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World Food Day

World Food Day

IN THE REPORT: Inequalities of Food Distribution, FAO (purpose, history, progress), Global Undernourishment, Climate Change and Food, Future Food Systems, World Food Day 2014

Land Mass vs The Population Density

  • The total land area of all continents is 148,429,630 square kilometers (57,308,738 sq mi), or 29.1% of Earth’s surface (510,067,450 km2 or 196,937,240 sq mi).
  • The inhabitable portion of Earth is only 43 percent of its land mass, 63,824,740 sq km (24,642,584 sq mi).
  • The total population of all seven continents is an estimated 7.12 billion as of mid-2014 and global population density works out to 111.55 per km2.

In other words, each person on earth has as much as 8,965 sq m to live in, discounting the use of land for any purpose. That seems a lot, but is hardly the case in real life as explained later.

Ancient Greek sailors predate the Roman and it fell to their lot to name the land masses they came across. They named such land masses on either side of the waterways of the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea as Asia and Africa. The Aegean Sea was the center of their world; anything to the east was Asia, to the north and west Europe, and to the south, Africa.

Population Density

The popular seven-continent view is best suited to show how population density is to be considered when relating food availability to the number of people to feed.

The first factor to consider is their relative population density. Asia is the most densely populated continent, housing a large number of people who do not get two square meals a day. Europe, with very high population density, has no such problems. The deduction is simple: better education and knowledge of optimal crop growing and livestock rearing techniques make for a better output, leading to self sufficiency in food.

Most of Black Africa is in dire straits. North America has surplus food and is the largest exporter of foodgrain. It is also the largest donor of such foodgrain as well as processed food, like powdered milk, to various countries affected by famine, whether sporadic, regular or otherwise. South America is comprised of too many countries to be as magnanimous as its northern neighbor.

Population Density Chart

A chart of population density as of today is given below, as Chart 1, followed by charts on Continental data as Charts 2 and 3.


CONTINENT
POPULATION PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL POPULATION LAND MASS IN KM2 POPULATION DENSITY PER KM2
ASIA 4,264,252,000 60.00% 44,579,000 98.4
AFRICA 1,072,234,000 15.00% 30,065,000 35.67
NORTH AMERICA 562,056,000 8.00% 24,256,000 23.3
SOUTH AMERICA 402,555,000 6.00% 17,819,000 23.2
ANTARCTICA 5,000 0.00% 13,209,000 0
EUROPE 778,199,000 11.00% 9,938,000 76.44
AUSTRALIA 30,127,000 0.40% 7,687,000 3.2
TOTAL 7,119,428,000 100% 148,429,000 48.18

Chart 1: Population Percentage and Density

Chart 2: Continents as a Percentage of Land Mass

Chart 3: Comparison of Intra-continental Area (by Tens of Millions of Sq Km) and Population (Billions of People)

Child Mortality Rate

Eons back, there was sufficient food for everybody. As population grew, so did food production, since the numbers and quantities required remained very low. Child mortality was high since there were no medical facilities to speak of. Longevity was also low, and many people died in their prime in epidemics of untreatable diseases like malaria, smallpox, bubonic plague, tuberculosis and others. Famines and droughts, though prevalent, were a rarity. Women were married at puberty and gave birth at 13-14 years; people were considered old at 40 and 55-60 years was a ripe old age to die at.

Matters, as they stand today, are becoming alarmingly grave in a perverse but necessary perspective. Consider child mortality. Child mortality is the death of a child below five years of age and is often called Under-5 mortality. Close to 50 percent of child deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Chart 4.  Child Mortality in Millions

Improved medical care and technology is reducing child mortality. The same improved medical care and technology is permitting aging people to live longer, so that the number of mouths to feed is increasing. There are two ways of looking at this. The first is joyful, happily so. And the second?

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

History of the FAO

Each successful birth and each successful life extended translates into the snipping off of lebensraum, living space. The global average works out to 234,200 additional lives per day. Whether these people are rural or urban is of little consequence, since they require both food and shelter. Where can this food and land come from? More food requires more arable land. Going vertical is only a part-time solution to reduce loss of land to housing, and will create immense infrastructural complexities to solve in the cities that go vertical. Paris, London, Delhi, most metros and several US cities already have severe parking problems. People will need more water for drinking, washing and bathing and more piped gas for cooking. In the final analysis, the extra land required will come from farm land, one way or the other. This means that the arable land required to grow foodstuff will keep reducing day by day. The world would be better off if it could revert to the population numbers prevailing in 1900 AD, insofar as the food situation is concerned, without being as acerbic as Eric R. Pianka, “For everyone presently on this planet to enjoy the lifestyle of an average American, we would need about ten planet Earths. We have only one. For everyone to live like an American, Earth can only support about one-tenth as many people. To increase the average quality of life, the number of people on Earth must be reduced.” Fortunately, most US citizens have a balanced and rational opinion. The point here is that the American way of life is considered the global standard, to be emulated in toto.

This matter of hunger did not go unnoticed. Most of Africa and South Asia was found to be undernourished, after acquiring and assessing relevant statistics in 1935, when the ‘marriage of health and agriculture’ was first promulgated at the League of Nations. Just before being dragged into WW II, the US did forge a general plan to look into global hunger and attempt to assuage it. However, it was only after WW II ended that the US could relook at its past venture. Late in 1945, the United Nations set up a committee to look into the global food situation and what the pressing needs were. The driving force behind this movement came from the USA and Canada. The date was 16 October and the committee The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The venue was Quebec City, Quebec, Canada; the number of participating countries: 42. This is an important date to remember.

The General Rules of the Organization stated that the seat of the Organization would be situated at the same place as the headquarters of the United Nations Organization. Pending a decision regarding the headquarters of the UN, the headquarters of the Organization was to be in Washington.

