European Commission, Environment DG

Challenges growing for food security


Source: European Commission, Environment DG

Despite international efforts to reduce global food insecurity and malnutrition, the realisation of food security in the world has fallen short of promises made at the World Food Summit in 1996, and the Millennium Development Goals'2 target to halve world hunger by 2015 is also unlikely to be met. In a recently released report, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) identified three major challenges that threaten improved food security and nutrition: climate change, using food crops as a fuel source and rising food prices.

The report predicts that climate change and variability will adversely affect food security and nutrition. More frequent and intense extreme weather events, such as tropical cyclones, intense rainfall or droughts are likely to reduce food production and to increase water scarcity, especially in regions presently vulnerable to food insecurity. Declining output is expected from the agricultural, forestry, livestock and fisheries sectors. Vulnerable populations, particularly the poor, those dependent on subsistence agriculture and fisheries, and traditional societies, will potentially suffer food insecurity, malnutrition and ill health. Probable migrations of people from rural to urban areas will further strain health and food resources.

Producing food crops for use as bioenergy, to replace fossil fuels, remains controversial. Conversion of land from food to fuel production has contributed to increasing food prices and will reduce availability of food crops. This has had a negative impact on human nutrition at a time when the world's population continues to grow. Rising prices can compromise the quantity and nutritional value of food consumed by poor people, leading to malnutrition and subsequent health problems. Diverting water resources from already depleted aquifers to biofuel crops in areas requiring additional irrigation could exacerbate water scarcity, lead to water pollution and impact aquatic ecosystems.

Opportunities exist to put policies in place that will enable poorer regions to take advantage of biofuel developments. These include strategies to implement environmentally sustainable and poverty-reducing practices, adapted to meet global demands for bioenergy, whilst ensuring the production of food is not compromised.

A number of recommendations in the report suggest ways to address the underlying social, economic, environmental, cultural and political issues that cause food insecurity and malnutrition. These include: the creation of integrated, large-scale programmes to support policies to reduce poverty, promote fair trade, encourage sustainable food production, improve access to safe food, prevent infectious diseases, directly assist vulnerable people and develop anti-hunger alliances. Integration of climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies in sustainable development programmes will contribute to reducing vulnerability to food insecurity and increasing resilience.

In particular, the report suggests using a 'twin-track' approach to tackle hunger and poverty, by strengthening measures to boost productivity and incomes of the poor, especially in rural areas, while ensuring those in need receive immediate food aid and are supported by the assistance of social safety nets. The report suggests that placing people, human rights and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals at the centre of strategies to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change can enhance the development of sustainable environment policies.

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