Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Food insecurity affecting more people than we think

PERHAPS the greatest challenge currently facing humanity is the fight against food insecurity and hunger... and contrary to what many think, food insecurity is not a “disease” of the poor in developing or under-developed countries, it is a problem that we all face.

According to Dr. Hugo Melgar-Quiñonez, Director of the Institute for Global Food Security, McGill University, Canada, we now know and have been battling with what has been termed as “hidden hunger”, which deals, not with going to bed hungry, but with accessing a diet which may be meeting ones caloric intake, but is micronutrient deficient.

The last report published by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) reported that 852 million people in the world were undernourished. However, according to Melgar-Quiñonez, this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Regarding cases of hidden hunger in developed countries, he referenced research which showed that in 2012, almost 15 per cent of American households, as well as 8.3 per cent of Canadian households, were food insecure.

The World Health Organisation has already determined that a quarter of the world’s population is iron deficient and one third, zinc deficient.

The scientist, who described food security as a human right, remarked that even though it had become a forefront international issue, within the agenda of many different institutions, it was still on the sidelines and the resources made available to fight it usually did not match the challenges the world was facing.

Melgar-Quiñonez, defining food security as the right of all people to have not only economic but physical access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, submitted that the prevalence of micro nutrient deficiencies in diets were contributing to the stunting of growth in children, as well as obesity in adults.

He added that the Caribbean ranked high in these areas, and singled out Barbados as a country where persons were, according to research, lacking in iron and Vitamin A, along with being susceptible to obesity. Pointing to research, he said that the prevalence of obesity was 20 per cent of the Barbadian population, compared to 8.3 per cent of the global population.

Dr. Melgar-Quiñonez explained that the challenges facing Barbados, along with other small island developing states, in its fight against food insecurity, were the issues of its land size and farm size for the production of food. He noted the increased competition for the use of limited land space, and also pointed to water constraints and limited domestic markets as food security factors.

Food wastage was another challenge – globally – and was seen not only in the post-harvest situation ,but also within the households.

“From all the food we produce around the world, about one third is wasted... and there is a lot we can do about it,” he added.

The region, according to the view of the food security scientist, was also being disadvantaged by its competitiveness in domestic production, and the distance it was located from the major markets.

 “It is very difficult to transport in small quantities [and as a result of this] poor people have to pay more... ” the academic said. (RS)

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