Challenges to Food security

Food security exists when all people have, at all times, the physical, social and economic opportunity to obtain sufficient, healthy and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and preferences for a healthy and active life” is the formal definition of the concept of food security by the Committee on World Food Security. This definition has been adopted by an international consensus since the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996.

Even if the notion of access is now put forward, it is conventionally considered that food security has four dimensions or “pillars”:

access (ability to produce one’s own food and thus to have the means to do so, or ability to buy one’s food and thus to have sufficient purchasing power to do so);
availability (sufficient quantities of food, whether from domestic production, stocks, imports or aid);
quality (foods and diets from the nutritional, health, but also social-cultural points of view);
stability (access capacities and therefore prices and purchasing power, availability and quality of food and diets).
Thus defined, food security has a rather technical dimension. It differs therefore of food self-sufficiency concepts of food sovereignty and the right to food that bring more political and legal dimensions. Food security includes, in the “pillar quality” food safety, relating to health and the safety of food, as well as maintaining their health

Sufficient and necessary quantity
During the second half of the 20th century, world food production per capita has increased by 25% while prices declined by about 40%. For example, from 1960 to 1990, total cereal production increased from 420 to 1,176 million tonnes per year.

Food security yet still relevant at the beginning of xxi th century. Despite a lower birth rate in the majority of countries, some estimate that there should be about 8.9 billion people in 2050. However, in 2010, 925 million people in the world were still hungry. People in 33 countries consume less than 2200 kcal a day.

The food needs worldwide expected to increase in the coming decades for the following reasons:

population increase, which implies an increase in demand;
increasing the purchasing power of many humans;
increased urbanization, often associated with other dietary practices, including increased meat consumption (it is estimated that 7 kg of animal feed is required to produce 1 kg of beef, 4 kg to produce one kilogram of pork and 2 kg for one kilogram of poultry).

Sufficient supply and less waste are two conditions for a reduction in famine and malnutrition, but this is not enough to establish food security for all. “Who produces food and for whom?”, “Who has access to the information needed for agricultural production”? “Who has sufficient purchasing power to acquire food”? “Who has sufficient purchasing power to acquire the information necessary for good production” are crucial questions in this area.

Thus, the poor and the hungry need seeds, technologies and practices that are inexpensive and immediately available to meet their vital needs. In general, women and children are the ones who suffer most from the food deficit. Indeed, low birth weight is a cause of premature death and child malnutrition. Low birth weight is often due to malnutrition of the mother herself.

In 2000, 27% of pre-school children in developing countries were suffering from rickets (due to poor and / or low-quality and low-quality diet). Women are also often disadvantaged because they have little land and receive less advice and credits for improving techniques.

Different options are possible to increase agricultural production, through the adoption of specific agricultural production systems:

Increase in agricultural and gardening areas (with the negative effect of the loss of forest areas, grasslands, and in general, places rich in biodiversity);
Increasing productivity (quantity / hectare) in exporting countries (and exporting surpluses to deficit countries);
Increased local and global productivity in deficit countries, possibly by seeking self – sufficiency.

The peri-urban agriculture or urban agriculture can also help solve the food security problem by allowing limited income citizens to grow vegetables or fruit, for example, in full city. Many food waste can also be recycled / consumed by poultry or small livestock (goat, pigs…).

Food quality and safety
The quality of a food is, on the one hand, organoleptic (taste qualities) and presentation or related to its good conservation as well as its nutritional qualities.

It is also sanitary (a healthy food must not contain in dangerous quantities toxic products absorbed (by the plant, the fungus or the animal during its life), or unwanted contaminants acquired during its preparation, transport or storage (including heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, radionuclides, some additives, or residues of toxic pesticides or biocides, for example).

The quality demands to have identified the risks and dangers, “from farm to fork”, thus including aspects (conservation, food contact, and delayed secondary impacts of cropping patterns fishing or farming, transportation, storage, preparation cooking and packaging of food, cooking methods..) and taking precautionary and evaluation measures to limit the expression of risks (for example, food poisoning).

