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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

4.4 Food production and food security: meeting the challenges

The challenges which face the world in feeding the growing population are varied and numerous. The previous sections have outlined many of these challenges in brief. What are the options for food and agriculture in the future? How should new strategies tackle these issues and meet the challenges. The following sections suggest some general approaches to increasing food production to meet growing demands; to conserve biodiversity (and thus nutrient security); to promote fish as a food source while conserving fish stocks; and to protect food security and public health in a global economy.

4.4.1 A need for an ever-green revolution

A further revolution in agriculture will be required to adapt food production systems to growing needs and the changing environment. This new revolution (Box 4.3) must take socio-economic and environmental factors into account by focusing on three components: production, sustainability and poverty reduction. This approach has also been called the triple green revolution (Vosti and Reardon, 1997).

4.4.2. Widening the food basket and ensuring global nutrient security

Given the dramatic reduction in the crop-mix of the global food basket there is a need to widen the food basket once more and broaden the genetic diversity of crops grown. This will confer multiple benefits which include: addressing micronutrient deficiencies, insuring against total crop failures, matching crops to specific agro-ecological conditions, revitalising on-farm conservation of agro-biodiversity, and preventing nutritious crops from becoming 'lost crops'. A range of actions is necessary to help achieve a widening of the food basket. Taken together these could form a global nutrient security strategy (Box 4.4).

Box 4.3

An ever-green revolution

Key aspects of the new approach to food production to improve food security include:

Increased investment in agricultural and natural resource management. The strengthening of agricultural research and extension systems will be vital. This runs counter to the substantial reduction in funding of agricultural research in the developed world where a crude link has been made between investment in agricultural research and the economic costs of all the food surpluses and export subsidies. The acknowledgement that developed countries will benefit from investing in tropical and sub-tropical agricultural research needs to be established along with much closer links to the needs and experience of small, local farmers.

Research and dissemination of new knowledge, appropriate technology and novel techniques to farmers. Strong national and international support for innovation is vital.

Development of total resource management (as in some Chinese villages), integrated pest management and soil fertility programmes to ensure that progress in food production is sustainable over the longer term.

Policies that ensure property rights to land, improved access to credit, effective and efficient markets and temporary fertilizer subsidies (where prices are high), to prevent further degradation of land.

Reconsideration of less-favoured lands. These are the rain-fed rather than irrigated bread basket regions. Studies suggest that the marginal returns on government investment are higher in these areas (Fan and Hazell, 1997).

Reform of water policies at the local, national and international levels to avoid conflict. Improved irrigation, integrated catchment management schemes and the development of ground water resources should yield substantial benefits in improving access to water for food production. The feasibility of water pricing should be considered by local government.

Community involvement in agricultural development. If technology is to be transferred successfully to local food producers, it is essential that it meets their needs and is suitable for local conditions. In particular, the involvement of female food producers in agricultural development should be actively encouraged.

The development of stronger property rights for land, water and other natural resources. People invest in resources that they own or can trade. This helps to prevent further degradation of the resources.

An impetus from international agencies to push world food systems into preparing for the forthcoming changes in global climate. The impact of climate change will vary from location to location, but adaptive changes in agriculture can help minimise the negative effects.

Improved climate information systems and dissemination of information to food producers, to help offset the predicted increase in the 'extreme' weather events which often constitute disaster for farmers.

Exploration of public/private co-operation so as to involve private enterprise in tackling the problems of the world's poor.

The CGIAR institutions hold over 600,000 accessions of genetic strains of food crops. There is a new need to analyse these crops for their nutrient content (CGIAR micronutrients project). Such steps may also help in matching crop choice and agronomic practices with specific agro-ecological conditions, such as arid and semi-arid areas. In addition to global food stocks, local grain banks comprising millets, grain legumes and minor crops could be created to provide nutrition security. These local-level grain banks will help both to provide producer-oriented marketing opportunities and to prevent distress sales and/or panic purchase. Clearly these issues are complex, requiring very different approaches in different regions of the world with a need for evaluation. Guidelines need to be developed at a country or regional level. Unfortunately many of these issues are seen simply as matters of production or trade. Their implications for poverty or undernutrition have been seen as an afterthought if considered at all.

