food security


Are there trade-offs in feeding the world? | 


A world-wide hunger problem with a continuing growing population means that food is increasingly important.

Some 842 million people suffer from chronic hunger. That means one out of every eight people is food insecure.

More than 7 billion people are on the planet today. The additional population (roughly 10 billion by 2015), will largely come from low and middle-income countries where food security is greater issue.

In short, we will need more and better food. The future of farms is coming under increasing scrutiny.

“Already, the world’s farms take up an area the size of South America. By 2050, a global population of nearly 10 billion people will require roughly 70 percent more food. We have two options: Either we need to get more food out of the land we already farm, or we need to farm more land,” said Stephen Porder, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown University, in the New York Times last week. Continue reading

The 10 stories you missed while following the Philippines | 

The disaster following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines rightly has dominated the global twenty-four hour news cycle. Humanosphere has devoted more of our reporting time to the issue than anything else this week. With nearly one million people displaced and close to twelve million affected, the scope of the problem is vast and the relief effort has a long way to go.

While we were paying attention to the Philippines, there were other notable news stories that garnered less attention. Here are ten notable events and happenings (presented in no particular order) that you might have missed this week. It is by no means a comprehensive list. Do add anything else of note in the comments section.

1) Polio is worse this year in Pakistan, so the region is taking on the challenge by working together.

Gates Foundation

The number of polio cases in Pakistan have already exceeded the total from 2012. Health officials announced Wednesday that there are sixty-two cases of polio in 2013. The total for 2012 was fifty-eight. Pakistan is one of only polio-endemic countries, alongside Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Attacks on polio workers over the past year have hampered the effort to vaccinate children. An estimated 240,000 children living in the northwest were not vaccinated in August due to a ban by the Taliban.

The problem is affecting neighboring countries. An outbreak of polio in Syria was recently linked to Pakistan. To deal with the issue, the WHO is working with twenty-one Middle Eastern countries to stop polio in its tracks. However, much of what happens in Pakistan is out of the control of the UN and its neighbors.
Continue reading

Why food security and conflict may not be linked | 

Food prices go up and people revolt, right? Maybe not.

Conflict does lead to food insecurity. That makes sense because broken markets means it is harder and more expensive to get food. But what about whether high prices cause conflict. Do people protest and conflict follows because food is too expensive?

“It seems to me the food security linkage suffers from the same problem that an awful lot of the environment and conflict literature suffers from: There are more negative cases than positive cases,” said Ed Carr of the University of South Carolina to the Wilson Center’s New Security Beat podcast. “In other words, you have a lot of cases where there is a [food] price spike and no violence or no conflict.”

When it comes to conflict, food security could contribute to problems as might other factors. Carr argues that a focus on food may be misplaced if it not a main cause.

“If it’s that far down the line, is this something that USAID or any other donor organization should be looking at, or should they be dealing with the first six problems?” asks Carr.

He does not say that food security is definitely not a leading contributor to conflict, rather he questions the available research that makes such claims.

Listen to the full conversation below:

Why did Seattle’s “Liberal Congressman for Life” vote against fixing food aid? | 

130604_usaid_food_boxes_reu_328Last month we reported on the strange and disapointing bipartisan vote in the House against common-sense reforms to America’s foreign food aid program.

Washington state’s congressional delegation vote on the proposal was as strange and disappointing as any: Only two of the state’s 11 representatives voted for an amendment to the Farm Bill that would have allowed for greater flexibility in the system and increased local purchase of food in developing countries.

Jim McDermottOne of those who voted against the reforms was Democratic stalwart Jim McDermott, who represents a district north of Seattle. I caught up with Rep. McDermott recently and asked him to explain his vote.

The question is the corruption and how the money gets taken away,” he said. “I wasn’t convinced by that amendment. It’s not that I think it’s a bad idea. It probably might work better to buy the crops over there, if you knew how you were going to do it.”

Many experts say that the current system of how the U.S. government does food aid is plenty corrupted – at least if you assume the goal is to feed the poor and hungry. The current system requires that we buy the food from American farmers and ship it on American-flagged vessels. No other country does food aid this way. It’s inefficient and blatantly self-serving. Continue reading

What does ‘Food Security’ mean anyway? | 

Just about any story about food or nutrition will contain the rather amorphous phrase: food security. Many, including me, don’t bother to offer much of a definition for food security. Thankfully, the Thompson Reuters Foundation put together a short video explaining food security and why it is an important topic.

