Quinoa Year aims to ease food insecurity and transform the global diet

2013 is the International Quinoa Year: http://www.rlc.fao.org/en/about-fao/iyq-2012/

This is an interesting article published by the UN news Centre…. and I would like to share with you some of the key points and highlight why quinoa is an interesting staple in the global context of food security. However, quinoa’s success starts to initiate problems and challenges that need to be addressed if we want to make this food revolution sustainable locally as well as globally. 

Quinoa farmed on the Bolivian antiplano ranges in colour from white to pink to orange. Photo: Claudio Guzmán/FAO

Quinoa, a highly nutritious grain-like crop that has made its entry into the food basket of culinary connoisseurs has been a staple for centuries in South America, among pre-Columbian Andean farming communities from Colombia to Ecuador. In fact, most of the world’s quinoa is grown on the altiplano, a vast, cold, windswept, and barren 14,000-foot Andean plateau spanning parts of Peru and Bolivia.

By declaring 2013 the ‘International Year of Quinoa’, the United Nations is hoping to popularize a life-sustaining seed that could help promote food security and poverty eradication, cut malnutrition and boost biodiversity in support of the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. It is also a way to recognize the indigenous peoples who preserved quinoa through traditional knowledge and practices passed down through the ages.

Quinoa famers in Bolivia show off their latest crop which could help promote food security and eradicate poverty. Photo: Claudio Guzmán/FAO

In Resolution 66/221, the General Assembly declared the International Year of Quinoa in recognition of the Andean indigenous people “who have managed to preserve quinoa in its natural state as food for present and future generations, through ancestral practices of living in harmony with nature.” Hence the theme for this year: “A future sown thousands of years ago.”

Pronounced ‘keen-wah’, quinoa is not really a grain, not really a vegetable. It is a pseudo-cereal, part of the chenopodium family related to beets and spinach. Quinoa seeds are gluten-free and have all the essential amino acids, trace elements and vitamins needed to survive. Due to its high nutritional value, indigenous peoples and researchers call it “the golden grain of the Andes.”

One cup of quinoa (a single serving size) brings:
  • 220 calories (70 % carbs, 15 % fat, 15 % protein)
  • 40 grams of carbohydrates (13 % daily value)
  • 8 grams of protein (16 % of daily value)
  • 3.5 grams of fat (5 % daily value with no saturated fat)
  • A glycemic load (blood sugar spike) of only 18 out of 250
  • 5 grams of fiber (20 % of daily value)
  • 20 % of daily value of folate (various forms of Vitamin B)
  • 30 % of magnesium daily value; 28 % daily value of phosphorous; iron (15 %); copper (18 %); and manganese (almost 60 %)

Quinoa’s link to food security

Cautioning that the crop is “still in the experimental phase” in some areas, Mr. Bojanic, who is the Deputy Regional Representative at the FAO Regional Latin America and the Caribbean Office and also serves as the Secretary for the International Year of Quinoa’s Secretariat, said that quinoa “is beginning to be taken up by countries that would not have thought of having it a few years ago.” Those include Canada, China, Denmark, Italy, India, Kenya, Morocco and the Netherlands, which are already producing or undertaking agronomic trials towards commercial production of quinoa.

Bolivia and Peru account for more than half of the annual 70,000 tons produced of quinoa, with the United States responsible for about 7,000 tons and France close behind, FAO reports. Quinoa is hardy. It thrives in temperatures from -8 degrees Celsius to 38 degrees Celsius, at sea level or 4,000 metres above, and is not impacted by droughts or poor soils.

This crop can be grown under very difficult conditions like semi-arid, at high altitudes, sea level, with no fertilizer. It’s an amazing crop in terms of the adaptability that it has to stressful environments,” Mr. Bojanic said.

Researcher from the University de Valparaiso with quinoa farmers in Chile. Photo: Didier Bazile/CIRAD

This adaptability makes quinoa potentially viable for areas with regular droughts, such as the Sahel Region – which includes Senegal, Chad, Niger and Mauritania – where million of people are in need of emergency food aid and malnutrition is rampant.

The latest figures in FAO’s State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 Report show that despite significant progress, almost 870 million people – or one in eight – are still suffering from chronic malnutrition.

UN officials say there is still time to reach the Millennium Development Goal for reducing the proportion of hungry people around the world by half by 2015, but countries need to step up their efforts and quinoa offers hope.

The quinoa quandary

Agronomical and nutritional attributes aside, quinoa’s global success relies on making it affordable. Consumers will not buy what they cannot afford, and farmers will not grow large quantities of a crop that is not financially viable.

Such is the so-called quinoa quandary that as the demand for quinoa has grown in recent years, so has its price. Less than $70 per ton a decade ago, quinoa now sells for more than $2,000, according to FAO figures.

In Bolivia, quinoa farmers near Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest body of water, carry waist-high stalks covered with purple, yellow, green and orange flowers to harvest. This is considered the cradle of great civilizations for the Tiahuanaco and the Incas, and is the origin of quinoa.

“Now people everywhere are buying quinoa. In La Paz, they sell it in the markets. It’s everywhere. For that reason we are also able to sell small quantities. With that money we sustain our families,” Elias Vargas, a farmer, told the United Nations.

Mr. Vargas and his neighbours sell their crops to a Bolivian coffee chain, Alexander Coffee, which uses quinoa in its salads, sandwiches and desserts. The company bakery turns out more than 1,000 quinoa chocolate chip cookies per day.

In the beginning it was hard to change the mentality,” recalled Pamy Quezada Velez, CEO of Alexander Coffee. Quinoa used to be known as ‘poor man’s food’ with Bolivians preferring to eat wheat and rice. “More people are opening up to the idea, and we’re doing well with quinoa.”

