The number of hungry people in the world could drop dramatically in our lifetimes — but achieving that goal will require action on many fronts, the former head of the United Nations World Food Program told a conference in Winnipeg last month.
By 2050 the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) anticipates food production must rise 60 per cent globally to feed a population projected by then at 10 million.
The good news is there have already been declines in hunger worldwide, even as world populations continue to rise, said Catherine Bertini, 2003 World Prize Laureate told the Agricultural Bioscience International Conference last week.
Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) data from 2016 now pegs some 815 million in the world not having enough to eat. It’s a number that’s gone up since 2015 but down from 900 million in 2000. The trend lines for the numbers of hungry people or percentage of hungry people are generally going down, she said.
“We’ve had significant population increases, yet we have actually had decreases over all in the number of hungry people, which is really good news,” said Bertini.
The main reason for the declines is economic development worldwide, she said, and in her half-hour address outlined multiple areas she considers key in sustaining that trend line, including ways to tackle global poverty.
“It you’re hungry you’re poor, and if you’re poor you’re usually hungry,” she said. “And it is multi-generational. If a young woman is hungry when pregnant she is not going to give birth to a healthy child. That child gets a bad head start and is probably not going to live to full potential.”
World Bank studies show agricultural productivity to be two to four times as effective at alleviating poverty than other sectors.
Meanwhile, the FAO estimates by closing the gender gap in agriculture it would cut the present number of 815 million hungry in the world down by 100 to 150 million people.
Yet, women remain “invisible” from a policy perspective even as they are “ubiquitous in areas of preparing food, primary providers of meals, growing food, serving food, taking care of children and a large percentage are farmers,” said Bertini.
If she had her way every girl on the planet would go to school, she said. That’s because there would be so many positive outcomes.
“If women know how to count and read they’ll be more productive farmers,” she said.
That closure of the gender gap would also lead to great gains.
“And if women had access to land… access to landownership, if they could inherit land, take loans… all of this which now inhibits them… would give them more opportunities and then they could become more productive.”
Another action needed is a new focus on nutrition, said Bertini, who calls nutrition the “stepchild” of agriculture and health right now.
“I never believe there is enough discussion about nutrition in the context of agriculture or health,” she said. “It seems, bureaucratically almost forgotten. No one claims responsibility for working in this space, and yet it’s critically important.”
That’s because in addition to global hunger, food-related causes of death are rampant. Child malnutrition, anemia, and obesity are huge issues, she said. Non-communicable deaths take a huge toll when so many children and adults are now overweight and obese.
Seventy per cent of worldwide adult deaths occurring between the ages of 30 and 69 are due to non-communicable diseases.
Bertini was one of multiple speakers during the “Solutions Start Here” convention, with sessions focused on how to work within our existing footprint to feed nine billion.
Discussions throughout the three days ranged from reducing food waste, protecting pollinators, and building sustainability into animal systems, and a new vertical farm being developed in northern Manitoba to produce vegetables year round.