Sustainable Food Supply and the End of Hunger I


We need to consider one of the most complicated and unsolved problems of sustainable development. How are we going to feed ourselves? It’s an age-old problem, it’s been with humanity for a long time before, but for quite a few decades. This is problem that many people thought was already solved with the great breakthroughs in food productivity. In increasing farmland, increasing yields, it seems that food production would inevitably stay ahead of The growing world population. Now we have some serious doubts. Not only are we coming to realize how badly fed the world population is in certain ways, but how many real threats there are ahead. That is our challenge. 1011We can’t say we haven’t been warned. The warnings have been with us for more than two centuries. They started, as I mentioned, with Thomas Robert Malthus, who in 1798 in his Principles of Population posed the basic question of how food production can stay ahead of a growing population. When Malthus wrote, there were around 900 million people on the planet. Now with 7.2 billion people, an eight-fold increase, the challenge is with us again. In fact perhaps in an even more complicated way than Malthus imagined. Because now, we come to understand that not only is the world not feeding itself but in a healthy and fair manner. But there are many, many obstacles that lie ahead. Let’s start with the question of, what does it mean to feed ourselves in a healthy way? And we can ask that by looking at the question of malnutrition. Malnutrition is a pervasive problem on the planet. One can argue, I think convincingly that perhaps 40% of the world’s population, 40% is malnourished. In one way or another. But to understand that, we have to understand what we mean by malnutrition. Now, one thing that jumps to mind, of course, is hunger and undernourishment. Undernourishment in it’s most direct sense is, simply not taking in The calories that are needed for daily activity and daily survival. Hungry people feeling the pangs of hunger and not having enough energy for more than mere survival and in some desperate cases, not even that, remains a problem afflicting hundreds of millions of people.

In the world. There’s another kind of under nourishment. That is a bit less visible. And that is a category sometimes called hidden hunger. The calories may be there. But the micro-nutrients nutrients such as vitamins and. Particular fatty acids and other components of food are not present in adequate supply so that people are unhealthy and perhaps chronically disabled as a result of bouts of micro-nutrient deficiency. There’s a third kind of malnutrition, which has become An epidemic in many parts of the world, especially the richest countries. But also many middle income countries. And that is malnourishment in excessive consumption of calories. We have an obesity epidemic underway in the world. And it’s estimated that roughly one third of all adults in the world are overweight. And perhaps around 10 to 15% are obese.1012

When you add it up, the numbers are staggering. Roughly speaking, we can say that Between 800 million and a billion people are on the planet are chronically undernourished in the sense that they do not get the daily energy intake in their diets to be healthy and to be satisfied with the, what they’re eating. But another billion people, who are not counted in the hunger category, are in the hidden Hunger category. So, roughly, 1.8 to two billion people are undernourished either in the direct sense of not enough energy intake. Or, in the sense of micro-nutrient deficiencies. And then, the estimates vary on obesity. But it is certainly well over a billion people who are overweight, and several hundred million, perhaps 700 or 800 million adults who are obese. You add it up and it’s plausible to think around 2.8 billion people on a planet of 7.2 billion people. Are malnourished, about 40% of the population.

1013We have a food crisis. It varies in different parts of the world, sometimes it’s hidden, sometimes it’s the wrong kinds of foods, sometimes it’s simply not enough food. But any Serious, Focus on the sustainable and secure food supply for the world, has to view the crisis in all it’s dimensions. From those who lack the basic caloric intake to those who, in grade of happiness, often are suffering. From obesity, and from all of the massive ill effects that come from that. Let’s have a look at where these problems are distributed. Under nourishment, is concentrated in tropical Africa, and in South Asia. So we see in Tropical Africa, especially in Central and Southern Africa, that more than a third of the population is undernourished.

1014This means simply not enough calories, or by some measurements, not enough calories and proteins needed for basic sustenance. And in south Asia we see that the proportions of chronically under-nourished are between a fifth, 20% and a third, around 33%. Serious levels of under nutrition and fortunately in the rest of the world, lower levels than that. In the high-income countries, very little under nutrition in that sense, though massive problems of malnourishment when one considers the problems at the other end of the spectrum. When children are undernourished Of course they suffer a massive disability in their growth that lasts a lifetime. If the undernourishment effects them in the critical growing stage in the early years of life, and we measure that under nutrition with several different concepts. But two are especially important. One is stunting. Stunting means that a child is undernourished to the extent that the child is very short low height.