The partnership between small farmers and small businesses is part of a project supported by the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). While farmers like Mr. Vargas do not grow enough to sell to foreign markets, increased domestic consumption provides them with new opportunities.

Almost all of the estimated 250,000 acres of quinoa farmland is in the hands of small farmers and associations around the world. FAO estimates that at least 130,000 small quinoa growers from South America alone will benefit this year from increased sales, higher prices for their crops and a return to indigenous practices in a sustainable manner.

“In the traditional markets, it is still rather accessible to poor people but when you find it in the supermarket it tends to be rather expensive,” Mr. Bojanic said.

The rapid expansion of quinoa farming in the last years has been a double-edged sword. As prices rise, farmers are more likely to sell the quinoa crops they would have consumed, sparking concerns of malnutrition. About one-third of children under the age of five in the Andean countries are already chronically malnourished, according to figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Quinoa fields on the Bolivian altiplano. Photo: Claudio Guzmán/FAO

The change in food choices as a result of higher income is also causing some farmers to turn from traditional staples to more caloric, processed foods. The change is particular among youth who would prefer a sugary soda to a home-made drink of boiled water, sugar and quinoa flour.

In addition, the increased incentives to produce more quinoa are also contributing to land disputes. “Land that had barely any use in the past and small farmers who were not in conflict are starting to – now that the land has more value – struggle among themselves so they can claim such lands to produce quinoa,” Mr. Bojanic said.

Property disputes are further aggravated by reverse migration, as the high prices for quinoa are motivating residents who moved to cities to return to plots, and by not giving the soil enough time to rest between harvests.

The push for increased production is seemingly at odds with the traditional life of the quinoa farmers, a main reason quinoa was selected for the honour. But UN officials stress that boosting the importance of developing sustainable production systems for quinoa consumption and food security are among the main objectives for the year.

Boosting sustainable agricultural practices and partnerships

The International Year of Quinoa, is overseen by the IYQ- International Coordination Committee composed of the ministries of agriculture of Andean countries and France. Bolivia has the presidency of the Committee, with Ecuador, Peru and Chile sharing the vice-presidency.

“The reaction is very enthusiastic,” said Mr. Bojanic. “Governments are looking at a coordinated approach to increase production nationally and regionally.”

Experimental quinoa plants at the Instituto Nacional Autónomo de Investigaciones Agropecuarias in Ecuador. Photo: INIAP

In the public sector, the UN is looking to engage with international agricultural research centres and national research centres on a global research network and gene bank database to maintain the crop’s 120 variations. The idea is that experts will test the crops and show farmers how they can best be grown under different conditions.

Professor Luz Gomez Pando is one of the local experts and scholars working with the UN in Lima, Peru. Based at La Molina University, she uses nuclear radiation to develop new varieties of quinoa that have a higher yield. The gamma rays speed up the evolution process that would take millions of years in nature. She then gives her seeds to the women farmers and at harvest time, cooks quinoa with them.

“I am from the highland above 3,000 metres and I was the daughter of two farmers,” Ms. Gomez told UN Radio and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “What we need right now is to have these crops very fast in big fields.”

The majority of quinoa is produced using traditional technologies that result in low yields. A hectare normally results in 600 kg of quinoa. FAO wants to raise the production to a ton of quinoa per hectare. That would help raise the overall production from 70,000 tons per year to 200,000 tones annually by 2018 through improved technologies and engagement with businesses already processing quinoa, including large importers and exporters.

02-20-2013quinoa

References:

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44180#.US1C3jCR98E

http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/cereal-grains-and-pasta/10352/2

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Going beyond food aid: the challenge of improving nutrition

Food security programs are shifting their focus from quantity to quality, but what is the best approach?

Article published in the Guardian, December 2012 – http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development-professionals-network/2012/dec/03/food-aid-improving-nutrition

This is a great article … then we hope you will enjoy it. It highlights the importance to focus on quality (diversity in foods, indigenous staples…) and not anymore (or not only) on food quantity (calories) – A vision for program development shared by Challenged Kids International.  

128094-Food_Security_Risk_Index_2013_Map

Food security and malnutrition remain some global development‘s biggest challenges. Latest UN figures show that 870 million people were chronically undernourished between 2010–12the vast majority of whom, 850 million, live in developing countries. Yet despite this the UN’s Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement said in it’s report that 2012 was the year “when chronic under-nutrition moved from the side-lines to the centre”. It argues that the international community has now realized the need to shift focus from simply food quantity, to one of food quality. In a word: nutrition.

There are, however, differing views as to how best to increase nutrition levels.

Monique Mikhail, policy adviser on sustainable agriculture at Oxfam, welcomes initiatives such as SUN, which has 28 developing country government members. But she and many others in the NGO community fear that international efforts to target government agricultural policies often result in more cereals to be sold as export, rather than the locally-produced diverse foods needed to improve nutrition.

“A lot of the discourse out there is pushing this large-scale, mono-culture model, without realizing the impacts of that on communities”, says Mikhail. “Land is being taken away from small-scale producers.” The World Bank identifies five ‘pathways’ that link food production to nutrition: subsistence-oriented production, income-oriented production for sale in markets, increased agricultural production, empowerment of women to control household food and health, and macroeconomic growth. But in practice, one is favored over another.

According to SUN, a 2005 Ethiopian health survey found that chronic malnutrition was highest in its most agriculturally productive regionsThe inference was large-scale production can lead directly to export, or simply a lack of local food diversity.

