Is Feeding The World Getting Harder?

Predicting that by the year 2050, the world population is expected to reach 9 billion people, the United States of America said the world is only getting harder.

In his remarks in Washington DC, Assistant Secretary Jose W. Fernandez for Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs says in looking at how to meeting the challenge of feeding the world, the Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, has estimated global demand for food will increase by 60 percent.

“Food security initiatives often focus on raising productivity through higher yields, crop intensification, and expanded crop acreage.” – Mr. Fernandez

A photo exhibition entitled World Hunger: A Solvable Problem, celebrating the partnership between the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Saudi Arabia in the fight against hunger, opened at UN Nations Headquarters. UN Photo

He notes there have been advances in genetics and plant breeding that have done much to improve crop efficiency and production, and will help us meet the food production challenge.

However, he points out that the world also faces limited resources when it comes to limited water, limited energy, and limited land.

He says one of the surest and arguably most affordable ways to feed more people sustainably is to ensure that the food already produced is not lost or wasted between the farm and the table. According to the FAO, roughly one-third of the food produced in the world goes to waste and that’s a staggering 1.3 billion tons every year.

“There are reports from experts I have met as I traveled around the world who have told me that this number may run even higher.” – Mr. Fernandez

Postharvest Loss a threat to food security

According to Mr. Fernandez, in many developing countries, waste takes place just after crop harvest, between the field and the market.

He reports in sub-Saharan Africa, about 4 billion dollars worth of grain is lost every year.

The loss is more than the total value of food aid sent to the region over the last decade, and 4 billion dollars worth of grain could feed at least 48 million people, he said.

Digging down into these numbers reveals further complications, Mr. Fernandez added.

“Food is lost along every step along the food production chain from harvest and handling to storage and processing to packing and transportation.” – Mr. Fernandez

The world’s population reached 7 billion on 31 October. Pictured near an entrance to UN Headquarters is a banner for a global campaign by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to build awareness of the opportunities and challenges posed by this milestone.

UN Photo

These numbers are staggering, he added.

He explains that putting them in perspective: a maize small holder farmer in Southeast Asia may lose up to 30 percent of his crop each year to mold, rodents, and insects due to a lack of dry storage equipment.

In addition, a vegetable farmer in India may lose the same percentage of her crop due to deficiencies in cold storage infrastructure, such as facilities to sort out the food and store it and keep it fresh.

He cites a rice farmer in Vietnam may lose grain at multiple steps between harvest and market.

“That person may lose a bit at harvest, a bit more at storage, and even more during transportation.” – Mr. Fernandez

He points out each of these steps may lead to only a small percentage in grain loss. But those losses add up.

The rice farmer may be looking at anywhere between 10 and 37 percent in losses by the time the grain reaches the marketplace, he explained.

“That amount of lost grain, for many of the world’s smallholder farmers, makes an immediate impact on the ability to feed and clothe a family, not to mention the ability to invest in technologies or processes that will help reduce such loss the next season.” – Mr. Fernandez

According to Mr. Fernandez, despite the numbers 10 and 37 percent in losses and 1.3 billion tons in food, they don’t have accurate figures on the levels of postharvest loss do not exist.

He explains that this is because total losses differ significantly depending on the crop, the region, and the climate, and losses are difficult to capture across the value chain.

“In order to address the problem, we must first understand it. How can we improve information collection? How can we introduce new technologies that to reduce post harvest loss in the developing world? How do we develop best practices for smallholder farmers that are effective and sustainable?” – Mr. Fernandez

US Response to preventing postharvest losses

According to Mr. Fernandez, despite the enormous challenges that postharvest losses present, governments, private sector, and civil society are all cooperating to work toward a solution.

On the government side, the United States is taking a comprehensive approach to help countries solve some of the problems

The US State Department started with Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s flagship initiative to reduce global hunger and poverty.

He notes that by promoting collaboration at the U.S. domestic and international levels, focusing on smallholder farmers particularly women, engaging with the private sector and civil society in a meaningful way, and trying to advance big ideas through research and innovation, Feed the Future supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur broad-based economic growth and improve nutrition.

He says the initiative includes programs to reduce post-harvest losses by improving management of stored foods through better technology and processing techniques, supporting basic market infrastructure, and introducing risk management tools such as crop insurance.

Feed the Future has also invested in training and support programs that encourage farmers to adopt best practices for postharvest handling and storage, he added.

“This type of human and institutional capacity development is particularly important because it helps to ensure that our efforts will be sustainable in the long-term.” – Mr. Fernandez

UN and US collaborate to increase food security

In October 2011, the United Nations and the United States Peace Corps signed an agreement to cooperate in combating worldwide hunger by increasing food security in the 76 countries where the more than 8,600 US volunteers currently work.

The agreement, signed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN World Food Programme (WFP) at their Rome headquarters, builds on years of cooperation with the 50-year-old US organization.

FAO and the Peace Corps have a long history of working together in rural communities throughout the world. This agreement signals a renewed, enhanced commitment to harnessing the respective strengths and expertise of our three organizations to tackle the root causes of hunger and ensure sustainable food security and economic development.

There are nearly 1 billion hungry people around the world today. Hunger and malnutrition are the number one risk to health worldwide – greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

WFP is the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Each year, on average, WFP feeds more than 90 million people in more than 70 countries.

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.