Food production increasing faster than population growth

By Justin Frewen

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Africa has the highest proportion of hungry people.  PHOTO/AP
Africa has the highest proportion of hungry people. PHOTO/AP

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the world produces enough to feed 10 billion people - far in excess of the global population of seven billion.

The FAO also points out the potential to increase food output up to "Western standards" for as many as 12 billion people.

Therefore, despite the projected increase in the world's population to nine billion by the year 2050, it should be possible to produce more than enough food for everybody for the foreseeable future.

And yet, as things stand, an estimated 850 million people go to bed hungry. In other words, one in eight people around the world are deprived of sufficient food to lead healthy and active lives.

Although Africa has the highest proportion of hungry people, the number of chronically hungry people is greatest in the Asia and the Pacific region at more than 550 million followed by Africa with 227 million people.

Most of these people live in rural areas, depend significantly on agriculture for their food and have few opportunities to earn money, which makes them highly vulnerable to economic crises and fluctuations in the price of agricultural goods.

So while the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth, many people - due to their inadequate earning power - are unable to afford to buy this food. The situation in Africa serves as a perfect illustration of this: despite a 10 per cent increase in the production of food over the growth in population between 1991 and 2011, the number of undernourished people rose by 40 per cent in the same period.

Children are disproportionately affected by food insecurity with almost half (45 per cent) of child deaths under the age of 5 linked to poor nutrition. A quarter of the world's children experience stunted growth, a figure that rises to almost a third in some "developing countries" - and 80 per cent of these children live in just 20 countries.

When people are unable to obtain sufficient calories (energy) to enable them lead an active life, this is generally referred to as "under-nourishment". However, another concern with respect to nutrition is that of malnutrition, which focuses on whether people are eating enough food or the right kind of food to meet their nutritional requirements.

People who experience malnourishment risk experiencing delayed growth and a weakened resistance to illnesses. If malnutrition strikes at an early age, it can also result in delayed normal physical and mental development among children.

Malnutrition is also serious concern in the "developed world" with almost 15 per cent of households in the United States struggling to put food on the table and roughly one-third of premature deaths there attributable to poor nutrition and physical inactivity.

Poor nutrition is also a significant problem in New Zealand. At a meeting in Auckland in 2011, Dr Rebecca Stratton, from the Institute of Human Nutrition, University of Southampton in Britain, and Nutricia UK, which played a critical role in developing a universal malnutrition screening tool, estimated that more than 220,000 people in New Zealand were at risk of malnutrition.

Dr Stratton argued for a mandatory screening programme to ensure that those at risk receive the appropriate care.

Given the particular vulnerability of children to malnutrition and the long-term impact it can have on their health, it is imperative that New Zealand articulates and implements an effective nutrition strategy to ensure better outcomes for children and reduced health costs in the future.

Justin Frewen is a Wanganui-based United Nations consultant, who has served the UN on humanitarian missions for almost 20 years.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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