In brief...

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
My interests vary from conservation to education to heritage to Nature (biodiversity & wildlife) to outdoor activities to life in general.
They occupy most of my waking moment.
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UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit if you're interested in more recent writing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Food, glorious food!

I live in a world of privilege. Half the time, my Facebook wall is filled with photos of food (#Asianstakingphotosoffood). My college provides breakfast, lunch and dinner almost 7 days a week, my room has a corner for wang wang, breakfast/energy bars and various other snacks, and more often than not, I find myself stuffed rather than starving. True, I may occasionally play the 'poor student' card and go for student discount meals and free refreshments at events, but by and large, I am not wanting. The same though, cannot be said for 842 million people out there on this planet (FAO, 2013).

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon launched the Zero Hunger Challenge in 2012, which is aimed at everyone, from individuals to corporations and governments, to do their part to do just that - eliminate hunger within our lifetimes.

The five aims of the challenge. Image taken from United Nations.

The facts

165 million children under the age of 5 have stunted growth as a result of malnourishment in Low- and Middle- Income Countries (Lancelet, 2013)

842 million people go to bed hungry every night (FAO, 2013)

38% of the total land area (World Bank, 2014), and 70% of available freshwater (FAO, 2012) is used for agriculture

2.5 billion individuals in small holder agriculture farms provide over 80% of the food eaten in many parts of the developing world, particularly Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (UNEP, 2013)

1.3 billion tonnes of food produced is never consumed (UNEP, 2013)

The problems

Multi National Corporations take over land in parts of the developing world (especially in Africa), to the detriment of local communities and smallholder agriculture farms (Ingwe et al, 2010)

Arable land is not limitless - arable land is a precious and scarce commodity

Individuals lack access to food (because their farms were taken away, because they are too poor to afford market prices etc.)

More than 40% of post harvest loss in supply chain due to poor transport or storage facilities in developing countries. (FAO, 2011)

Developed countries waste more than 220 million tonnes of food every year (UN)

The solutions?

As always, there is no panacea. Food security reminds me greatly of biodiversity conservation. They are linked, of course, by the fact that crops are part of the diversity on this Earth, and that they occupy the same area. Habitat conversion for agricultural purposes is one of the big reasons why we are losing biodiversity at higher than normal rates. And there is no easy solution either.

The foremost issue we ought to tackle should be the distribution and logistical issues of food wastage. Human population numbers are predicted to increase (9 billion by 2050), especially in developing countries, and consumer demands are also increasing - by reducing wastage because of poor infrastructure, more food makes it to those who need it.

This says it all really. Image taken from Food Waste News

Supermarkets, with their advertisement and insidious deals to get you to buy more than you need need to change their profit-driven mindsets to a more sustainable one. I don't know if there is a system that would allow supermarket chains to purchase a more accurate amount that they could sell though, instead of creating wastage.

In the UK, some 1.4 million bananas are wasted every day, 20% of 15 million tonnes of food wasted each year. Eat local (I've decided to give up eating bananas when I'm in the UK, because of food miles), and don't buy more than is necessary. Just cos it's cheap doesn't mean you should get it. Edible gardens are a great idea, as is urban farming.

Agricultural policies can promote land sparing and promote more efficient food production methods, though sometimes government subsidies for agriculture cause more damage (maybe in the long term) than good.

Increasing production and efficiency would help increase available food, without necessarily encroaching on more natural habitat. Biotechnology can help produce crops that can grow on marginal land, and various methods of multi-crop rotations etc. could also help.

What we need is a large scale, systemic change. In the way we define growth and progress. Perhaps only in crises do we think of making radical changes, but by then, it might be too late, and the most vulnerable amongst us will stand to lose the most.

Read more here:

Food is so much a big part of our life and culture. We may not be going hungry now, or in the future, but there are others out there who are and will. Image taken from National Geographic.
This post was inspired by a Cambridge Hub Series talk on food security. Also featured was Food Cycle, a national charity that helps to reduce food wastage by supermarkets while feeding those in need.

P.S. Got tired towards the end. There is more than enough information on all these issues out there on the world wide web though, way better than anything I could write. I was just rather struck by the parallels with biodiversity conservation, and how we so often talk about how big a thing food is in our culture (one of the best bonding topics, whether amongst fellow countrymen or meeting new people), yet food security is not something that often bears on our conscience.

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