The United Nations was founded eight days after FAO, in New York. It then became clear to the FAO hierarchy that the huge metropolitan centre would not suit an organization that dealt with or would be dealing with food, fisheries, agriculture and forestry. A different site therefore had to be found, and the General Rule changed. It took four years, till the FAO Conference in end 1949, for a final decision to be made. Nobody wanted to leave the Big Apple, but the HQ reluctantly moved to Rome by 1951. Interestingly, even the Gods did not like the idea of the move, since one of its ships, carrying 15 percent of FAO equipment, was all but wrecked in a storm over the Atlantic.

The Purpose of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The FAO is the designated agency of the United Nations tasked with leading international efforts to battle hunger at its source and overcome it so that every human being sees fructification of his right to live. The FAO’s long term aim is to achieving food security for all– to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. Their three main goals were:

  • Eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition
  • Elimination of poverty and the driving forward of economic and social progress for all
  • Sustainable management and utilization of natural resources, including land, water, air, climate and genetic resources for the benefit of present and future generations.

Decentralization of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Early in the 1990s, the FAO embarked on its most highly goal oriented study: To check whether there was any barrier to both vertical and lateral communications, the fundamental objective being to bridge and close gaps and take FAO as close as possible to its members. This called for the widest-ranging reorganization since its founding. The allied problem to be solved was that reorganization was not possible without a decentralized structure, a management system with increased delegation of authority, and an environment that encouraged creativity and initiative. While decentralization has its pros, in this specific case, FAO found that it was overspending in certain areas, at times duplicating effort and cost. After verifying that lack of proper integration was indeed costing them €35 million per year in 1994, FAO decentralized its departments and offices.

THE 7 DEPARTMENTS OF THE FAO THE 7 OFFICES OF THE FAO
1 Agriculture and Consumer Protection Corporate Communications and External Relations
2 Corporate Services, Human Resources and Finance Evaluation
3 Economic and Social Development Inspector-General
4 Fisheries and Aquaculture Knowledge Exchange
5 Forestry Research and Extension
6 Natural Resources Management and Environment Strategy Planning, Resource Management and Support
7 Technical Cooperation Decentralisation

Chart 5: The Departments and Offices of FAO

Further Decentralization

  • Regional Offices: Regional Offices were created for Africa, in Accra, Ghana; for Asia and the Pacific, in Bangkok, Thailand; for Europe and Central Asia, in Budapest, Hungary; for Latin America and the     Caribbean, in Santiago, Chile and for the Near East, in Cairo, Egypt (moved to Rome in 1956 due Suez War).
  • Sub-regional Offices: Sub-regional Office were created for Central Africa in Libreville, Gabon; for Central America in Panama City, Panama; for Central and Eastern Europe in Budapest, Hungary; for Central Asia in Ankara, Turkey; for Eastern Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; for North Africa in Tunis, Tunisia, for Southern Africa and East Africa in Harare, Zimbabwe; for the Caribbean in Bridgetown, Barbados; for the Pacific Islands in Apia, Samoa and for Western Africa in Accra, Ghana.
  • Liaison Offices: Liaison Offices were created for North America, in Washington, D.C.; with Japan, in Yokohama; with the European Union and Belgium, in Brussels; with the United Nations, in Geneva and with the United Nations, in New York (ibid).

Their strategic objectives were relooked at and expanded as listed below:

Expanded Objectives of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

  • Help Eliminate Hunger, Food Insecurity and Malnutrition.

FAO realized that there was sufficient global capacity to grow enough foodstuffs to feed everyone adequately; yet, despite the progress made since 1994, 842 million people still suffer from chronic hunger.

Global Undernourishment Problem

  • One person in nine goes hungry.
  • Among children, about 162 million children below the age of five years are malnourished.

Micronutrient deficiencies, or eating food with no nutritive values affect over two billion people worldwide, hindering human and socio-economic development and causal to the vicious cycle of malnutrition and underdevelopment. At the other end of the scale, around 500 million people are obese. The loss to mankind is huge, when malnutrition hampers productivity, health, well-being, the ability to learn, all seen as  reduced fulfillment of human potential.

Number and Percentage of Undernourished Persons


PERIOD
NUMBERS IN MILLIONS PERCENTAGE GLOBAL POPULATION
1990-1992 1015 19% 5432   Billion
2000-2002 957 15% 6380   Billion
2005-2007 907 14% 6479   Billion
2008-2010 878 13% 6754   Billion
2011-2013 842 12% 7016   Billion

Chart 6

UNDERNOURISHMENT CASE STUDY

The South-South Cooperation (SSC) Program

During the past decade, over 600 Chinese experts and technicians have been deployed in Nigeria to share their agricultural skills with local farmers. The South-South Cooperation (SSC) program, which has been fully funded by the Government of Nigeria and facilitated by the FAO, has benefited over one million people. The introduction of a wide range of technologies, from fish cage culture to drip irrigation, intensive poultry production to apiculture, has increased productivity and rural incomes. It is also helping the Government achieve the objectives of its Agricultural Transformation Agenda, which seeks to increase production, reduce food imports and provide millions of new jobs for young people. Nigeria has allocated significant resources from its annual budget amounting to US$ 42 million in support of the first five-year phase (2003–2007) of the SSC project implementation. During this first phase a total of 496 Chinese experts and technicians were deployed to 36 states in Nigeria. Based on the achievements recorded in the first phase, the Federal Government of Nigeria approved the continuation of the program and launched the second phase of five years in 2009 at a cost of US$ 19.6 million. The second phase has the same objective of assisting Nigeria develop its agricultural sector through the introduction of simple and low-cost Chinese agricultural technologies to farmers. Information provided by the states suggested that over one million people have been trained on the use of various technologies introduced by the SSC program.

