The challenge of sustenance security

Amid the rapid growth of population and global urbanisation, one key issue in the near future is the threat of food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition

BANGKOK POST | 29 July 2015 – Whether walking into an air-conditioned supermarket or taking a stroll through a fresh market, there is almost no sign of food shortage anywhere in Thailand. But in little more than a generation from now, food might become harder to come by in many countries — including Thailand.

Picking strawberries in Aungban, Myanmar.  Photo: Bangkok Times

Picking strawberries in Aungban, Myanmar. Photo: Bangkok Times

The reasons for this grim forecast are troubling.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there is presently a sufficient amount of food in the world. However, although there is enough food to feed everyone, produce is not distributed equally due to a number of factors, including a lack of social equity and justice.

But, while one in nine people in the world is nutritionally hungry, the situation is likely to become far worse by 2050, when the UN predicts there will be well over 9 billion people sharing the Earth. Cities will continue to expand and most of the population growth will occur in developing countries.

“We need to be aware of several constraints and uncertainties that could affect our food security in the years to come,” says Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO’s assistant director-general and regional representative. “By 2050, the world will need to increase food production by some 60% on average, and nearly 80% in developing countries. But that will be very hard to do since agricultural land is almost fully exploited and there is almost no expansion possible in Asia.

“Water is also a major issue. Up to 70% of available water is diverted to agricultural production processes, but it is becoming scarcer, especially in places where water is most needed.

“As competition for water resources increases, there will be scarcity of water to feed into the agricultural sector and that will surely affect food production. Other factors affecting food security include climate change; competing use of land and water between food and bioenergy production; and natural disasters and diseases, which may affect both animals and humans.”

The paradox of reducing hunger with less arable land and a growing population may seem complex or even hopeless. But there are indications that all is not lost.

“Asia and the Pacific, as a whole, managed to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the proportion of hunger by half since 1990. That is a real achievement,” says Konuma. “Thailand’s own reduction was extraordinary, a cut of nearly 79% by the 2015 MDG deadline.”

However, despite the gains, 7.4% of the Thai population remains undernourished and there is more that can be done for them, Konuma points out, adding he hopes that Thailand will join the UN Secretary-General’s Zero Hunger Challenge at a national level. Konuma adds that without concentrating our efforts toward zero hunger and real equitable growth, a just society and sustainable development will be difficult to achieve. It’s something he encourages all countries to do.

Read the full article at the Bangkok Post.