In Europe, following various food scandals, Directive 93/43 / EC on the hygiene of foodstuffs advocates the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) method in order to “identify any aspect that is decisive for food hygiene “. food safety and to ensure that appropriate safety procedures are established, implemented, followed and updated. ”

The hygiene package is to prevent the food hazards, with an obligation of results, leaving more freedom for responsible processing or catering establishments on how to get there. The “good practice guides” set up by the professional sectors, with or without the help of administrations, can contribute to this, as well as the standards and benchmarks used by the food industry (BRC, IFS, ISO 22000, Eurepgap, standard NF V0 1-002 including a “Glossary on Food Hygiene”, standard NF V01-006: 2008 (“Place of the HACCP and application of its principles for the control of the safety of food and food for animals “).

Delay in growth and chronic nutritive deficiencies
Many countries experience shortages of permanent food and problems in their distribution. This results in chronic and sometimes widespread hunger among significant numbers of people. The human response to hunger and malnutrition is the decrease in body size, which is known in medical terms as rickets or stunting. This process begins in uteroif the mother is malnourished and continues approximately until the third year of life. It leads to an increase in infant mortality, but at much lower rates than during a famine. Once the delay in growth occurs, the improvement of the nutritional intake in a later vital moment does not reverse the damage. Rickets in itself is considered a coping or response mechanism, as it is designed to adjust the body to a size in line with the calories available during adulthood in the habitat where the child was born. The limitation of body size as a way to adapt it to low levels of energy (or calories) adversely affects health in three ways:

The premature failure of vital organs that takes place during adult life.
Individuals who have suffered a stunted growth are more likely to get sick than those who have not.
Severe malnutrition during early childhood often leads to defects in cognitive development.

Challenges to achieving food security

Global water crisis
Water deficits, which are already spurring heavy grain imports in numerous smaller countries, may soon do the same in larger countries, such as China or India. The water tables are falling in scores of countries (including northern China, the US, and India) due to widespread overpumping using powerful diesel and electric pumps. Other countries affected include Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. This will eventually lead to water scarcity and cutbacks in grain harvest. Even with the overpumping of its aquifers, China is developing a grain deficit. When this happens, it will almost certainly drive grain prices upward. Most of the 3 billion people projected to be born worldwide by mid-century will be born in countries already experiencing water shortages. After China and India, there is a second tier of smaller countries with large water deficits – Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Mexico, and Pakistan. Four of these already import a large share of their grain. Only Pakistan remains self-sufficient. But with a population expanding by 4 million a year, it will likely soon turn to the world market for grain.

Regionally, Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of water-stressed countries of any place on the globe, as of an estimated 800 million people who live in Africa, 300 million live in a water-stressed environment. It is estimated that by 2030, 75 million to 250 million people in Africa will be living in areas of high water stress, which will likely displace anywhere between 24 million and 700 million people as conditions become increasingly unlivable. Because the majority of Africa remains dependent on an agricultural lifestyle and 80 to 90 percent of all families in rural Africa rely upon producing their own food, water scarcity translates to a loss of food security.

Multimillion-dollar investments beginning in the 1990s by the World Bank have reclaimed desert and turned the Ica Valley in Peru, one of the driest places on earth, into the largest supplier of asparagus in the world. However, the constant irrigation has caused a rapid drop in the water table, in some places as much as eight meters per year, one of the fastest rates of aquifer depletion in the world. The wells of small farmers and local people are beginning to run dry and the water supply for the main city in the valley is under threat. As a cash crop, asparagus has provided jobs for local people, but most of the money goes to the buyers, mainly the British. A 2010 report concluded that the industry is not sustainable and accuses investors, including the World Bank, of failing to take proper responsibility for the effect of their decisions on the water resources of poorer countries. Diverting water from the headwaters of the Ica River to asparagus fields has also led to a water shortage in the mountain region of Huancavelica, where indigenous communities make a marginal living herding.