Making Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries More Productive and Sustainable

Global population is expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050. The highest rates of growth are expected to occur in areas that depend heavily on their crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries, yet cannot reduce the prevailing rates of food insecurity. Improved agricultural output is the best method of cutting down poverty while acquiring food security. Innovation is needed in this sector to increase productivity, preserve natural resources using inputs effectively. Such an approach will need collective participation of small holders, women, locals and marginalized groups. The odds may seem stacked against the small or family farmer, but it is a battle that, when guided properly, can be won.

Natural resources, such as oceans, land mass and water are a constant entity, and the more forward looking will quickly harness their latent potential. Labor presently available for production will reduce as lifestyle changes take place in rural areas. Continuous changes in practices will foster new or mutated pests and diseases. Climate change will degrade natural resources and impact the agriculture sector. Since these are a source of concern to FAO, its vision looks across this entire sector to focus on:

  • increasing efficiency, achieving higher productivity at a reduced volume of input.
  • managing ecological as well as economic risks linked to production systems in the agricultural sector, including vermin, illnesses and climate change;
  • identifying how ecosystem services work as well as their inputs to environmental conservation and enhancing them.
  • facilitating access to new technologies.
  • Reduce rural poverty

The rural poor are day-to-day provenders, family farmers, landless agricultural hands and include fisherfolk, nomads who raise livestock on natural pastures and forest-dependent people with no or limited access to productive means. Hunger and food insecurity are known expressions of rural poverty and the majority of the world’s destitute live in rural areas. Reducing rural poverty becomes central to FAO’s mission. FAO has been instrumental in lifting many rural areas out of poverty over the past decades. In 1990, 54% of people living in rural areas in developing countries survived on less than $1.25 a day. By 2010, this number was brought down to 35%. Even today, rural poverty is endemic in South Asia and Africa. Getting more humans out of rural poverty is essential to retain the dignity of mankind; it is a vital ingredient of sustainable food security.

Enabling Inclusive and Efficient Agricultural and Food Systems

A side effect of globalization has been the inclusion of Agriculture in a high-tech Supply Chain Management (SCM) system. Apart from convoluting the push-pull balance of demand by Less Developed Countries, the SCM is threatening to isolate small players from the chain by elevating the threshold to levels beyond their economic capability. The roots of hunger lie in inequalities in access to resources. Right now, many farmers in poor countries—the people who grow the food the world relies on—don’t have the power to access the resources they need to thrive. As agriculture becomes more techno and capital intensive, undereducated players are seeing their dim hopes receding even further. Against this setting, FAO is trying to intercede on behalf of the smaller players to help them address the new challenges they have to face across the value chain.

Increasing Resilience of Livelihoods from Disasters

Natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, pests and disease outbreaks, droughts, etc., have occurred since Noah’s days, but climate change seems to be increasing their frequency and power. So far, humanitarian agencies were required to focus primarily on disaster relief. A new paradigm is needed that emphasizes reducing risks to enhance resilience to shocks. This approach, requiring bottom to top action from local to global levels through their country, intends to make sure that humanity can forecast, cope with and bounce back from all setbacks efficiently and sustainably. And we can do without unwanted additions like wars!
The World Food Day Since Inception

In a concept of capsule plans on a yearly basis, it was decided in the 1945 to move towards removal of rural poverty in small steps, with a meeting every year where progress would be highlighted, areas of failure identified and remedial measures instituted while setting up the targets for the following year. In 1979, it was decided to bring global problems to the forefront and make the public at large aware of happenings on the food front. One issue to be highlighted was that a war in any part of the world would be detrimental to the global cause. Regrettably, countries flush with money from oil production and sale took little heed of the noble cause, secure in the knowledge that could buy their food, cost irrespective.

It was also decided that the 16th of October of every year starting 1981 would be known as The World Food Day of that year.

Year FAO Global Theme and Materials U.S. Teleconference Theme
2014 Family Farming : “Feeding the world, caring for the earth”
2013 Sustainable food systems for food security and nutrition
2012 Agricultural cooperatives – key to feeding the world
2011 Food prices – from crisis to stability
2010 United against hunger
2009 Achieving food security in times of crisis
2008 World Food Security: challenges of climate change & bioenergy Choices for a Warm and Hungry Planet
2007 The right to food Climate: Changes, Challenges and Consequences
2006 Investing in agriculture for food security Power of the People: Bottom-up Solutions to Hunger
2005 Agriculture and intercultural dialogue Reflections on Fighting Hunger: Roads not Taken; Goals not Met; The Journey Ahead
2004 Biodiversity for food security Politics of Hunger: What’s at Stake?
2003 Working together for an International Alliance to End Hunger Collaboration or Calamity: Africa in Peril
2002 Water: Source of Food Security Hungry Farmers:  A National Security Issue for all
2001 Fight Hunger to Reduce Poverty World Food System: Serving Some or Serving All
2000 A Millennium Free from Hunger Poverty and Hunger: The Tragic Link
1999 Youth Against Hunger Tomorrow’s Farmers: An Uncertain Future
1998 Women Feed the World Food for All: Right or Goal
1997 Investing in Food Security World Food Summit: Promises and Prospects
1996 Fighting Hunger and Malnutrition People Power: Harvest of Hope
1995 Food for All Fighting Hunger: Looking Back. Looking Ahead
1994 Water for Life Sharing Water: Farms, Cities and Ecosystems
1993 Harvesting Nature’s Diversity Seeds of Conflict: Biodiversity and Food Security
1992 Food and Nutrition Nutrition: Linking Food. Health and Development
1991 Trees for life The Hunger Puzzle
1990 Food for the future Food for the Future: Science. Policy and Ethics
1989 Food and the environment Food,  Environment and Development
1988 Rural youth Global Food Security: Focus on Africa
1987 Small farmers Right to Food: From Awareness to Action
1986 Fishermen and fishing communities Hunger Amidst Plenty
1985 Rural Poverty Food & Poverty: Perspectives. Policies. Prospects.
1984 Women in Agriculture 1984 – World Food Conference – Ten Years Later
1983 Food Security
1982 Food Comes First
1981 Food Comes First