It is a problem that Samuel Hauenstein Swan, senior policy adviser, Action Against Hunger, recognizes  “Malawi promoted corn – it didn’t dramatically improve the food security of the people, but it dramatically improved the exports. They are one of the big maize exporters now. But did that reduce the numbers of stunting? Not really … ministers of agriculture are still focused on these very few grains [while] nutritious crops like sweet potatoes are not easily commercial.”

NGOs working on the ground, therefore, are increasingly promoting small-scale food production within communities. Cristina Ruiz, humanitarian program unit manager, Africa, at Christian Aid, has recently returned from two years in the Sahel region of Africa – one of the world’s most malnourished regions. “We start by working with communities to do a capacity assessment, which lasts for two or three days in a community, conducting an in-depth analysis of the risks and threats they face and the capacity they have in the community to deal with that”, she explains. “Out of that comes an action plan for how they could improve their resilience to those risks.”

The Sahel’s staples of millet and maize, of low nutritional value and severely diminished by years of drought, are now supplemented by market gardening, says Ruiz. “We help them to grow vegetables they can eat but also sell as a cash crop locally. That has been the biggest change and the biggest success. You need water to do that – so we have been providing bore holes and solar pumps.”

Mikhail also advises that development professionals look to small-scale farming when addressing malnutrition. “Small-scale livestock is also incredibly important. Consuming more meat, milk and protein contributes greatly to your overall nutritional status in a way that allows you to absorb vitamins from the other vegetable products,” he says.

Crucially NGOs seem to be finding more success by concentrating their efforts on women. The FAO argues that when women have control over household income, more money tends to be spent on items that improve nutrition and health. Mikhail agrees: “The important role that women play as carers, food producers and providers is the critical nexus for improving agricultural production, increasing production, as well as improving the quality and nutrition at consumption … I think where we had mainly fallen short in the past was that we hadn’t focused directly on women.”

Hauenstein Swan believes that food security remains dominated by calorie intake and food aid. But he says the knowledge now exists to move beyond that towards resilience, empowerment and hardier, more nutritious staples such as sweet potato, QP Maize and golden rice, rather than allocating vast amounts of land for export crops. “On the global level”, he says, “you can’t escape nutrition now when you talk about food security.”

A field guide nutrition checklist

1. Identify the scale and cause of undernutrition. Collect information about the magnitude of undernutrition, its causes and severity. Then identify and target the most vulnerable groups, especially pregnant mothers and children under two.

2. Assess food consumption patterns. Gain an understanding of what the community eats, where they obtain food, and the nutritional gaps.

3. Assess the level of government commitment. Look at the national nutrition strategy and policy framework and the level of current/planned budget to roll that out, including local representation and extension services.

4. Identify care and health practices. This includes informal care – mothers, siblings, fathers – as well as formal health care services in the area.

5. Promote biodiversity and sustainable agricultural practices.

6. Give women the means to empower themselves.

7. Promote the production and consumption of meat, dairy products and fish (where available).

8. Reach out through multiple channels. Home visits, agricultural extension services, nutrition counselling, women’s groups, dramas and storytelling. These could be combined with other essential health services such as immunization.

Source: ACF International

“Is organic food more nutritious or safer? This is definitively not the right question.”

Stanford University researchers conducted a meta-analysis* of seventeen studies in humans and 230 field studies of nutrient and contaminant levels in unprocessed foods (e.g., fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, eggs, chicken, pork, and meat). The study, published in The Annals of Internal Medicine (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22944875), concluded that “the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.” 

This conclusion has received vast media coverage – announcing that this meta-analysis demonstrates clearly that organic foods might not have more nutritious value than conventional foods and questioning the “value add” of producing and eating organic. Is organic food little more than a made up marketing scheme, another way for affluent consumers to waste money? This was the kind of questions that came to my mind when reading the articles from influential newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post.

In fact, there are major issues and gaps when reading both the scientific article as well as the media coverage.

One of them is the simplistic way that the media has used to report on this study. They mainly focused on the conclusion that summarized two results as a key statement. However, when reading the article, each of us can appreciate all the results (or non-results) as well as the limitations of this study and can conclude that things in nutrition science are not so simple.

The fact that the journalists have not done a critical analysis of the study and available scientific publications on the subject, or have not highlighted its limitations that are quite substantial or have not offered a fair presentation of what the study’s critics have to say is intriguing and disconcerting because a good scientific investigation can minimize the impact that this “single” study can have on our choice to eat or not organic foods. In fact, more clinical long-term investigations are needed to answer the question: “is organic food more nutritious or safer?” It will bring an important component – tangible outcomes to validate its real value in prevention and promotion. The challenges associated to scientific research of the benefice of eating organic foods will be discussed in another blog.

This is a very hot topic and we would like in this blog to ask some pertinent questions and answer them, when possible. This will help to clarify why it is important to continue to develop organic farming as well as to eat and promote organic foods not only at the local but also at the global levels.

What are the advantages of doing organic farming – locally and globally?

There are many explanations and definitions for organic agriculture but all converge to state that it is a system that relies on ecosystem management rather than external agricultural inputs. This is a system that begins to consider potential environmental and social impacts by eliminating the use of synthetic inputs, such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, veterinary drugs, genetically modified seeds and breeds, preservatives, additives and irradiation. These procedures are replaced with site-specific management practices that maintain and increase long-term soil fertility and prevent pest and diseases.

According to the FAO/WHO (Codex Alimentarius Commission, 1999):”Organic agriculture is a holistic production management system which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It emphasizes the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, taking into account that regional conditions require locally adapted systems. This is accomplished by using, where possible, agronomic, biological, and mechanical methods, as opposed to using synthetic materials, to fulfill any specific function within the system.”