Land degradation
Intensive farming often leads to a vicious cycle of exhaustion of soil fertility and decline of agricultural yields. Approximately 40 percent of the world’s agricultural land is seriously degraded. In Africa, if current trends of soil degradation continue, the continent might be able to feed just 25 percent of its population by 2025, according to UNU’s Ghana-based Institute for Natural Resources in Africa.

Climate change
Extreme events, such as droughts and floods, are forecast to increase as climate change and global warming takes hold. Ranging from overnight floods to gradually worsening droughts, these will have a range of effects on the agricultural sector. According to the Climate & Development Knowledge Network report Managing Climate Extremes and Disasters in the Agriculture Sectors: Lessons from the IPCC SREX Report, the effects will include changing productivity and livelihood patterns, economic losses, and effects on infrastructure, markets and food security. Food security in future will be linked to our ability to adapt agricultural systems to extreme events. An example of a shifting weather pattern would be a rise in temperatures. As temperatures rise due to climate change there is a risk of a diminished food supply due to heat damage.

Approximately 2.4 billion people live in the drainage basin of the Himalayan rivers. India, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar could experience floods followed by severe droughts in coming decades. In India alone, the Ganges provides water for drinking and farming for more than 500 million people. The west coast of North America, which gets much of its water from glaciers in mountain ranges such as the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada, also would be affected. Glaciers aren’t the only worry that the developing nations have; sea level is reported to rise as climate change progresses, reducing the amount of land available for agriculture.

In other parts of the world, a big effect will be low yields of grain according to the World Food Trade Model, specifically in the low latitude regions where much of the developing world is located. From this the price of grain will rise, along with the developing nations trying to grow the grain. Due to this, every 2–2.5% price hike will increase the number of hungry people by 1%. Low crop yields are just one of the problem facing farmers in the low latitudes and tropical regions. The timing and length of the growing seasons, when farmers plant their crops, are going to be changing dramatically, per the USDA, due to unknown changes in soil temperature and moisture conditions.

Another way of thinking about food security and climate change comes from Evan Fraser, a geographer working at the University of Guelph in Ontario Canada. His approach is to explore the vulnerability of food systems to climate change and he defines vulnerability to climate change as situations that occur when relatively minor environmental problems cause major effects on food security. Examples of this include the Irish Potato Famine[dubious – discuss], which was caused by a rainy year that created ideal conditions for the fungal blight to spread in potato fields, or the Ethiopian Famine in the early 1980s. Three factors stand out as common in such cases, and these three factors act as a diagnostic “tool kit” through which to identify cases where food security may be vulnerable to climate change. These factors are: (1) specialized agro-ecosystems; (2) households with very few livelihood options other than farming; (3) situations where formal institutions do not provide adequate safety nets to protect people. “The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) estimates that an additional US$ 7.1–7.3 billion per year are needed in agricultural investments to offset the negative effect of climate change on nutrition for children by 2050 (Table 6).”

“Results show that climate change is likely to reduce agricultural production, thus reducing food availability” (Brown etal., 2008.) “The food security threat posed by climate change is greatest for Africa, where agricultural yields and per capita food production has been steadily declining, and where population growth will double the demand for food, water, and livestock forage in the next 30 years” (Devereux et al., 2004).In 2060, the hungry population could range from 641 million to 2087 million with climate change (Chen et al., 1994). By the year 2030, Cereal crops will decrease from 15 to 19 percent, temperatures are estimated to rise from 1 degrees Celsius to 2. 75 degrees Celsius, which will lead to less rainfall, which will all result in an increase in food insecurity in 2030 (Devereux etal, 2004). In prediction farming countries will be the worst sectors hit, hot countries and drought countries will reach even higher temperatures and richer countries will be hit the least as they have more access to more resources (Devereux et al. 2004). From a food security perspective, climate change is the dominant rationale to the increase in recent years and predicted years to come.