1015That is for age and the standard is measured against a Regular distribution for normal population of height by age. And then children who are far to the low end of that scale, more than two standard deviations below the norm, are considered stunted. And stunting, of course, reflects the Inadequacy of dietary intake, but it often also reflects chronic infection. Worm infections for example that where the worms take the nutrients that should be going to the young child, or other kinds of infections That mean that the child is shedding nutrients, maybe through bouts of diarrhea or that make the nutrients not bioavailable to the child, they can’t be metabolized while the child was sick. So, when we see stunting, we usually are. Looking at, circumstances of chronic, dietary undernourishment, combined very often, with repeated bouts of illness. And the stunting, we see is most severe, where we, normally find it tropical Africa. And the highest stunting rates in the world in South Asia. Especially in India which overwhelmingly has the largest numbers of young children who are stunted. The second concept for children is even more urgent and that is wasting. Wasting is low weight for height. So stunting is a chronic condition that means that the child doesn’t grow.

1016Wasting is when the weight is even less than it would be for that low stature.  It’s often a sign of acute Undernutrition. Life-threatening undernutrition. The kind of undernourishment that one sees in a famine, in a megadrought. And then one sees children wasting and there needs to be an urgent rescue through therapeutic foods and and often em, emergency procedures to help keep the children alive in those circumstances. When we talk about undernourishment in general, we tend to separate it, and need to separate analytically, the chronic undernutrition, which is the day in, day out hunger.

1015That does lead to the stunting from the acute episodes of undernutrition that come from disasters, from displacement of populations, from droughts. And when those acute episodes occur, not only is there massive suffering, there can be massive death. From the undernutrition. In the worst cases from starvation itself. In other cases from diseases which take advantage of the undernutrition and the immunosuppression that comes along with the undernourishment. There’s also another massive reason for suffering that comes with acute episodes of of hunger that follow droughts, and other disasters. And that is the conflict often follows on.

1018Have a look at a map for the Spring of 2012. When they were two regions of Africa. Both battling drought. Looking at the map which is a map that is Used to measure emergency situations we see. The acute food insecurity both in west Africa and in east Africa. There were indeed large population movements, resurgent violence. A civil war broke out in Mali, not only for the reasons of hunger, but hunger stokes these conflicts. And so this is another scourge that accompanies food crises. When we turn to hidden hunger, it of course also, is lurking in populations where the visible hunger is also seen. Now you’re looking at a map of, an estimate of the hidden hunger of micro nutrient deficiency. Which kind of nutrients are we talking about? Vitamins such as vitamin A or vitamin B in several of its forms. Iron, iodine, zinc, folates. All crucial micronutrients that when not adequate in the diet can lead to Terrible health disabilities, death in extreme cases, and also, very great dangers for child birth. Mothers who don’t have enough folates during pregnancy often give birth to children with devastating defects. And this is a Pervasive condition that afflicts the poorest countries.

1019We see again, India and South Asia, much of tropical Africa the Andean Region. Some of the other countries of Western Asia and of Southeast Asia where there is considerable micro-nutrient deficiency. Unfortunately, the knowledge and the data of the hidden hunger are themselves hidden. There are not precise estimates known for many of these  micro-nutrients. In terms of where they really are seriously lacking in diets. The next map shows you an estimate for vitamin A deficiency. Again regions of the world that you would expect. But a larger area of the world. Even including many middle income countries in Latin America, and also China. Now let’s look at the other end of the malnourishment spectrum. One that also is causing a tremendous amount of morbidity. In other words disease. And premature mortality. And that is the obesity epidemic, that is sweeping much of the world There have been enormous increases of obesity in the last 30 years. What is obesity? Obesity is a specific measure the typical definition is to use the so-called Body Mass Index, a person’s weight in kilograms is divided by the square of the person’s height measured in meters. And that BMI, the body mass index, if it’s over 30, is considered obese, if it’s over 25 it’s considered overweight. And by that measurement we have a massive epidemic of adult obesity. In many of the high income countries, 30% or more, in the United States and in some other high income countries. Why?