When doing organic farming, a variety of crops and livestock are cultivated in order to optimize competition for nutrients and space between species. This results in less chance of low production or yield failure in all of these simultaneously. This diversity in production can have an important impact on local food security and resilience. In rain-fed systems, organic agriculture has demonstrated to outperform conventional agricultural systems under environmental stress conditions. Under the right circumstances, the market returns from organic agriculture can potentially contribute to local food security by increasing family incomes.

At nowadays, the organic agricultural movements can be seen as tangible efforts to create a more sustainable development. However, these efforts are challenged by globalization, which strongly influences and impacts organic agriculture and food chains. In fact, global agriculture and food systems hold large differences between, on the one hand, industrialized farming and consumption based on global food chains and, on the other, smallholder farmers and resource poor people primarily linked in local food markets in low-income countries. This potential more sustainable development in opposition to the more conventional farming/food system gives rise to a number of questions such as:

Does global trade with organic products support a sustainable development?

Can organic agriculture contribute to global food security?

Does organic certification safeguard natural resources and improve working conditions?

Can fair trade with organic products be realized?

These questions need answers if we really want to impact the current and future food insecurity and demonstrate the viability of a sustainable global agriculture system based on organic farming.

Why are we eating organic food (or local food)? …

Because it is safe, nutritious as well as socially responsible and it allows us to reconnect with the essence of “good and tasty eating behaviors”! This is our vision at Challenged Kids International.

The discussion of these different points comes next.

Isn’t reducing exposure to pesticides and antibiotic use precisely what organic production is supposed to do?

Today, agricultural contaminants such as inorganic fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides as well as hormones and antibiotics used in conventional agriculture are a major concern all over the world. These chemicals have accumulated up the food chain where top predators (e.g. humans) can consume toxic quantities. Organic agriculture restores the environmental balance and organic foods are far safer in terms of pesticide content, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and GMOs.

And the Stanford University study corroborated partially this conclusion by finding that organic food had 30% less pesticide residue (see Wayne Roberts’ Blog for this specific point  – http://blogs.worldwatch.org/nourishingtheplanet/citywatch-getting-to-the-right-question-on-the-nutrient-benefits-of-organic-food/). Even though the pesticide levels in conventional foods in this study fall within the safety guidelines set by different environmental protection agencies, it is important to note that the health effects of the pesticides are cumulative, and that what we would consider safe at one time point might not be anymore the same over a period of 20 to 40 years of accumulation.

For example, it is well documented that:

• Herbicide residue on GMO crops may be causing fertility problems,

• Organophosphate exposure can lead to pre-term births, and both attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and lower IQs in children

This is quite scary!

Moreover, the Stanford study also noted that the risk for ingesting antibiotic-resistant bacteria was 33% higher in conventional than in organic chicken and pork but did not discuss at all the potential health outcome of this kind of results.

Why this result is so important?

Let me take one recent example to show you the potential link between ingestion of antibiotic resistant bacteria, and clinical morbidity and mortality.

As highlighted recently in the Huffington Post (as well as in other newspapers and magazines), superbugs (drug-resistant E. coli) in chickens could be an underlying cause of antibiotic-resistant bladder infections in 8 million women (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/chicken-bladder-infection-superbug-uti_n_1668255.html).

In fact, chickens are injected with antibiotics from day one to help them grow bigger and faster and protect them from diseases. The problem is that these are the same antibiotics sold in the U.S. for humans to treat bladder infections, among other conditions, which means our bodies eventually become resistant to the drugs because we’re getting so much of it. McGill University researchers who have published this interesting result, had previously reported that the E. coli in the chicken was much more genetically related to those of human urinary tract infections, compared with the E. coli in the beef and pork. An interesting but implacable demonstration!

More importantly, from a public health safety point of view, this kind of results has led the USDA to routinely sterilize commercially harvested meat, a practice not necessary in organically raised animals.
Is organic food more nutritious than conventional food?

…. Yes, may be, perhaps…. It all depends on what you mean by nutritious food and its relation to seasonal food.

This Stanford University study has also showed that organic foods may have higher levels of anti-oxidants – plant phytochemicals thought to be important to human health as well as omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk and chicken, and vaccenic acid (potential anticancer effect) in organic chicken.

These results corroborate our reading of other scientific articles that have already proved some benefits of organic food and farming. To reinforce this statement, six articles have been published just this year on the nutritional value of organic foods showing interesting results like:

(1) Organic broccoli maintained higher concentrations of bioactive compounds (ascorbic acid and phenolics) and antioxidant potential during storage than conventional broccoli, with higher potential health beneficial effects (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22936597),

(2) Organic cropping systems result in spinach with lower levels of nitrates and higher levels of flavonoids and ascorbic acid (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22393895),

(3) Organic growing increased the level of antioxidant compounds such as carotenoids, phenolic compounds and vitamin C in sweet bell pepper (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22368104),

(4) The organic growing system affects tomato quality parameters such as nutritional value and phenolic compound content (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22351383),

(5) The concentrations of several nutritionally desirable compounds in milk (β-lactoglobulin, omega-3 fatty acids, omega-3/omega-6 ratio, conjugated linoleic acid and/or carotenoids…) decreased with increasing feeding intensity (organic outdoor ≥ conventional outdoor ≥ conventional indoors) (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22737968; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22430502)

Evaluating the health benefits of eating organic foods is a relatively new research focus (less than 10 years of investigation). The number of publications is increasing significantly each year and we can expect more sophisticated research projects and as a result, more and more interesting results will be available to demonstrate the benefit of eating organic foods.