Chart 7  Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Food_Day/ & / http://www.worldfooddayusa.org/about_us

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) : 1945-1979

WW II had destroyed agricultural production across billions of acres. Factories related thereto were destroyed or switched to make armament. Existing channels in the global distribution of agriculture-related products were either obliterated or disrupted. FAO was struggling in extremely difficult times, along with the reconstruction of nations as existential, per se. Seen dispassionately, nothing seemed to be happening on the FAO front, other than lip service. It was only after the Vietnam War had run its course that the US could increase focus on internal issues.

The principal drivers behind FAO have remained the USA and Canada, with other advanced nations chipping in. The USA was busy fighting wars on other countries’ territories for various reasons or organizing their reconstruction. A major chunk of its finances was lost there, with internal repercussions and reduced aid to countries it had pledged assistance to. A timeline 1945-1979 is listed below:

  • 1945 – 55. US forces present in China, Japan, Philippines, Austria.
  • 1945–49 – Occupation of part of Germany, countering the USSR threat.
  • 1945–49 – Post-World War II occupation of South Korea; North Korean insurgency in Republic of Korea. 1947 sees India and Pakistan becoming independent.
  • 1950–53 – Korean War.
  • 1950–55 – Formosa (Taiwan).
  • 1955–64 – Vietnam.
  • 1959–75 – Vietnam War. This war is now seen as unnecessary and extremely expensive in terms of finance and human lives. 20 years were spent in a lost cause, since South Vietnam has ceased

to exist. Ironically, USA assisted in the Vietnamization, or bonding, of the two separate halves.

  • 1962–75 – Laos.
  • 1970 – Cambodian Campaign.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): 1981-2013

American intervention in the affairs of other nations reduced to external support, though some wars were either forced or prolonged. Technology cut down action periods from years to weeks! Some operations conducted are listed below:

  • 1987–88 – Persian Gulf.
  • 1990 – Saudi Arabia: Operation Desert Shield.
  • 1991 – Iraq and Kuwait: Operation Desert Storm.
  • 1992–96 – Bosnia and Herzegovina: Operation Provide Promise.
  • 1992–2003 – Iraq: Iraqi no-fly zones.
  • 1995 – Bosnia: Operation Deliberate Force.
  • 1996 – Kuwait: Operation Desert Strike.
  • 2001 – War in Afghanistan.
  • 2010–11 – War in Iraq: Operation New Dawn.

Comparison with Chart 6


PERIOD
NUMBERS IN MILLIONS PERCENTAGE GLOBAL POPULATION
1990-1992                    1015 19% 5432   Billion
2000-2002 957 15% 6380
2005-2007 907 14% 6479
2008-2010 878 13% 6754
2011-2013 842 12% 7016

Chart 8 (Repeat of Chart 6)

This comparison shows that reduction of poverty stricken individuals is directly proportional to the downsizing of American forces deployed in battle conditions. This is not to say that the US is the sole country providing aid under the FAO plan, but to reinforce the concept that it is the principal driving force behind reducing poverty and poverty-related problems. Statistics do not lie.

Another point that needs reiteration is population density. If you were to stand up and say that one percent (1%) of the population of Asia had AIDS, it would imply that a number 1.4 times the population of the entire continent of Australia was affected. More people travel at any given time on the rail network in India than the population of Denmark. Bangladesh, with a population density of 2,595.74 per sq mile tops the list of reasonably sized countries, followed by South Korea at 1,273.50, Japan at 873.42 and India at 851.04. The USA is at 79.55, ranked 142 out of 192 countries.

The FAO and UN’s Post-2015 Development Agenda

The UN’s Millenium Development Goals (MDG) agenda is the overall framework within which the High Level Panel on the UN’s 15-year Development Agenda falls. The aim of this panel is to chart a 15-year program with defined targets for the period. The 2000-2015 report has been released, and the achievements listed. It runs as follows:

Remarkable Achievements Since 2000

After the MDGs were adopted, dozens of developing-country planning ministries, hundreds of international agencies and thousands of civil society organizations (CSOs) rallied behind them. Together, they have contributed to remarkable achievements; half a billion fewer people in extreme poverty; about three million children’s lives saved each year. Four out of five children now get vaccinated for a range of diseases. Maternal mortality gets the focused attention it deserves. Deaths from malaria have fallen by one-quarter. Contracting HIV is no longer an automatic death sentence. In 2011, 590 million children in developing countries – a record number – attended primary school. This unprecedented progress was driven by a combination of economic growth, government policies, civil society engagement and the global commitment to the MDGs.

Given this success, it would be a mistake to start a new development agenda from scratch. There is much unfinished business from the MDGs. Some countries achieved a great deal, but others, especially low-income, conflict affected countries, achieved much less. In our discussions, we became aware of a gap between reality on the ground and the statistical targets that are tracked. We realized that the next development agenda must build on the real experiences, stories, ideas and solutions of people at the grassroots, and that we, as a Panel, must do our best to understand the world through their eyes and reflect on the issues that would make a difference to their lives.

As may be expected, the bottom line of both the FAO and the UN’s Post-2015 Development Agenda are the same; just the wording is separate. As the Executive Report puts it:

  1. Leave no one behind.

We must finish the job. After 2015 we should end extreme poverty, in all its forms. We should ensure that no person – regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status – is denied universal human rights and basic economic opportunities.