One additional aspect of widening the food basket should be the promotion of fish food sources. This will require a responsible approach to marine and fresh water resources and research and development of aquaculture. The Commission recognises the need to enhance the direct human consumption of fish already caught rather than its use as animal feed. Better enforcement of the existing marine fisheries agreements is also imperative. Regulations and economic incentives to reduce waste of unwanted fish should be adopted. The United Nations should consider establishing a World Ocean Affairs Observatory to police the seas. This is important to preserve the major nutritional, health and economic benefits offish and fish products. A "blue revolution" is therefore required to allow local communities and low income groups to benefit from the production as well as consumption of fish.

Box 4.4

A global nutrient security strategy

A strategy to preserve nutrient security should:

Refocus national priorities in agricultural research to encourage diversity of crop use as well as intensity of production. Horticulture and meat production without the diversion of cereal crops to animal feed need to be higher priorities for development.

Revitalize the pre-market traditions of cultivating and consuming a wide range of cereals, millets, grain, legumes, oilseeds, vegetables, fruits and tuber crops both by education and creation of markets for such nutritious food crops.

Promote the development, manufacture and sale of processed and semi-processed foods based on a mixture of nutritious crop to help overcome micronutrient deficiencies.

Include neglected and 'minor' crops in global and national food security reserves and in public distribution systems, to provide an economic stake in the cultivation of a wide range of food crops.

Redesignate 'coarse cereals' as 'nutritious cereals' (and other minor and currently neglected crops) in order to improve the image of such micronutrient-rich crops in public perception. Terms such as coarse grains, minor crops, minor millets, famine foods and feed grains are all inappropriate names. These crops can often withstand drought and relatively unfavourable growing conditions so are vital to future food security.

Promote the in situ and ex situ conservation of seeds and strains of a wide range of food crops, so as to prevent them from becoming 'lost crops.'

Promote breeding efforts designed to increase the micronutrient content of crops like rice, wheat and maize.

Promote mixed cropping and multiple cropping sequences in the tropics and sub-tropics which provide space in the cropping system for under-utilized but nutritionally desirable crops.

Encourage a better balance between developed and developing countries in world food production, thereby relying more on production from presently under-producing areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa.

The UN needs to encourage better methods to ensure that global food stocks are maintained effectively and with appropriate nutritionally balanced stocks. These should allow those countries with particular food crises after drought, pests or wartime destruction of food supplies, to obtain good quality supplies at affordable prices. The current tendency for Europe and North America to provide whatever stock surpluses they have accumulated as a result of pricing and trade policies is unsatisfactory. The ACC/SCN should explore how best to set optimum proportions or ranges of different foods in these global food stocks.

4.4.3 Ensuring that free trade is fair

Re-negotiation of world trade rules is due to begin in 1999. The Commission welcomes the establishment of the Global Forum on Sustainable Food and Nutritional Security, which has recently been formed to prepare for this review and collate evidence of the impact of the WTO with a strong Southern perspective. These negotiations should recognise the differing needs of industrialized and developing countries. The rules should distinguish between countries which support over-production by the creation of surpluses and those countries seeking only to achieve self-sufficiency and promote food security. The rules should allow the latter to protect their markets to some degree while they strive for food security. Food safety standards should be developed to meet the needs of the poor countries as well as the needs of the richer countries. A number of other measures are required to ensure that food security and nutrition are adequately protected in the increasingly global economy, These are set out in Chapter 7.

The Commission concludes that new safeguards are needed, as food markets open, to protect public health in terms of food standards, the safety of genetically-modified crops, the protection of the nutritional quality of food and to control the influx of virulent microorganisms. This requires a new approach by health ministries and the developing world to the work of the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius as part of the WTO agreements.