Agricultural diseases
Diseases affecting livestock or crops can have devastating effects on food availability especially if there are no contingency plans in place. For example, Ug99, a lineage of wheat stem rust which can cause up to 100% crop losses, is present in wheat fields in several countries in Africa and the Middle East and is predicted to spread rapidly through these regions and possibly further afield, potentially causing a wheat production disaster that would affect food security worldwide.

The genetic diversity of the crop wild relatives of wheat can be used to improve modern varieties to be more resistant to rust. In their centers of origin wild wheat plants are screened for resistance to rust, then their genetic information is studied and finally wild plants and modern varieties are crossed through means of modern plant breeding in order to transfer the resistance genes from the wild plants to the modern varieties.

Food versus fuel
Farmland and other agricultural resources have long been used to produce non-food crops including industrial materials such as cotton, flax, and rubber; drug crops such as tobacco and opium, and biofuels such as firewood, etc. In the 21st century the production of fuel crops has increased, adding to this diversion. However technologies are also developed to commercially produce food from energy such as natural gas and electrical energy with tiny water and land foot print.

Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen observed that “there is no such thing as an apolitical food problem.” While drought and other naturally occurring events may trigger famine conditions, it is government action or inaction that determines its severity, and often even whether or not a famine will occur. The 20th century has examples of governments, as in Collectivization in the Soviet Union or the Great Leap Forward in the People’s Republic of China undermining the food security of their own nations. Mass starvation is frequently a weapon of war, as in the blockade of Germany, the Battle of the Atlantic, and the blockade of Japan during World War I and World War II and in the Hunger Plan enacted by Nazi Germany.

Governments sometimes have a narrow base of support, built upon cronyism and patronage. Fred Cuny pointed out in 1999 that under these conditions: “The distribution of food within a country is a political issue. Governments in most countries give priority to urban areas, since that is where the most influential and powerful families and enterprises are usually located. The government often neglects subsistence farmers and rural areas in general. The more remote and underdeveloped the area the less likely the government will be to effectively meet its needs. Many agrarian policies, especially the pricing of agricultural commodities, discriminate against rural areas. Governments often keep prices of basic grains at such artificially low levels that subsistence producers cannot accumulate enough capital to make investments to improve their production. Thus, they are effectively prevented from getting out of their precarious situation.”

Dictators and warlords have used food as a political weapon, rewarding supporters while denying food supplies to areas that oppose their rule. Under such conditions food becomes a currency with which to buy support and famine becomes an effective weapon against opposition.

Governments with strong tendencies towards kleptocracy can undermine food security even when harvests are good. When government monopolizes trade, farmers may find that they are free to grow cash crops for export, but under penalty of law only able to sell their crops to government buyers at prices far below the world market price. The government then is free to sell their crop on the world market at full price, pocketing the difference.

When the rule of law is absent, or private property is non-existent, farmers have little incentive to improve their productivity. If a farm becomes noticeably more productive than neighboring farms, it may become the target of individuals well connected to the government. Rather than risk being noticed and possibly losing their land, farmers may be content with the perceived safety of mediocrity.

As pointed out by William Bernstein in The Birth of Plenty: “Individuals without property are susceptible to starvation, and it is much easier to bend the fearful and hungry to the will of the state. If a [farmer’s] property can be arbitrarily threatened by the state, that power will inevitably be employed to intimidate those with divergent political and religious opinions.”

Food sovereignty
The approach known as food sovereignty views the business practices of multinational corporations as a form of neocolonialism. It contends that multinational corporations have the financial resources available to buy up the agricultural resources of impoverished nations, particularly in the tropics. They also have the political clout to convert these resources to the exclusive production of cash crops for sale to industrialized nations outside of the tropics, and in the process to squeeze the poor off of the more productive lands. Under this view subsistence farmers are left to cultivate only lands that are so marginal in terms of productivity as to be of no interest to the multinational corporations. Likewise, food sovereignty holds it to be true that communities should be able to define their own means of production and that food is a basic human right. With several multinational corporations now pushing agricultural technologies on developing countries, technologies that include improved seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, crop production has become an increasingly analyzed and debated issue. Many communities calling for food sovereignty are protesting the imposition of Western technologies on to their indigenous systems and agency.