Partly it is the total amount of caloric intake, partly it’s the type of calories being consumed often. Carbohydrates trans fats and other foods that are known as having high glycemic indexes that they’re easily, the sugars are easily metabolized. Part of it is the relative inactivity. In our new urbanized environment, where people sit, maybe watching television for hours at a time. A combination of too many calories, the wrong kinds of calories and physical inactivity. What to do. A starting point is to combine The food growing challenges with the nutritional science. What should be grown? What should people eat? And here breakthroughs in nutrition science are giving us better indicators. One of the leaders of modern nutrition, and rethinking what is wrong With our diet is Professor Walter Willette.

1019aA chairman of nutrition at Harvard University. And he has proposed the right kind of food pyramid as it’s called shown here which depicts the kinds of foods and the relative Frequency and amounts of those foods that should be eaten. And just to indicate very briefly what the findings of modern nutrition are because they’re important. It tells us that our diets as they evolved with the fast foods of The high income countries have become very imbalanced the source of, this, pandemic of obesity and, overeating. And what is needed is diets that are rich in vegetables, in fruits, in vegetable oils so called unsaturated fats which are healthy. As opposed to the animal fats and the industrial fats, the so called trans fats which can be very dangerous for health. And when grains are eaten, they should be eaten as whole grains. And so the dietary mix is. Quite different from the diet. Of the high income world,which is heavily concentrated in the wrong kinds of fats in in refined grains rather than in whole grains and in a very heavy meat-based diet which has its own Great difficulties for health especially. A large amount of beef eating. I mention this because it’s going to have a, big consequence when we discuss what kind of agriculture system, should be consistent with the kind of diet. That is healthy for people. Of course this kind of food pyramid viewed from the perspective of the poorest countries is a dream. How can we get from where we are, not even enough calories in the day, to this kind of balanced diet that can be healthy, and provide not only the macro caloric intake and proteins, but also the micro nutrients And the balance of different food components conducive to health. The world is in increasing stress when it comes to the food system. More mouths to feed, a rising demand for meat products which amplifies the demand for the grains to feed. The animals that are being consumed in larger number. All combined with environmental threats that are undermining the stability of the food production itself in many parts of the world. We’ve already gotten, a taste of it if I could put it that way in Rising food prices that are a major challenge for poor people in the world. If you look at this graph of food prices since the late 1970s, you see that for all of the major grains, the staple grains maize Rice, wheat and soy beans prices were falling from the 70s until the end of the 20th century. But since the beginning of the 21st century, the price of food has been rising and rising sharply. For wealthy people, this is a, an inconvenience, a discomfort. For poor people, whose diets consume a much larger part of the family income, this is more than just an annoyance or a hindrance. It is a profound threat. To their well being. We see Engel’s Law in operation here. The idea that, for poor people, the food consumption occupies a much larger share of the total household income, and therefore rises in food prices Can be very devastating for households that buy their food from the marketplace. So here we have it, 40% of the world still not properly nourished. And a food supply under threat, yet facing rising demands. From growing populations and from parts of the world with higher incomes, putting even more intensive demands on the food supply. Huge puzzles, what can we do about it. We have to look closely now at how food is grown. Where it’s growing, what the threats are, what can be done about it.

Pedro Pereira Leite

Researcher and professor. He had his PhD. on museology in 2011, with the title “Muss-amb-ike Homeland: The commitment on musicological process”, that was published in 2011. In 2012 he finishes a Post-PhD Research on "Biographical Glances: The intersubjectivity poetry on museology, at Lusófona University (Lisbon). Presently he is working in his Post PhD. Research about: “Global Heritages" with the aims to build a network on local cognizance and memory manager has a tool to build the will of action in 3 different communities, linked by past communed heritages.” He works at CES. He participates on different Research network, presented papers in national and international conferences, and had published books on research subjects.

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