Malnutrition has a Global Cost: $3.5 Trillion a Year | 

DRC: Serge Laba, the senior paediatric nurse in Masi Manimba hospital, checks the weight of a malnourished child.

Russell Watkins/DfID

DRC: Serge Laba, the senior paediatric nurse in Masi Manimba hospital, checks the weight of a malnourished child.

As if there was any doubt that malnutrition was a bad thing, it now comes with a hefty price tag of $3.5 trillion lost globally every year.

That’s roughly the same size as the annual GDP of Germany. Put another way, it averages out to a loss of about $500 for every one of us on the planet every year. And it’s completely avoidable.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released its annual report on the state of food and agriculture around the world. Malnutrition, ranging from obesity to a lack of vitamins, is a global problem with real costs. The report estimates that 2 billion people are micronutrient deficient and 1.4 billion are obese. However, the solutions are not just at the point where food is consumed.

Most countries see both extremes of malnutrition. Malnutrition is a cause for increasing healthcare costs and also for a loss of work. Sick people can’t work or don’t work at their best. That too bears an economic cost.

“The social and economic costs of malnutrition are unconscionably high,” says FAO Director-General Jose Graziano de Silva in the the report’s introduction. “The challenge for the global community, therefore, is to continue fighting hunger and undernutrition while preventing or reversing the emergence of obesity.” Continue reading

Corruption investigation of key player in Obama’s plan to fight African hunger | 

Flickr, aed10e

Maybe this is getting so little media attention because it’s in Norway.

At any rate, it’s worth noting because:

Last week, at the opening of the G8 conference hosted by the United States, President Barack Obama announced a $3-billion, largely private sector plan aimed at fighting hunger in Africa.

Some celebrated it as a welcome initiative by the world’s wealthiest nations — a big win in the effort to reduce hunger in sub-Saharan Africa and a move that will “lift 50 million people out of poverty.” Obama said he regarded the public-private partnership, dubbed the National Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, as a “moral imperative.”

Others saw it more as a punt, an attempt to divert attention from the failure of the G8 nations to live up to earlier commitments of food aid and to deflect responsibility over to the private sector — to agri-business firms which already have commercial reasons to invest in Africa, some of which may do little to alleviate the plight of poor farmers.

Now we learn that the top player on Obama’s private sector plan to fight hunger in Africa is under criminal investigation over allegations of corruption – bribes paid to foreign officials.

According to the Obama Administration, specifically the U.S. Agency for International Development, as much as $2 billion of their $3 billion initiative is based on a plan by a Norwegian firm, Yara International, to build a fertilizer plant in Africa (location unspecified).

Little noticed so far are a few news reports of the Norwegian government’s investigation of Yara for criminal corruption — bribes paid to gain foreign contracts. The Wall Street Journal reported today that two Yara executives have stepped down (well, over really … since they kept their jobs) due to the probe. This, the WSJ notes, is the third corruption investigation of Yara and its work overseas.

Oxfam, which has worked to fight both hunger and corruption in Africa, noted that the Sahel region is heading right now into a food crisis and that the international community has not responded fully to this crisis.

A number of international aid advocacy organizations have criticized the Obama private-sector plan as both inadequate and irresponsible given the failure of governments to follow through on pledged aid. The fact that two-thirds of the money for Obama’s plan to fight hunger in Africa is coming from a corporation with “integrity issues” may prompt further scrutiny and critiques.

Two views on human impact of climate change | 

Researchers at McGill University have mapped out the longer-term impact of climate change on human health and well-being.

If populations continue to increase at the expected rates, the McGill researchers report, those who are likely to be the most vulnerable to climate change are the people living in low-latitude, hot regions of the world, places like central South America, the Arabian Peninsula and much of Africa.

In these areas, a relatively small increase in temperature will have serious consequences on a region’s ability to sustain a growing population. Here’s a direct link to the map (below is screen grab):

McGill University

Human vulnerability to climate change

On a related note, here’s a recent post from my NPR colleague Heather Goldstone at Climatide providing “Two reasons why climate change could be bad for your health.”

One of the reasons is that it could increase bacterial outbreaks, as Heather notes appears to be happening with cholera worldwide. As I’ve noted before, there are some (though a minority) of scientists who believe Haiti’s cholera outbreak was fueled by climate change. The medical community is not trained to think of environmental contributors to human disease, but climate change may require a more interdisciplinary approach.