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close this bookEnding Malnutrition by 2020: An Agenda for Change in the Millennium - Final report to the ACC/SCN by the commission on the nutrition challenges of the 21st century (ACC/SCN, 2000, 104 p.)
close this folder4. Food, Agriculture and Environment: Future Challenges
View the document4.1 Food as an important determinant of nutritional status
View the document4.2 The constraints to meeting future demands
View the document4.3 Other forces affecting food security: trade, global finance and new technology
View the document4.4 Food production and food security: meeting the challenges

4.1 Food as an important determinant of nutritional status

Access to adequate, nutritious food is obviously a prerequisite for good nutrition. Immediately after World War II, food security was considered only in physical terms (i.e. food production and availability). In the 1970s it became clear that economic access to food is equally important. In the 1980s, we learned that food security has to be considered at the level of the individual, with particular attention to women and children. The importance of environmental hygiene and safe drinking water as well as the intake of micronutrients has also been increasingly recognised. Poor environmental sanitation and unclean drinking water affect adversely the biological absorption and retention of food.

As the Declaration and Plan of Action of the World Food Summit made clear, to ensure a reduction by half of the number of people living with an insecure food supply, the following measures are required:

expanding food production
increasing the income of poorer groups
increasing access to foods of high nutritional quality
limiting the vulnerability of people to episodic poverty which can induce long-term handicaps.

These needs should also be considered in a broader perspective. At a meeting of Science Academies in preparation for the Wood Food Summit in November 1996, it was agreed that national food security systems should ensure:

that every individual has physical, economic, social and environmental access to a balanced diet that includes the necessary macro- and micro-nutrients, and to safe drinking water, sanitation, environmental hygiene, primary health-care and education, so as to lead a healthy and productive life.

that food originates from efficient and environmentally benign production technologies that conserve and enhance the natural resource base of crops, animal husbandry, forestry, and inland and marine fisheries.

FAO estimated in 1999 that some 790 million people in developing regions have inadequate access to food (FAO, 1999b). The causes of food insecurity are many and complex, and a shortfall in food production is often not the issue. Nonetheless, with the rapidly growing world population, the challenges of producing enough food for everyone in the coming century are substantial. FAO estimates that by 2020 we may need an annual production of at least 3,000 million tonnes of food grains, 200 million tonnes of aquatic foods, and large quantities of fruits and vegetables to provide balanced diets for the predicted world population of over 8 billion human beings. This will require large quantities of fuel-wood, fodder, fibre and other agricultural commodities.

Food availability is unevenly distributed among the world's population. Figure 4.1 illustrates the distribution of consumption between the poorest 20% of the world's population, the middle 60% and the richest 20%. The real challenge is to change these patterns of consumption to reduce the pressures on the planet and on society in the next century. The developing countries' pressing needs are likely to lead to increased consumption pressures, so there is a need for the affluent countries to reconsider their strategies.

IFPRI has sought to identify the key challenges for food and agriculture in its 2020 Vision project (IFPRI, 1995). Its 1995 projections show that although the proportion of the world's population who are food-insecure may fall, this will not translate into a reduction in the numbers of people at risk of hunger. This is because the world's population will continue to grow, so that greater numbers will be at risk. In addition, the extra stress on the planet of the additional millions is likely to increase the numbers of people who are involuntarily displaced from their homes and therefore particularly vulnerable to food shortage.

Figure 4.1 Consumption is distributed inequitably

Obviously, agricultural systems, and the physical, social and economic context within which they operate, vary hugely across the world. The following sections present an overview of constraints and opportunities. Regional and country-level analyses of these issues is important for planning national strategies. Section 4.2 outlines some of the many obstacles to increasing food production to meet growing needs. Section 4.3 outlines some of the other trends and conditions which have an impact on food security. Section 4.4 then goes on to suggest some opportunities for meeting these challenges; it also highlights some key ideas for future strategies.