Risks to food security

Population growth
Current UN projections show a continued increase in population in the future (but a steady decline in the population growth rate), with the global population expected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. Estimates by the UN Population Division for the year 2150 range between 3.2 and 24.8 billion; mathematical modeling supports the lower estimate. Some analysts have questioned the sustainability of further world population growth, highlighting the growing pressures on the environment, global food supplies, and energy resources. Solutions for feeding the extra billions in the future are being studied and documented. One out of every seven people on our planet go to sleep hungry. People are suffering due to overpopulation, 25,000 people die of malnutrition and hunger related diseases everyday.

Fossil fuel dependence
While agricultural output has increased, energy consumption to produce a crop has also increased at a greater rate, so that the ratio of crops produced to energy input has decreased over time. Green Revolution techniques also heavily rely on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, many of which are petroleum products, making agriculture increasingly reliant on petroleum.

Between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the globe, world grain production increased by 250%. The energy for the Green Revolution was provided by fossil fuels in the form of fertilizers (natural gas), pesticides (oil), and hydrocarbon fueled irrigation.

David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell University, and Mario Giampietro, senior researcher at the National Research Institute on Food and Nutrition (NRIFN), place in their study Food, Land, Population and the U.S. Economy the maximum U.S. population for a sustainable economy at 210 million. To achieve a sustainable economy and avert disaster, the United States must reduce its population by at least one-third, and world population will have to be reduced by two-thirds, says the study.

The authors of this study believe that the mentioned agricultural crisis will only begin to affect us after 2020, and will not become critical until 2050. The oncoming peaking of global oil production (and subsequent decline of production), along with the peak of North American natural gas production will very likely precipitate this agricultural crisis much sooner than expected. Geologist Dale Allen Pfeiffer claims that coming decades could see spiraling food prices without relief and massive starvation on a global level such as never experienced before.

Homogeneity in the global food supply
Since 1961, human diets across the world have become more diverse in the consumption of major commodity staple crops, with a corollary decline in consumption of local or regionally important crops, and thus have become more homogeneous globally. The differences between the foods eaten in different countries were reduced by 68% between 1961 and 2009. The modern “global standard” diet contains an increasingly large percentage of a relatively small number of major staple commodity crops, which have increased substantially in the share of the total food energy (calories), protein, fat, and food weight that they provide to the world’s human population, including wheat, rice, sugar, maize, soybean (by +284%), palm oil (by +173%), and sunflower (by +246%). Whereas nations used to consume greater proportions of locally or regionally important crops, wheat has become a staple in over 97% of countries, with the other global staples showing similar dominance worldwide. Other crops have declined sharply over the same period, including rye, yam, sweet potato (by −45%), cassava (by −38%), coconut, sorghum (by −52%) and millets (by −45%). Such crop diversity change in the human diet is associated with mixed effects on food security, improving under-nutrition in some regions but contributing to the diet-related diseases caused by over-consumption of macronutrients.

Price setting
On April 30, 2008, Thailand, one of the world’s biggest rice exporters, announced the creation of the Organisation of Rice Exporting Countries with the potential to develop into a price-fixing cartel for rice. It is a project to organize 21 rice exporting countries to create a homonymous organisation to control the price of rice. The group is mainly made up of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. The organization attempts to serve the purpose of making a “contribution to ensuring food stability, not just in an individual country but also to address food shortages in the region and the world”. However, it is still questionable whether this organization will serve its role as an effective rice price fixing cartel, that is similar to OPEC’s mechanism for managing petroleum. Economic analysts and traders said the proposal would go nowhere because of the inability of governments to cooperate with each other and control farmers’ output. Moreover, countries that are involved expressed their concern, that this could only worsen the food security.

