of ‘the Green Revolution’, when modern farming boomed to feed a growing world.
John Floros, Dean of the College of Agriculture in Kansas, has prescribed that investing in more research and educating around food production and waste is necessary if 9 billion are to be fed by 2050.
He added that research and education enabled the world’s food systems to produce two and a half times more food, feeding 7 billion people from the same resources.
Negative opinions around science-based technology in food production is a concern - John Floros, Kansas State University
His main concern involved the negative opinions that ‘very educated people’ have of science-based technology.
“That’s a big problem, because without science, without research, that system will not be able to advance to the point where we have a secure future for our children, our grandchildren and even their children,” he warned.
His message is that more information needs to get to consumers in the future regarding what is required to feed 9 billion people, so they do not take farmers and scientists for granted.
“Because we have managed to produce enough food, and a variety of food, and made it available to the average individual, people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about where their food comes from,” explained Mr Floros.
“It came from a very sophisticated science-based system that has managed to understand biology, plant biology and animal biology, so that we can produce enough efficiently, transform it into food and preserve it so that it can be available around the world.”
Contrastingly, in countries with little technology and poor logistical infrastructure, Mr Floros estimated that ‘farm-level’ food loss can be 40 to 50 per cent.
He concluded by summarising the benefits of food waste reduction, explaining that minimising waste is a clear winner for consumer, environment and the planet as a whole.