Food crisis: A disaster in waiting?

By Shruti Saxena | Updated: May 29, 2013, 14:02 PM IST

Shruti Saxena

Food no doubt holds a central place in our lives as it is one of the basic needs for the very existence of the mankind. With the world`s population expected to grow from around seven billion today to more than nine billion in 2050 – an increase of nearly one-third – there will certainly be a lot more stomachs to fill.

According to the UN, 870 million people across the globe remain persistently underfed, yet nearly half of the world`s food supply is wasted every year. Of the four billion tons of food produced annually, between 1.2 and 2 billion tons are lost, though the causes of waste vary between rich, poor and intermediate countries.

The growing world population and relatively stagnant growth in food production certainly raise a lot of apprehension and concern about whether our Mother Earth is capable enough to sustain such a large number of people in the long-term? Is there enough food to feed all of us?

Are we incapable of feeding everyone? The answer is clearly ‘no’. There are sufficient food resources on the planet to feed the current population and in fact, many more and yes, we are capable enough to feed each one of us.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world produces enough food to provide every person with more than 2,700 calories per day, which is more than the recommended amount for an average adult. But, still there are countless stomachs that starve for food not because of lack of production of food, but because of a crippled agricultural system and a devastating impact of climate change on our farming system.

Now, when the world’s population has already grown to seven billion and will be rising further, the demand for food and fibre is on the rise and crops may also be used for bio-energy and other industrial purposes, thereby mounting a pressure to scrap old agricultural practices and switch to the new ones.

It is a fact that we have been relying on the same food practices that were used since the primitive times when the invention of agriculture took place, but in this 21st century, it is the need of the hour to intensely rethink about these practices and find new ways of feeding the planet. We have to search for ways to conserve our food cultural heritage without hampering the environment in this process. It is without a doubt that this is a serious challenge.

Slip-ups in current practices

It is a reality that the conventional agricultural and fishing practices used today are simply unsustainable and no longer meet the requirements of a fast-changing world. So, it is certainly the need of the hour to switch to new practices. The key factors that point to the urgent need for change are:

Fast thinning of natural food supplies and the overexploitation of ecosystems which raise a leeway that they might collapse.

Climate change is another serious threat to global food security as it causes severe weather conditions around the globe.

In addition to the above, extensive use of pesticides and fertilisers for land agriculture, the overexploitation of resources deforestation and more.

Inflation in food prices is also a major factor that affects our lives greatly in one way or another. In fact, it is the people in poorer countries who generally suffer more because they rely heavily on agriculture and spend a larger percentage of their income on food.

Changing food habits

It has to be believed that food shortages are simply not a consequence of growing population; changes in people’s eating habits are causing even greater problems.

Growing wealth leads to greater consumption of meat and dairy products. This has two effects – it increases the land required for grazing cattle and adds to the need for grain and corn to feed the livestock.

A Silver lining?

So, where does the solution lie? Is there a silver bullet to deal with the problem of growing food insecurity?

Yes, there is an action plan against hunger. What may be needed instead are many small solutions, targeted to the specific needs of people in different parts of the world to combat hunger.

The various solutions to begin with could be:

Farmers in developing countries need to be informed on what crops to grow in the face of changing weather patterns and when to grow them.

Organic farming might have an important niche in developing countries. Studies have shown that if the soil conditions are right for organic farming, it could improve yields, help maintain natural irrigation systems, and produce more resilient and durable crops.

Using genetically diverse crop species is also helpful as they can better adapt to changes in weather and soil composition.

Another way to improve food security may just be to make sure what’s harvested isn’t lost. By protecting the food harvest from pests, floods etc.

Using oceans as primary food sources can also help to a great extent.

Reduce reliance on pesticides and fertilisers.

Focussing on methods as to how can healthy diets be safely and economically provided to all the humanity.

These might be small steps, maybe, but they may add up to a bigger solution. Another need of the hour is to invest in the solutions of how to tackle this disaster in waiting rather than speculating on its symptoms.