Despite producing enough food to feed 1.5 times the global population, one in nine people remain undernourished and more than 30 million children under the age of 5 are dangerously underweight.
Our current solution is geared to solve this hunger issue by producing more food but this solution also comes with increasing damage to our environment. New research out this week challenges our "business as usual" model by showing how fixing critical aspects of the food system can help to feed our people while still protecting our planet.
Food insecurity is defined as a lack of access to safe, nutritious and affordable food. In 2016 one in five New Zealand children lived in households that experienced moderate to severe food insecurity. Worldwide, poor nutrition is responsible for the deaths of more than three million children under the age of 5 each year. Ironically, like many other countries, New Zealand undernourishment coexists with obesity.
Right now we are trying to solve this hunger challenge by increasing food production through agricultural intensification and expansion. This, however, comes with the negative side effect of increasing air and water pollution, decreasing biodiversity and increasing deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. Responsible for up to a third of our global greenhouse gas emissions, the food industry has an enormous impact on our planet.
Growing more food, however, doesn't really make any sense. Looking at the numbers, we already produce enough food for our planet. Current data shows worldwide we produce enough food to feed 10 billion people, yet there are only 7.6 billion of us on the planet.
Hunger, it seems, is not a result of the world not producing enough food but rather due to unequal access to food. One third of all food produced globally ends up in landfill and in New Zealand alone we throw away more than 150,000 tonnes of food each year.
Right now, if we stick to our current inefficient food production model, eradicating hunger by 2030 will require a 20 per cent growth in food production. To sustain this growth, 48 mega-hectares of land will need to be turned over to agriculture and greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 550 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2030.
Rather than stick with our current system, a new research study published in the journal Nature Sustainability this week suggests that we need to look at different strategies to help end hunger and reduce food inequality in a way that also reduces the food industries impact on the environment.
The researchers looked at focused ways to bridge the nutritional gap of the undernourished population. They suggested starting with short-term, targeted government support-led food security. The researcher proposed providing help through such as school feeding programmes, food vouchers and income support programmes.
By focusing on those who were food insecure and over the long-term redistributing nutrient-dense food more evenly, they calculated than our global agriculture production would need to increase by only 3 per cent to provide sufficient food to an additional 410 million people and eradicate hunger by 2030.
This small increase has a much lower impact on the environment than the track we are currently going down, however, to get there big changes are needed to address our broken food system.
With one study showing that New Zealand households throw away 3.5kg of food per week into their domestic kerbside collection, all of us can help by reducing the amount of food we waste. This, combined with government initiatives to help with equity of food distribution and food education programmes to help deter over-consumption, are all achievable things we can do to not only help our people but also our planet.
Dr Michelle Dickinson, creator of Nanogirl, is a nanotechnologist who is passionate about getting Kiwis hooked on science and engineering. Tweet her your science questions @medickinson.