  1. Put sustainable development at the core.

Only by mobilizing social, economic and environmental action together can we eradicate poverty irreversibly and meet the aspirations of eight billion people in 2030.

  1. Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth.

A quantum leap forward is required in economic opportunities and a profound economic transformation to end extreme poverty and improve livelihoods.

  1. Forge a new global partnership.

We must build a new partnership underpinning mutual respect and mutual benefit involving governments and others: people living in poverty, those with disabilities and traditionally marginalized groups.

As far as the FAO is concerned, the word poverty is symbolic of both hunger and malnutrition. That is why World Food Day 2014 is so important. It should reflect progress on the lines of those put forward by global leaders as summarized above.

Relation Between FAO and the World Health Organization

The relation between FAO and the World Health Organization: The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) is an international expert scientific committee that is administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). It has been meeting since 1956, initially to evaluate the safety of food additives and gradually increasing its ambit.

JECFA has since checked 2,500 + food additives, around 40 contaminants and toxicants that are natural, besides remnants of close to 90 veterinary drugs. A set of guidelines and principles have been created to assess existing toxic agents, update them in consonance with technical advancement in toxicology as well as relevant sciences, and validate them. Importers subject food items coming from outside the state and react according to the test results. The recent ban on import of mangoes from India by the EU is a case in point.

Their area of work thus is focused on assessment of risks, if any and the safety appraisal of all additives to food, whether intentionally added or not. They also check out processing aids and flavoring agents, natural toxins and the risk involved in working with such additives. A comprehensive list of items checked for safety and quality is listed on their website. The Codex Alimentarius is the lexicon listing the food standards and guidelines and the certified codes of practice considered by the WTO as the benchmark for compiling regulations at the national level for food safety.

FAO assists its member countries encouraging them to develop and expand their capacities so that food safety as well as quality become key in guarding the health/well-being of locals while advising them how to go about accessing their domestic and regional markets before going global. Capacity Development then becomes the process wherein stakeholders can improve their utility from farm to table. They then become responsible in providing a guarantee with respect to the same two vital factors, viz, the safety and the quality of food destined for internal consumption or for export. The main issues they lay stress on are:

  • Needs assessment
  • Policy advice
  • Food regulations
  • Food inspection
  • Risk analysis
  • Good hygiene practices and Hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP)
  • Effective participation in Codex
  • Voluntary standards & schemes
  • Public education and communication

All agencies related to food also participate in the World Food Day Celebrations, including the World Food Program and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND FOOD SECURITY: A CASE STUDY

The USA is the global leader in corn production and export. Corn comprises 80 percent of the country’s grain harvest. On the international front, the U.S. corn crop is more than the sum of China’s grain harvests (rice and wheat). Corn now tops global grain production way ahead of wheat while almost twice that of rice. It can thus be called the world’s No 1 foodgrain.

Spring 2012 saw U.S. farmers planting close to 96 million acres in corn, a record breaking figure over 75 years. The warm early days of spring got them off to a dream start, with exuberant analysts predicting a record harvest. Corn is a demanding grain−mild heat and plenty of water. Shortage of one or both has serious results. 2012 turned into a farmer’s nightmare: soaring heat leading to dehydration. From a record crop, it dropped to a normal crop. In June, deflated analysts called it a flop crop. As expected, costs soared to record highs.

This case study clearly shows how climate change can affect food security. What is of great interest is the fact that the entire world hoped that the tide would turn, since a good grain harvest in the U.S. translates into a good carryover in grain stocks. This, in turn, regulates grain prices across the world. 2013 costs were predicted to be higher than average, an accurate forecast of gloomy news.

Then comes the cascade. High grain costs force exporting countries to maintain a buffer stock through Govt control. Importing countries enter a tailspin and middlemen make a killing. The biggest stockist of grain is China, a fact revealed only in August 2014. A partial solution lies in innovation: better biological strains, induced hardiness to resist dehydration, optimal utilization of water and then the magic words-Population Control. The panacea to all global problems!

Unnecessary Impediments: The 2014 Crimean Crisis

All good intentions are negated by loss of international goodwill. The recent annexation of Crimea by Russia followed by the war in Donbass is a case in point. The ban on Russian imports by a number of countries led by the USA, the EU and Canada and the reciprocal total ban by Russia of imports from the European Union, United States, Norway, Canada and Australia is a retrograde step for the FAO. Its annual achievements are slender and such moves could set FAO back several years.

Fortunately, the countries involved do not fall in the category of countries requiring assistance to reduce rural poverty. Both sub-Sahara Africa and Asia should not be affected significantly, but internal ramifications, particularly financial, may still affect donor countries’ contributions this year and the next. The Food Day 2014 report might show a relatively small change since the imbroglio started in February but international sanctions were emplaced only in August.

United Nations Post-2015 Development Agenda: Where FAO Stands

The core of the 2015-2030 agenda, with MDG and targets in mind, revolves around the following categories:

  • The Poverty Apex: It is possible to end extreme poverty and start the extension of prosperity to most people globally. The requirement would be unrelenting equitable economic growth coupled with access to credit and opportunities to move into entrepreneurship for the poor.
  • Human Needs and Capacities: Push to overcome unmet challenges of the past in areas like education, health, emancipation of womankind, specifically where linked to poverty and its obliteration.
  • The Resource Triad: Strengthen the defined resource triad (water and sanitation, energy and climate, and agriculture and food) to further concretize the props of sustainable development.
  • Enabling Environment: Look only at good governance that respects human rights, aims at peace and sustainability, and enables contemporary and green physical infrastructure.
  • Introducing the Corporate world and businessmen to MDGs.