Moreover, the long term health impact of eating organic foods is not currently appropriately addressed. The duration of the human studies ranged from two days to two years. Most of the health effects will take a lot longer than that to show up.

According to the Stanford University article, this kind of clinical investigations won’t be possible because it is too expensive. Past (the SUVIMAX 1 study in France) and current experiences (the SUVIMAX 2 and Nutrinet studies in France, the Raine study in Australia and the Ontario Birth Study here in Toronto, Canada) to name some of them show that this is possible to investigate long-term effects if there is the political will to go in this direction.

Finally, the interface between food, nutrition and health is a complex issue. It depends from where you come from, your education and how you value the importance of good foods and/or health as well as the tradition and culture around food and culinary practices.

For CKi, nutritious food is more than the number of calories or the quantity of macro- (protein, carbohydrate…) and/or micronutrients (minerals and vitamins), it also relates to its social component (eating together, discussing and sharing food), the taste of food, the use of our five senses and finally, the impact that colorful and tasty foods can have on our brain and ultimately on our overall well-being.

Nutrition is a complex phenomenon, like an interactive game where pleasure can play a significant role. Unfortunately, we have lost this dimension in our “super speed” world.

A few years ago, I switched to organic and/or local food because I wanted to reconnect with my roots (French culture around food). The result has been more than positive. I have rediscovered the taste of foods: seasonal fruits and vegetables where I am sure to find the best nutritional value as well as locally produced meat, eggs, cheese and bread. As a result, I am eating less meat and refined carbohydrates but more grains, fruits and vegetables; I also cut completely junk foods. When I am cooking real foods and I am eating good cuisine, I have a lot of pleasure and I feel full not only in my stomach but also in my mind – a great sensation of satiety. I also know that I contribute socially to the sustainability of the global food security. This is also why it is important to eat organic and/or local foods!

Over time, we can expect that unbiased analysis coupled with modern-day science is likely to show with increasing clarity that growing and consuming organic food, especially in conjunction with healthy diets rich in fresh, whole foods and seasonal fruits and vegetables is one of the best health-promotion investments we can make today as individuals, families, and a society.

* In statistics, a meta-analysis refers to methods focused on contrasting and combining results from different studies, in the hope of identifying patterns among study results, sources of disagreement among those results, or other interesting relationships that may come to light in the context of multiple studies.

References:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22944875

http://www.anh-usa.org/new-junk-science-study-dismisses-nutritional-value-of-organic-foods/

http://grist.org/food/organic-food-may-not-have-a-big-nutritional-edge-but-how-much-does-that-matter/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12094634

http://www.ifoam.org/growing_organic/1_arguments_for_oa/environmental_benefits/environmental_benefits_main_page.html

http://www.icrofs.org/pdf/darcofIII/globalorg.pdf

http://www.fao.org/organicag/oa-faq/oa-faq1/en/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/chicken-bladder-infection-superbug-uti_n_1668255.html

 

It is possible to improve food security in Sahel!

Where is located Sahel?

We have all heard about Sahel, but we don’t really know where it is located and how this region is large? Check the map below for more information.

The Sahel (in orange) is the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition between the Sahara desert (in yellow) in the North and the less arid Savannah (in green) in the South. It stretches across the north of the African continent between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea. The Sahel covers parts of the territory of (from west to east) Senegal, southern part of Mauritania, Mali, southern part of Algeria, Niger, Chad, southern part of Sudan and Eritrea.

What characterizes the Sahel region right now?

The Sahel region suffers from recurrent drought events, temperatures easily crawl into the 100s. Food insecurity, hunger, death are common. Widespread drought, high food prices and poor harvests have put more than 18 million people in a situation of starvation and over a million children at risk of severe malnutrition.

But, despite this dramatic scenario of food insecurity – low rainfall and general food scarcity, some farmers have had a bumper rice yield this year. This surplus rice is no accident.

Is it a miracle?

Not at all! Over the last three years ACDI/VOCA (http://www.acdivoca.org/site/ID/home), an economic development organization, has helped some 10,000 farmers in the northern Segou region of the Sahel region located in Mali to make the transition from semi-nomadic livestock herders to sedentary farmers and landowners through the Alatona Irrigation Project, funded by the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA – an innovative and independent U.S. foreign aid agency that is helping lead the fight against global poverty (http://www.mcc.gov/pages/about).

Like for the majority of the African countries, the inhabitants of this region depend on natural rainfall to grow crops or create viable grazing grounds. For these pastoralists, one year of low rainfall, like last year, could wipe out their animal herds and create a human disaster. Indeed, it can force them to sale their livestock on which they depend for survival at a fraction of their value because it is done in response to a crisis situation. Resettling in a new village and retraining these herders has helped them transition from a subsistence lifestyle into commercial agriculture, resulting in family economic stability and regional food security.

How did they achieve these objectives – family economic stability and regional food security?

Each of the resettled families will receive title to five hectares of irrigated land (which is significantly superior to the average farm size of one hectare that a large majority of the farmers own in Mali), new housing and improved access to fresh water supplies, primary education for children, and health clinics.

Improving the quality of life of the whole family and breaking the intergenerational poverty cycle are important!

Working with local organizations, ACDI/VOCA helps train the new farmers to grow rice with careful irrigation, soil conservation and fertility practices. The farmers are also diversifying and selectively marketing second-season cash crops.

More specifically, ACDI/VOCA is organizing the distribution of agricultural starter kits to ensure success for first-time rice farmers. The kits include oxen, plowing equipment, wagons, fertilizer and certified seed. ACDI/VOCA will also provide kits for a second dry season vegetable crop exclusively for women farmers. In addition to rice, farmers are exploring markets for shallots, potatoes and forage crops for livestock feed.

