Focus on Food, Not Just Agriculture

Karthik Jayaraman

Food security is a priority for every country, considering the challenge of delivering sufficient food to the world’s population. The world population is estimated to touch 9 billion by 2050. ‘Zero Hunger’ and promoting sustainable agriculture ranks second in the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. However, currently around 690 million people worldwide (8.9%) go hungry, as per the UN. This is expected to cross 840 million by 2030, making ‘Zero Hunger’ a pipedream. A majority of the world’s undernourished – 381 million people – are still found in Asia, with Africa not far behind at 250 million.

For example, India, despite being the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, has an astounding 17.76 lakh acutely malnourished children and 15.46 lakh moderately malnourished children. This is according to a recent report released by the Women and Child Development Ministry of India. In October, the 2021 Global Hunger Index ranked India at 101st out of 116 countries indicating that India has a serious hunger problem.

Worldwide, extreme poverty is predominantly rural, with smallholder farmers and their families accounting for a very significant percentage of the poor and hungry. Achieving Zero Hunger and eradicating poverty are integrally linked to augmenting food production and agricultural productivity.

In addition, increasing pressures on natural resources and climate change threaten the sustainability of the world’s food systems. Climate-related disasters, including forest fires, droughts, hurricanes, flash floods, and storms, are happening with alarming frequency. These disasters adversely impact agricultural productivity, which means food availability suffers. This causes food prices to skyrocket and results in income losses that prevent the poor from being able to afford food.

Reimagining our food systems

Our food systems need an overhaul backed by responsible investors with a concern to enhance the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and reduce the carbon footprint of food supply chains. Policymakers should also involve stakeholders, and develop food systems anchored by smallholder farmers who can sustainably deliver safe, affordable, and nutritious food throughout the year.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s twin-track approach to fight hunger uniquely combines rural development with sustainable agriculture to enable vulnerable sections to access food.

These include:

  • Enhancing the food supply to the most vulnerable
  • Improving rural food production, especially by small-scale farmers
  • Investing in rural infrastructure and rural markets
  • Revitalization of the livestock sector
  • Resource rehabilitation and conservation
  • Enhancing income and other entitlements to food
  • Food aid
  • Seed/input relief
  • Capital for livestock restocking
  • Enabling market revival

We need to develop food systems anchored by smallholder farmers who can sustainably deliver safe, affordable, and nutritious food throughout the year to low-income people.

Food safety is a top priority. Every country must adopt technologies that support traceability and track the food journey from farm to fork. Consumers need to know where their food comes from, and how it supports the local economy. This includes adopting comprehensive food safety policies and robust strategies to eliminate food contamination. 

Upgradation of cold chain infrastructure can eliminate food waste. The FAO estimates that almost one-third of the produced food is lost or wasted globally. That’s about 1.3 billion tonnes of food per year – enough to feed 3 billion people!

Shifting our focus to food rather than only agriculture will reveal the bigger picture and the integrated linkages between farmers and the food ecosystem so that the consumer has access to safe, affordable food.

However, local knowledge must be considered while chalking out a food security strategy as a one-size-fits-all approach will not work in aligning ourselves to the Zero Hunger goal.

A holistic approach

Building sustainable and resilient food systems that produce nutritious crops and livestock products calls for a holistic approach that supports all the stakeholders – from farmers, processors, and traders to food companies, retailers, and eventually the consumer.

At WayCool, we believe that innovations guided by smallholder farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and environment are necessary to ensure food security.

Farmers must also diversify production in order to cultivate a variety of crops that enhance nutrition and are more resilient to external factors. Governments need to help farmers find the right balance between food and cash crops and adopt climate-smart agriculture practices. Traditional farming methods like tilling and crop rotation must be combined with scientific techniques to support productive food systems.

Investing in agricultural research will prepare us for future challenges, including natural and manmade threats, as well as expand and protect economic opportunities for rural communities.

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