A concentrated assault on poverty should be made to restore human dignity, because poverty is the main obstacle to progress. The aim should not be crossing the definition of wage poverty as $1.25 per day. Note the location of food and agriculture.

Note that poverty eradication has reached no. 3 spot in global opinion.

Cybernated Farm Systems: An Interesting Concept

Sustainability is no longer enough. That may shock you, but seen objectively, sustainability is only the beginning.  SUS + or Sustainability Plus has supplanted the concept calling for a move to overtake sustainability, thereby adding an extra dimension. That may sound heretic in an era where ‘sustainability’ is the programmed end result. On the other hand, we have depredated the globe to such an extent that we must remedy the damage done to the planet; sustainability can only be the beginning.  To go a step further, self sustenance is a homonym for a state of limbo, neither here nor there.

Cybernated Farm Systems (CFS) is pushing the concept of SUS+ while explaining that we need to move out of limbo and give something back to the planet.  A good example would be the standard car. “It is sustainable to develop a vehicle that does not pollute, but it would be SUS+ if, by design, that vehicle also created potable water as a byproduct of its very operation,” say the staff at CFS, which is looking to go SUS+ in providing food.

In the educated 21st century, why should anyone go hungry? Why can’t the shocking wastage of food at the current rate be eliminated? Why are gallons of fresh water used in catering for archaic agricultural practices? Yet we claim to be an advanced country in agricultural infotech capabilities. We have Smart Phones, Smart this, Smart that and more- where are our Smart Greenhouses?

The gap between ‘advanced production’ of food and its distribution as clean, nourishing food to all people on the planet can be removed. CFS has devised a self-sustaining aquaponic system that will provide the hungry fruit, fish and half a dozen vegetables without using land. That makes them green at the start itself, ecologically conscious and vigorous in performance, and, as claimed, SUS+.  All that is required at the outset are enough fish to sustain a fish farm and enough fish food, plus a freshwater tank and interlink the two. Add solar panels, wind power generators and capacitors to store power and the system becomes self sustaining. It uses less than 10 percent the water a normal farm would use.

Looking ahead, self-reliant partners like governments and organizations like Oxfam will be required to help create a Second Agricultural Revolution. The revolutionary point here is that there is no plan to feed people commercially, or recover land lost to antiquated 17th century agricultural systems which wasted fresh water and ravaged their topsoil. People will need to learn the simplest of methods of producing food, so that they rapidly acquire their needs for immediate survival.

This advanced concept of food production should abolish any barrier between production and food distribution globally. Since their facilities are self sustaining, they can be emplaced in those parts of the world which has no infrastructure, thereby feeding the desperately hungry immediately. Location is no big deal; they can be snugly fitted into apartment complexes or areas under housing development, etc. In effect, they can be located on demand. The more arid the desert, the more the space available.

When we see disturbing images of totally skeletal infants, with equally gaunt mothers, it triggers intense emotions within us. Nothing has changed in decades upon decades. A sense of guilt is not enough. Poverty was, is and will remain the major issue insofar as the development of humanity is concerned which is why this issue has stayed with us for centuries. The Internet is a global borderless communication network for free flow of information, and its utilization is growing exponentially. If that be so, why have we not yet been able to cater for the basic needs of one another? Why is nearly half the world without sufficient resources to survive? Can we rectify this ongoing atrocity? Of course we can.

Today, poverty is not just unnecessary, it is an unacceptable reality in a fatalistic society that assumes it is just a way of life and that’s that. A lot of money has been donated but to no avail in the broader perspective. If we look at it from a different angle, we find it’s not the money that people need but access to food and resources directly through local means. This should be the thrust area, to give people access to resources by technological advancements and create an abundance of food and basic necessities we need to survive.

People can bypass governments, have global connectivity, the power and tools to come together and share world changing ideas with millions and shape reality. Just one of CFS’ buildings can produce enough food to feed up to 600 people with half a dozen different types of fruits and vegetables each, giving a thrust to local food production to sustain the people and the community in need.

World Food Day 2013
In India, six percent of its people are being fed with grain produced by pumping groundwater. For China, 12 percent face the same problem. Water depletion looms large over harvests in China, India and the United States, the big three that together produce 50 percent of the world’s grain. Will water shortages affect harvests in the big three? Yes, it will. When? That’s the 64 million dollar question.   

Case Study: What Happens When the Wells Go Dry

Man can survive without food for up to 10 days, but not more than 48 hours without drinking water. There can be no substitute for water. Even food production depends on adequate water. The average human consumption of water is three liters a day, but that meal on your plate took 1,500 liters of water.

Foodgrain is the prime supplier of our calories, supplemented by non-vegetarian intake. Vegans have a tough time getting their calories. Today, more than half the global grain harvest is grown on irrigated land. Irrigation thus plays a focal role in the growth of grain. Statistically, global irrigated land increased from 100 million hectares (250 million acres) in 1951 to 285 hectares (700 million acres) in 2000, a threefold rise. But the rise between 2010 and 2000 is less than 10 percent! The lesson behind this assumption by Lester R. Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute and prolific writer on food related topics is, unfortunately, less than watertight. Drip irrigation is the preserve of the affluent and less than 10 percent of land irrigated in the Indian subcontinent is by the efficient drip method. The remainder is watered by the inefficient gravity feed system. Over 25 percent of water meant for irrigation is lost between the fount and the field and another 15 percent lost in routing the incoming water. If assistance is provided to countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Brown’s figures will change dramatically. As it stands, India has just about started drip irrigation. The problem here is that the source of water in India is the aquifer/borewell.

Irrigation water comes either from rivers or aquifers. Historically, irrigation water came from lakes behind dams across rivers. This water led to a network of gravity-fed canals, until the 1960s when building dams became anathema for a variety of reasons, mainly the consequent loss of poor farmers’ agricultural land. Farmers then turned to sinking wells into underground water resources.