Perhaps most importantly, these new farmers are learning water management, hydraulic systems, irrigation and drainage techniques as well as the best practices in terms of maintenance of a network of canals.

Access to water, appropriate equipments, technologies, savoir faire and local capacity building for long-lasting outcomes as well as diversification of the production are the keystone of any successful farming project!

As a result, Alatona farmers are producing 5.2 tons per hectare and making on average $1,000 per hectare in a country where average annual incomes are measured at $700 per year.

Everybody thought we herders were incapable of successfully developing the land that the project has given us,” Demba Diallo, a chief of one of the resettled villages remarked. “With all the positive impacts we are seeing, we are organizing ourselves to better overcome defeats.”

This project is designed to go beyond food subsistence and move into agribusiness, where farmers can invest in small threshing machines, de-hulling machines and motorized tractors.

Infrastructure development projects like the Alatona Irrigation Project can help foster food security and alleviate poverty through economic growth. And the components of this winner ticket are replicable through a holistic and integrated approach that needs to include:

A Variety of Services 

It integrates financial services, irrigation development and women’s gardens into its agricultural training program. It fosters sustainability by helping producers form farmer organizations that have market advantage whether buying farm inputs or selling the crops. 

The ownership of the Land for the farmers

The agricultural land in the project is being cultivated under a land title system, which is a first for the region. Now farmers own the land and have incentives to make improvements. As decision-makers, they put in crops the market demands.

 

Challenges still exist for the Alatona Irrigation Project, such as maintaining long-term soil fertility, sustaining the canal infrastructure, transferring know-how to younger generations and coping with the current political instability in Mali.

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anja-tranovich/food-security-solutions-sahel_b_1651153.html

http://www.acdivoca.org/site/ID/maliMCA-ASDA

If you would like to read more of the series of articles published by Huffington post to call attention to the crisis in the Sahel, go to:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/sahel

You will find some really interesting articles….

Developing World Has Less Than 5 Percent Chance of Meeting UN Child Hunger Target

A new study published in The Lancet suggests that developing countries as a whole have a less than 5% chance of meeting the UN’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target for the reduction of child malnutrition by 2015(http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(12)60647-3/fulltext#article_upsell). The Article analyses trends in the weight and height (two simple indicators that can permit to define if the malnutrition is chronic or acute) of more than 7•7 million children worldwide between 1985 and 2011 in 141 countries. They also looked how levels are likely to change if current trends continue.  It is the first large-scale study to provide a detailed examination of trends in children’s weight and growth in all developing countries.

Why this study is important?

The phenomenon of hunger does not only weigh on the individual, it also imposes a crushing economic burden on the developing world as economists estimate that every child whose physical and mental development is stunted by hunger and malnutrition stands to lose 5-10 percent in lifetime earnings. Moreover, the first two years of a child’s life are particularly important, as optimal nutrition during this period will lead to reduced morbidity and mortality, to reduced risk of chronic diseases and to overall better development. In fact, optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices are so critical that they can save the lives of 1.5 million children under five every year.

Progresses are made …..

Professor Majid Ezzati, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, UK, and the article’s senior author, said: “Our analysis shows that the developing world as a whole has made considerable progress towards reducing child malnutrition, but there are still far too many children who don’t receive sufficient nutritious foods or who lose nutrients due to repeated sickness. Severe challenges lie ahead.”

To summarize the key results

• 61 of these 141 countries have likely a 50—100% chance to achieve the target – particularly in some parts of Asia and Latin America.

• The prevalence of moderate-and-severe stunting (insufficient growth in height for their age) declined from 47•2% to 29•9% and underweight from 30•1% to 19•4% between 1985 and 2011 in developing countries as a whole.

• In 2011, over 300 million children were mildly to severely stunted and over 250 million mildly to severely underweight, with 17 countries – mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania – seemingly undergoing no improvement in the number of children who are underweight or restricted in growth.

• Undernutrition worsened in sub-Saharan Africa from 1985 until the late 1990s, when height and weight scores began to improve. The deterioration may have been due to economic shocks, structural adjustment, and trade policy reforms in the region in the 1980s and 1990s. In Ivory Coast and Niger, nutritional status was measurably worse in 2011 than it had been in 1985.

• South Asia, the region with the worst nutritional status in 1985, has improved considerably, but undernutrition is still a major issue. About one half of the world’s underweight children live in South Asia, mostly in India.

• China has undergone the largest improvement in children’s height over the last 25 years, with Latin America and the Caribbean region also experiencing significant improvements in this area. The authors suggest that, in many of these countries, the improvements seen are down to overall improvements in the populations’ nutrition, rather than specific interventions targeting children at high risk.

• Some countries in Latin America, such as Chile, now have almost no undernutrition. The proportion of underweight children almost halved per decade in Brazil.

What’s next?

The statistics presented in this article suggest that in most countries, the improvements are due to population-wide improvements in nutrition, rather than interventions targeting high-risk children.

Moreover, according to Professor Ezzati, “There is evidence that child nutrition is best improved through equitable economic growth, investment in policies that help smallholder farmers and increase agricultural productivity, and primary care and food programs targeted at the poor. We mustn’t allow the global economic crisis and rising food prices to cause inequalities to increase, or cut back on investments in nutrition and healthcare.”

To continue in the same direction – strategies that can contribute to the improvement of the overall nutritional status of children:

In a book entitled “Just Give the Money to the Poor, The Development Revolution from the Global South”, the authors showed through a specific example that equitable economic growth at the community level permits  a population-wide nutritional improvement, among other social and economic improvements.  