Land use change
China needs not less than 120 million hectares of arable land for its food security. China has recently reported a surplus of 15 million hectares. On the other side of the coin, some 4 million hectares of conversion to urban use and 3 million hectares of contaminated land have been reported as well. Furthermore, a survey found that 2.5% of China’s arable land is too contaminated to grow food without harm. In Europe, the conversion of agricultural soil implied a net loss of potential. But the rapid loss in the area of arable soils appears to be economically meaningless because EU is perceived to be dependent on internal food supply anymore. During the period 2000–2006 the European Union lost 0.27% of its cropland and 0.26% of its crop productive potential. The loss of agricultural land during the same time was the highest in the Netherlands, which lost 1.57% of its crop production potential within six years. The figures are quite alarming for Cyprus (0.84%), Ireland (0.77%) and Spain (0.49%) as well. In Italy, in the Emilia-Romagna plain (ERP), the conversion of 15,000 hectare of agricultural soil (period 2003-2008) implied a net loss of 109,000 Mg per year of wheat, which accounts for the calories needed by 14% of ERP population (425,000 people). Such a loss in wheat production is just 0.02% of gross domestic product (GDP) of the Emilia-Romagna region which is actually a minor effect in financial terms. Additionally, the income from the new land use is often much higher than the one guaranteed by agriculture, as in the case of urbanisation or extraction of raw materials.

Global catastrophic risks
As anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions reduce the stability of the global climate, abrupt climate change could become more intense. The impact of an asteroid or comet larger than about 1 km diameter has the potential to block the sun globally, causing impact winter. Particles in the troposphere would quickly rain out, but particles in the stratosphere, especially sulfate, could remain there for years. Similarly, a supervolcanic eruption would reduce the potential of agricultural production from solar photosynthesis, causing volcanic winter. The Toba super volcanic eruption approximately 70,000 years ago may have nearly caused the extinction of humans (see Toba catastrophe theory). Again, primarily sulfate particles could block the sun for years. Solar blocking is not limited to natural causes as nuclear winter is also possible, which refers to the scenario involving widespread nuclear war and burning of cities that release soot into the stratosphere that would stay there for about 10 years. The high stratospheric temperatures produced by soot absorbing solar radiation would create near-global ozone hole conditions even for a regional nuclear conflict.

Agricultural subsidies in the United States
Agricultural subsidies are paid to farmers and agribusinesses to supplement their income, manage the supply of their commodities and influence the cost and supply of those commodities. In the United States, the main crops the government subsidizes contribute to the obesity problem; since 1995, $300 billion have gone to crops that are used to create junk food.

Taxpayers heavily subsidize corn and soy, which are main ingredients in processed foods and fatty foods which the government does not encourage, and used to fatten livestock. Half of farmland is devoted to corn and soy, the rest is wheat. Soy and corn can be found in sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup. Over $19 billion during the prior 18 years to 2013 was spent to incent farmers to grow these crops, raising the price of fruits and vegetables by about 40% and lowering the price of dairy and other animal products. Little land is used for fruit and vegetable farming.

Corn, a pillar of American agriculture for years, is now mainly used for ethanol, high fructose corn syrup and bio-based plastics. About 40 percent of corn is used for ethanol and 36% is used as animal feed. Only a tiny fraction of corn is used as a food source, much of that fraction is used for high-fructose corn syrup, which is a main ingredient in processed, unhealthy junk food.

People who ate the most subsidized food had a 37% higher risk of being obese compared to people who ate the least amount of subsidized food. This brings up the concern that minority communities are more prone to risks of obesity due to financial limitations. The subsidies result in those commodities being cheap to the public, compared to those recommended by dietary guidelines.

Source from Wikipedia