These water resources expanded global food production; the demand for food will keep climbing, as will the water pumped. Some day, extraction will exceed recharge from precipitation, water tables will fall, wells will go dry and the pumped water-based food bubble will burst.

Some 18 countries are overpumping their aquifers, including China, India, the United States, Pakistan, Iran and Mexico. The most dramatic case is Saudi Arabia, water-poor if oil-rich. The 1973 Arab oil fracas saw the Saudis trying to gain self-sufficiency in wheat by developing irrigated agriculture based on underground water. They announced failure in 2008; wheat planting would cease in 2016. All 15 million tonnes of wheat, corn, barley and rice, required by its people would be imported. Syria, Iraq and Yemen will follow soon. Iran and Pakistan are next.

Among the big three, USA, China and India, only 20 percent of the harvest in the US is from irrigated land. Most of the crop is rain-fed. Still, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 400,000 acres of farmland dried up statewide between 2000 and 2005. Falling water levels are already hurting China, almost as large as the United States, the global leader. India has difficult days ahead, since 27 million+ irrigation wells have been drilled by farmers to extract underground water. Grain harvest in India’s has been on the upslope, but for the wrong reason, i.e., over-pumping. 175 million Indians eat grain produced with over-pumped water.

In the United States, farmers are over-pumping in states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas. These states have not only raised wheat yields but shifted from wheat to corn, a higher-yield crop. Kansas’ production of corn now exceeds that of wheat.

Irrigation based agriculture draws water from Ogallala aquifer, which is a huge underground reservoir. Unfortunately, this aquifer is fossil-based, and cannot be recharged. Once drained, back you go to dry land farming or giving up farming. Over-pumping, whether in the Middle East or the U.S., leads to aquifer depletion and shrinking grain harvests. For some countries this has become a stark reality.

The world has quietly transitioned into a situation where water, not land, has emerged as the principal constraint on expanding food supplies. There is enough land to produce food if water were available. Harvests are shrinking in some countries because of aquifer depletion, in others because of soil erosion. Among the more vivid examples of soil erosion are Mongolia and Lesotho.

Water constraints, exacerbated by soil erosion; the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses; a stagnation of yields in large producing areas, and climate change are increasingly making world food production more difficult. Are we likely to see a cessation of growth in world grain growth? No, say scientists.

While reviewing the progress of the FAO since inception, they agreed that the time frame was not exactly ideal seventy years ago. The FAO had been setting small targets since inception in 1945, as listed earlier in Chart 7 on page 9. The ultimate aim was to eradicate hunger by the only method possible, viz., growing enough food to feed every human being on the planet. 1945 was a different era; it is difficult to imagine what life was like then. More than 85 percent of people of that era have died and the remainder is dispersed all across the globe. The number of countries in 1945 which were recognized internationally was 72, which has risen to 192 today.

To most, the FAO was just another organization that met every year to enjoy an all expenses paid holiday, since no outcome was seen. While this may be a cynical diatribe, the fact remains that neither the UN nor the FAO progressed significantly. Besides, the world was in a state of turmoil, with large scale wars disrupting global progress. It was a period of the one step forward and two backward syndrome. But time is a great healer and both the UN and the FAO seemed to stabilize in the late 70’s.

Toward the end of the past millennium, the UN and its various bodies had gained acceptance and enough clout to wield a punitive stick. For instance, the World Trade Organization (WTO) which supervised and liberalized international trade since 1 January 1995, having replaced the 1948 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), was successfully drawing the Multi Fiber Agreement regulating world trade in textiles and garments from 1974 through 2004 to a successful close in their new avatar as the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC), with new policies allowing less developed countries (LDC) greater opportunities in the global market for apparel through a series of negotiated agreements.

The FAO was given due recognition and respect and created a charter to be followed in letter and spirit, with palpable emphasis starting in the new millennium. The yearly aims were no longer a bagatelle-a concerted effort was to be made to ensure that they were met. This time, there was to be the one step forward and no retrogression. It wasn’t as though the aim was achieved 100 percent, but at least a whole-hearted attempt would have been made. The theme for 2013 was Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition.

Feeding 7.12 billion mouths is a serious problem. Yet, many scientists think that loss of biodiversity is a far more serious problem. They suggest that these two issues should not be considered separately and remonstrate that they are closely connected and, if their synergies can be leveraged, both aims can be met with greater success. That is why farmers should care about conservation and conservationists should care about agriculture. Recently, leaders from these two sectors have put a new concept into motion, called Bridging Agriculture and Conservation (ibid). Their aim is to prove how optimal utilization of ecological systems will foster resilience in agricultural systems while simultaneously improving the conservation of biodiversity. They issued an interesting statement, “We believe that achieving the dual goals of food security and biodiversity conservation will require more science, not less (ibid).” The unspoken implications are increased depth in knowledge and enhanced technology. By putting science into farming at every level, the income for thousands of smaller farmers could well increase multifold. They have already demonstrated a 100 percent rise in productivity, promising much higher financial returns.

World Food Day 2014

842 million people will starve today, or, at best, manage a couple of scraps of food. Global population is close to 7.1 billion, of whom 6.3 billion will get the 1,800 odd calories required for   sustenance. Try and imagine one scenario, no matter how unrealistic: These 6.3 billion skip one meal on Global Food Day. If the ingredients that constitute that one meal can be collected and distributed to the starving, the 842 million will get enough to cook eight full meals, or ten meals if utilized sparingly. The point here is not so much the redistribution of one meal skipped, but the fact that every time you eat three meals a day per month, the global poor are missing out the ONE meal they can subsist on every day for one full month. USA figures in the list of hungry countries!

