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FAO Says Feeding the Future Requires Bold Decisions

  • Joe DeCapua

The FAO says many of the world's 500 million smallholder farmers are women.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said people cannot live healthy and productive lives unless they have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. The U.N. agency has released its recommendations on food security prior to June’s Rio plus 20 Conference on Sustainable Development.

The FAO said sustainable development cannot be achieved unless hunger and malnutrition are eradicated. It has released a new policy paper called Towards the Future We Want that calls for “fundamental changes in the governance of food and agriculture.”

“We have to make a transition on the way we produce food and the way we transform the food to bring it to the table to make sure that we have the eradication of hunger, that we reduce poverty and that we have a healthy and well-nourished population in the upcoming years,” said Alberto Sandoval is an FAO Senior Natural Resources Officer.

He said an “incredible amount” of resources are being used in the food chain.

“Sixty percent of the water [goes] straight for the food systems. Thirty percent of the greenhouse gas emissions are produced in the food sector. Thirty percent of the global energy goes to the food system as well. And one-third of the food worldwide is lost. It means that it goes straight to the garbage,” he said.

The road to Rio

The FAO said much has been done since the first so-called Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. However, it says 20 years later the world still has not delivered on the summit’s fundamental principle that “human beings are at the center of concern for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.”

The FAO called existing agricultural and food systems “flawed” because they have “high impacts” on the environment. It estimated 500 million small farms in developing countries “face a variety of resource limitations resulting in insufficient access to food and nutrition.”

FAO Nutritionist Florence Egal said a balanced diet is needed to end malnutrition. However, the foods that make up a balanced diet can vary around the world.

“In most areas it would be nice to revisit the food systems, and in particular the production systems in order to take best advantage of the natural resources locally, which is usually what people traditionally did produce and eat. It’s an integral part of their culture. So I think we would have a system that would allow--instead of having a standard national diet, which makes little sense in countries that have diverse cultures and ecosystems--we could start thinking of what would make sense locally.

Not just farmers

Egal said growth in the agricultural sector can improve incomes not just for farmers, but for those who develop related industries.

“People who have no access to land or labor can actually generate income and add to local economic development through food transformation, through processing, through commercialization. So we believe it would also make sense in terms of job creation, in terms of job protection. And therefore we would be able to bring together the economic dimension, the social dimension and the environmental dimension. And I think this is very much the challenge that we are facing nowadays,” she said.

The Food and Agriculture Organization said social protection programs can help meet sustainable development goals while addressing short term needs. It says “well-targeted programs can quickly reduce the incident of chronic hunger through food aid or cash to buy food.

The world population is expected to grow by 2 billion and reach 9 billion by 2050. The FAO said if current food consumption rates continue, “60 percent more food will need to be produced.” However, it said that “bold policy decisions” affecting income growth, dietary preferences, food waste and agricultural production would mean the population could be fed much more efficiently and with much less environmental damage.

The Rio Plus 20 Conference will be held in Rio de Janeiro from June 20th to the 22nd.