In  this book, the authors discussed a new strategy – direct cash transfers (CTs). These are regular payments by the state directly to poor people, similar to welfare in developed countries.  The authors showed that this strategy can have a significant social and economic impact. CTs are affordable and the recipients use the money well and do not waste it. As a result, cash grants are an efficient way to directly reduce current poverty, and they have the potential to prevent future poverty by facilitating economic growth and promoting human development.

Something that perhaps you don’t know! And we didn’t know before reading this book.

45 countries in the Global South now give CTs to more than 110 million families. Every program is different, from universal child benefits in Mongolia to pensions in Africa to family grants in Latin America. Some grants are tiny – only $3 a month – whereas others give families more than $100 a month; some cover more than one-third of the population, and others aim only for the very poorest. The size of public spending varies from 0.1% of GDP to 4%, although most programs fall in the range of 0.4% to 1.5%.

What are the outputs/outcomes of this kind of program?

  • Social protection and security for the young, old, disabled
  • Development and economic growth – CTs give poor people the security they need to invest in higher risk/return options like new crops, or migrating in search of work
  • Breaking intergenerational poverty by ensuring children are better nourished and educated than their parents
  • Rights and equity – reducing income inequality and promoting the status of women

To give you a concrete example on how this strategy can impact the life of people

The villagers of Otjivero village (a very destitute rural community) in Namibia have received each month the equivalent of 15 US$ as part of a pilot study to evaluate the socio-economic impact of direct cash transfer.

One of the first and immediate results was the creation of a whole range of economic activities in this small village.

After two years, the program team that managed this pilot study was able to report:

• A decrease of the number of people living below the poverty line from 76 to 37%

• Less than 10% of the children were malnourished – before the experiment, almost half of children were malnourished

• 90% have finished their education – before, they were only 60%

• And crime has dropped

This pilot study has also shown that CT has an impact not only on production but also on demand. In Africa, the purchasing power is usually centered in a few centers, forcing people to leave the countryside to cities, where slums eventually spread. The CT allows rural to grow, it creates local markets and allows people to be self-sufficient.

When you know that you will recieve each month some cash to support your family, this brings some sort of financial security. This kind of initiative helps to ensure that the basic needs for the family are covered but also helps to invest in the future. It creates the first step to equitable economic growth.

Something to meditate! 

Sources:

http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/1112650992/developing-world-has-less-than-5-percent-chance-of-meeting-un-child-hunger-target/

http://www.exchangemagazine.com/morningpost/2012/week27/Thursday/12070507.htm

http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=2547

http://www.courrierinternational.com/article/2010/04/29/les-miracles-du-revenu-minimum-garanti

Hunger eradication essential to achieve sustainable development – UN Food Agency

Sustainable development will not be achieved unless hunger and malnutrition are eradicated, stated by the United Nations food agency in a recent report.

One of the great flaws in current food systems is that despite significant progress in development and food production hundreds of millions of people are hungry because they lack the means to produce or purchase the food they need for a healthy and productive life.

“We cannot call development sustainable while this situation persists, while nearly one out of every seven men, women and children are left behind, victims of undernourishment,” said the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, in a news release.

In the report – entitled Towards the future we want: end hunger and make the transition to sustainable agricultural and food systems – was prepared for the UN Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20), which will be held in Brazil next month.  The FAO stresses the need to address the flaws in the current food system so that hundreds of millions of people in developing countries have the means to produce or purchase the food they need for their own consumption and income.

“The quest for food security can be the common thread that links the different challenges we face and helps build a sustainable future,” Mr.Graziano da Silva said. “At the Rio Summit we have the golden opportunity to explore the convergence between the agendas of food security and sustainability to ensure that happens.”

The key points in this report are:

  • To establish and protect rights to resources, incorporate incentives for sustainable consumption and production into food systems, promote fair and well-functioning agricultural and food markets, and invest public resources in public goods, especially innovation and infrastructure, among other measures.
  • To help farmers who operate 500 million small farms in developing countries and whose resources are limited due to insufficient access to food and nutrition.
  • The need to change consumption patterns in the developed world to reduce food waste. FAO estimates that global food losses and waste amount to 1.3 billion tons per year, which represents roughly one-third of the world food production for human consumption.
  • To be able to feed the expected global population of nine billion people in 2050, an improved governance of the food and agricultural system is required.

“Unless purposeful action is taken, the increase in food production of 60 per cent needed to meet effective demand will still leave over 300 million people behind who are expected to suffer from chronic hunger in 2050 because they will remain without the means to access food,” FAO noted.

To read more on this issue, go to:

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42119&Cr=sustainable+development&Cr1

http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/50781

http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/development-impossible-without-hunger-eradication/117305/

The Global Food Security Index – A needed tool that integrates nutrition as a key parameter

According to the UNs, the world will need at least 50% more food to feed a growing population by 2030, (expected to swell from 7 billion to 9 billion people by 2050). Another important deadline is the millennium development goal – to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger between 1990 and 2015. Unfortunately, the progresses for this specific goal are so far really disappointed.

In this context, global food security is more and more a top concern of many governments as illustrated by the recent G8 and G20 summits. The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, announced at the Camp David G8 Summit in May, highlights the shared commitment among G8 and African leaders, private business and non-governmental organizations to achieve global food security.

Consequently, a food security index is becoming increasingly important given the growing world population and the potential limits on our ability to provide food in coming years. So any additional and long-term measures than can give an overall picture of food security are seemingly useful.

Why improving food security (and indirectly nutrition) so important?