Hunger in the USA

Surprisingly, one in six Americans does not have enough food to eat. The South Bronx has the highest rate of food insecurity in the country, 37 percent, compared with 16.6 for New York City as a whole. One in eight Iowans often goes hungry, with children the most vulnerable to food insecurity. Congressional cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) last fall of five billion dollars have reduced benefits from $205 to $172 a month and this $1.10 cut per day is hurting. Food pantries and soup kitchens have gone up to 50,000 from a few hundred in 1980.

The 2013 benefits totaled $75 billion, but most households got lower payments. Recipients usually manage to hold their monthly allotment for three weeks, then willy nilly turn to food pantries. Who qualifies for SNAP? Households with gross incomes no more than 130 percent of the poverty rate. For a family of four that means $31,005 a year. Gross incomes in Alaska and Hawaii are higher than in the U.S. (ibid). The country that wastes the maximum cooked food is, you guessed right, the USA. 30% of all food in the USA, worth US$48.3 billion, is dumped each year. It is also estimated that about half the water used to produce this food also goes waste, since agriculture is the largest human use of water. It is ironic that the world’s richest country cannot feed 90 million people, yet wastes the maximum food!

World Food Day: 2014: Family Farming

Family farming is inextricably linked to national and global food security. Both in developing and developed countries, family farming is the predominant form of agriculture in the food production sector. Family farming includes all family-based agricultural activities, and it is linked to several areas of rural development.

The theme for 2014 World Food Day is Family Farming: “Feeding the world, caring for the earth”. This theme has specifically been chosen in order to bring the profile of small family farming into the limelight as also the lot of farmers with a small farm holding. The idea is to focus global attention on the prominent role family farming can play in eliminating hunger as well as poverty, bolstering food security along with nutrition, enhancing livelihoods, regulating and controlling natural resources, safeguarding the environment while attaining sustainable development, specifically in non-mainstream rural areas. This theme is a repeat of 1987(Chart 7).

The UN General Assembly designated 2014 as the “International Year of Family Farming,” sending a positive indication that the global community takes cognizance of the major contribution that family farmers make to universal food security.

Of the 570 million farms across the globe, 500 million+ may be called family farms. Most of these global farms are relatively minute, with 475 million+ farms smaller than 2 hectares in area. Put together, they occupy a vast area, but, as it turns out, they form a small percentage of our world’s farmland.

Farmland distribution thus seems unequal at world level, but is improving in low, lower – middle – income countries and in the odd regional group. Unfortunately, census data on farmland distribution is inadequate, but it is essential to create a representative image of the number of farms, the number of family farms, farm size as well as global farmland distribution.

Now that the entire background of factors affecting availability of food for the poor have been seen, it will become easier to envisage what can be expected of World Food Day 2014, rather, what we can contribute to making this momentous day a success.

Some points to be kept in mind are:

  • There is a global misconception that people go hungry because the quantity of foodgrain available cannot support them. Actually, there is enough food available right now to feed the entire global population of 7.12 billion for almost 40 days, with huge amounts being added every day. Sadly, laws extant today make it well nigh impossible for the poor to reach this food over the shoulders of the middleman.
  • In India, the foodgrain that rots every year due lack of storage space can feed its entire population for a fortnight with three meals a day. This is unacceptable.
  • You have no control over what Vladimir Putin intends to do on 16 October. For that matter, you may not be able to persuade even your neighbors to cooperate.
  • Will the SFIS keep quiet that week/day? You cannot predict the movement of radicals.
  • Very few countries will actually contribute meaningful sums, particularly the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China. This is ironic, since the last two countries named have almost a third of our global population living on their soil, and known to have vast numbers below the poverty line of US$1.25. It is not likely that any of these four will ask for aid either. That said, most countries provide students in Govt schools up to the age of nine one free meal.
  • A random analysis of contributions in this millennium shows lots of words and actions that did not translate into the need of the hour, foodgrain or hard cash.

What Can you Do?

So what can you do? When you look at the problem optimistically, there are many things you can do, both individually and as a group. First of all, go to the website for the US and Canada. Read through it. When you reach the Act page, you’ll see 12 options. Read through them and do what is attainable by you. All steps are listed. The options are:

  1. Host a World Food Day meal.                                  7.  Spread the word through social media.
  2. Organize a food packaging event.                             8.  Activate your campus.
  3. Walk to end hunger                                                   9.  Engage your local schools.
  4. Arrange a food and fund drive.                                10.  Inspire your faith community to take action.
  5. Grow a garden.                                                        11.  Join your local hunger coalition.
  6. Live on $1.25 a day.                                                 12.  Volunteer your time.

There are many more links on the website and you can follow the lead and do your bit. Would you call this doing your bit? Responding to suggestions made by some unknown bloke who set up the webpage? The suggestions may well be helpful but they haven’t come from you-you are doing what someone else is telling you to do. Be original. Or stay conventional-the choice is yours.

The Presbyterian Mission is organizing a Food Week of Action (12-19 Oct.), the International Day for Rural Women (Oct. 15), the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (Oct. 17) and World Food Day on the 16th. Their focus Sunday to Sunday is on Resiliency:

  • Resilient livelihoods, communities and relationships
  • Resilient farming production and food chains
  • Resiliency promoted through policy

They also have a set of Actions and Activity Ideas. You will be able to download their printable flyer. Print 200 copies and ask for the newspaper delivery boy’s help in distribution. The idea of making a video and uploading it is appealing, so if you have any film-oriented ideas, jump right in. The activities are duplicated on the flyer, for easy reading. The generous prizes are incentive enough! You could then read the para on Faith in Action! It is self-explanatory. If you are an Oxfam type, go to http://www.oxfamamerica.org/take-action/events/world-food-day/

REFERENCES

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