Wishes for the One billion

Recently, the world’s population has surpassed 7 billion and unfortunately,

One billion are still hungry

Although the number of undernourished people worldwide has decreased since 2009, nearly 1 billion people go to bed hungry each night. In fact, malnutrition contributes to the death of half a billion children under age 5 every year. In Africa alone, one child dies every six seconds from hunger. 

One good initiative is the home-grown school feeding (HGSF – World Food Program) that works to alleviate hunger and poverty. HGSF programs connect local producers with schools, helping to provide children with nutritious and fresh food while providing farmers with a stable source of income.

One billion tons of food is still wasted

Roughly 1.3 billion tons of food – a third of the total food produced for human consumption – is lost or wasted each year.

Within the USA, food retailers, services, and households waste approximately 40 million tons of food each year – an amount that has been estimated to be enough to feed the close to 1 billion hungry people.

In Canada, $27 million in food is wasted each year. “This wasted food represents approximately 40% of all the food produced in Canada (http://www.homemakers.com/blog/ecologic/2011/01/25/food-how-not-to-waste-it/). In England, about 1/3 of food purchased in the UK is thrown out every year. This equates to £10bn (about CDN$19.5 billion) (http://www.worldvision.ca/Education-and-Justice/advocacy-in-action/Pages/what-a-waste-the-food-we-throw-away.aspx).

Between 25-40% of most fruit and vegetable crops are in fact rejected by Western supermarkets. One British supermarket insists that all carrots be perfectly straight—“so customers can peel the full length in one easy stroke,” a store manager explained to Tristram Stuart, author of a new book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal.

Supermarket waste is just one part of a colossal and growing environmental problem: food waste. Consumers share the blame. Food production in the West has changed more the past 50 years than in the previous 10,000. The agricultural industry can now produce unlimited quantities of meat and grains at remarkably low prices, creating an abundance of food and profits. Consumers, lulled by cheap prices, are unaware of the hidden costs of this means of production, or the staggering waste involved in stocking the supermarkets (http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/11/09/what-a-waste/).

Thankfully, organizations around the world are working to educate people on the importance of preserving food or collect surplus food from food providers and distribute it to shelters and other agencies. A great sustainable initiative!

In sub Sahara Africa, some projects teach farmers to use the power of the sun to dehydrate fruits. Experts estimate that, with nearly all of their moisture removed, the fruits’ nutrients are retained for up to six months, allowing farmers to save the 100,000 tons of mangoes alone that go to waste each year.

One billion are still micronutrient deficient

Nearly 1 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, including lack of vitamin A, iron, and iodine. Between a one quarter of a billion to half a billion children with vitamin A deficiencies become blind every year, and 1/2 of these children die within 12 months of losing their sight.

These problems could be fixed by ensuring access to nutritious foods. Organizations such as AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center and the Developing Innovations in School cultivation (Project DISC) have been working to combat this problem. AVRDC works to expand the vegetable farming sector across sub-Saharan Africa, increasing access to nutrient-rich crops. Developing Innovations in School Cultivation, Project DISC, educates youth in Uganda on the importance of agriculture and nutritious diets. Students in the program learn about vegetables and fruits indigenous to their communities, as well as how to process and prepare these foods for consumption.

One billion are overweight

Lack of access to healthy food does not only result in hunger. More than 1 billion people around the world are overweight. Of these, nearly half are obese. And nearly 43 million children under the age of five were considered overweight in 2010. Surging international rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and arthritis are being attributed to unhealthy diets, and 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter has urged countries around the world to make firm commitments to improving their food systems. In Mexico, where 19 million are food insecure and 69.5% of the country is overweight or obese, De Schutter has called for a “state of emergency” to tackle the problem. He attributes the hunger-obesity combination to the county’s mono-cropping and export-led agriculture and argues that a change to agricultural policies could tackle these two problems simultaneously.

One billion are still illiterate

More than three quarters of a billion people – 793.1 million adults – are illiterate. Although the number of people unable to read has decreased from 1 billion in 1990, illiteracy prevents millions of people from moving out of poverty. For farmers, being illiterate can limit access to information such as market prices, weather predictions, or training to improve their production.

But there are innovative solutions!

Scientific Animations Without Borders, was developed by a team of researchers to educate illiterate farmers across the world.  Farmers are able to view educational training on how to create natural pesticides or prevent crop damage using solar treatments through the use of short animated videos accessible on mobile phones.

In India, farmers can receive daily updates via text or voicemail on weather and crop prices through subscription services set up by major telephone companies. Kheti, a system operated by the Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, even allows farmers to take pictures of problems they are having with their crops and send them in for advice. With more than 4.6 billion mobile phone subscriptions globally, projects such as these have the potential to reach and improve the lives of many around the world.

This article first appeared at Nourishing the Planet, a blog published by the Worldwatch Institute  and also by the Monitor (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Making-a-difference/Change-Agent/2011/1226/One-billion-holiday-wishes).

More information at http://www.worldwatch.org/sow11

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