The truth is that food security is a prerequisite to economic growth and job creation. You cannot educate a hungry child, and you cannot hope for productive employment if citizens are going without food. Moreover, according to the latest analyses that focused on child and maternal health, there is a critical window of opportunity for improving child nutrition; it goes from pregnancy through the first 24 months of life. The deficits acquired by this age are difficult to reverse later and can affect dramatically the possibility for each child to achieve his or her full potential.

As claimed by the World Bank a few years ago, it is time to reposition nutrition as central to development and part of an global food security strategy (http://siteresources.worldbank.org/NUTRITION/Resources/281846-1131636806329/NutritionStrategy.pdf).

Who takes the lead on this new set of indicators?

DuPont, a developer of genetically altered crops, commissioned the Global Food Security Index to measure hunger worldwide, and identify areas for improvement and where reforms are most urgently needed. This new index was launched by the Economist Intelligence Unit, an advisory and forecasting research firm (http://www.multivu.com/players/English/56895-eiu-global-food-security-index-dupont/) a few days ago.

As highlighted by DuPont in their press released: “We share a common goal of food security; we do not share a common language. To truly address the root cause of hunger, we must have a common path forward to tackle such pressing issues as food affordability, availability, nutritional quality and safety. Literally billions are being invested to address food security, but until today, we had no comprehensive, global way to measure food security and the impact of investments and collaborations at the local level.”

Accordingly, the Global Food Security Index addresses the underlying factors of food insecurity in 105 countries and points to areas for improvement and reforms. We hope that the Global Food Security Index will be used appropriately to promote collaboration, make better informed decisions and stimulate action necessary to feed our growing population and impact positively the growing epidemic of malnutrition, i.e hunger and obesity.

What does this new index measure?

The Global Food Security Index measures levels of food security by answering a central question: “How can consumers in each country easily access sufficient amounts of safe, high-quality and affordable food?” said Leo Abruzzese, Economist Intelligence Unit Global Forecasting Director.

This new index seems to a comprehensive tool that will help to move from rhetoric to results. It is based on 25 global indicators that measure specific aspects of food affordability, accessibility, availability, nutritional value and safety. Because food security is a politically sensitive issue, the project tries to keep these indices are independent, credible and transparent that it is possible.

What we find really important is the fact that this index uses a multidisciplinary approach and measures at different levels (micro to macro) affordability, availability as well as quality and safety (see above).  Another aspect that we really like it is the big emphasis on the quality of the diet consumes by people in the different countries. Some aspects that resonate positively to us are diet diversification, micronutrient availability and not the last, protein quality (see below the result for Ghana).

This panel of indexes will not only measure affordability and availability but it will position nutrition as a vibrant and essential component of the overall food security strategy.    

Go and explore the Global Food Security Index website at http://foodsecurityindex.eiu.com/, it is part of the public domain.

You will be amazed by the large range of graphical representations that presents the data generated for the 105 countries. It is user friendly and you will be able to create your own representation using the Food Security Index data tool (see below).

When you click on a circle that represents one country, you get of course the name of the country but also some key information on food security for this country.    In the example above, the overall score for this new index is represented in function of the overall food consumption as a share of the household expenditure. France is in orange, the other European countries are in purple and the rest of the world in Grey.

What we see? France has one of the higher overall score and food consumption represented more than 20% of the household expenditure (which is significantly superior to USA that got the highest overall score). We all know that food or “le bien manger” is really important in France.  We also can see that there is a big difference among the European countries, that includes also East Europe and Central Asia countries.

What are the first results?

• The results show that the U.S., Denmark, Norway, France and the Netherlands are the most food-secure countries in the world. • The five most impoverished nations at the bottom of the Index, indicating they are have extensive food security problems, are Madagascar, Haiti, Burundi, Chad, and Congo.

• The good news is that several of the countries at the very bottom of the index, notably Mozambique, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Nigeria, are also ones with strong economic growth, suggesting that their food situation may improve as living standards rise and as sound policies are hopefully put in place.

• The index also indicated that China experienced the least volatility of agricultural production during the last 20 years (explained by generous subsidies that create a floor for food commodity prices), while the North African countries of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria had some of the most variance.

• The landlocked countries show only a modest increase in food insecurity, on average seven points lower on a scale to 100.

• Residents of wealthy nations have 55% more food available than people in poorer countries:  3,400 calories a person per day compared with the daily intake of 2,300 calories recommended by the United Nations to live a healthy and active life.

• People in the United States and other advanced nations consume an average of 1,200 calories per day more than those in low-income countries, but even in these wealthy nations food supplies lack enough micro-nutrients. In fact, an abundant food supply doesn’t guarantee that a nation will have the healthiest or safest diet. This is an interesting result – quantity doesn’t mean quality at all!

• Another interesting result is a strong correlation between women’s economic opportunity and access to affordable, safe food. The Global Food Security Index shows a hefty 0.93 correlation with the EIU’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Index, which measures female economic participation. “The FAO estimates that if women had access to the same productive resources as men—better seeds, fertilizers and fungicides—they could increase their yield by 20% to 30%. As women make up 43% of the world’s farmers, this would increase total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5% to 4%, and reduce hunger globally by 12% to 17%, according to the FAO.”

• Interestingly, the correlation between food security and EIU’s Democracy Index was only 0.77, a much weaker link than with women’s labor equality. This result may suggest that what happens in the political sphere is a bit less important than what happens on the social sphere, in terms of food and nutrition security.

Great job! They validate some important evidences.

Stay in contact with us …..

Resources:

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/dupont-calls-for-common-food-security-metrics-2012-07-10

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/10/us-food-report-idUSBRE8690KR20120710

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/jul/10/food-security-index#data

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-07-10/nations-with-most-food-may-lack-best-diets-study-finds

http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/07/global-food-security