World Food Day is celebrated on October 16th every year to encourage special attention to efforts to realise the human right to adequate food nutrition. The day brings together governments, media, the general public, NGOs, and businesses as they promote awareness and the actions surrounding sustainability, worldwide hunger, and malnutrition – issues which have all been worsened over the past five years (State of Food Security and Nutrition (SOFI), 2018). To shed light on the reasons behind recent trends, Embrace the Waste Durham consulted Professor Peter Atkins, one of the leading researchers at Durham University. His main interests are the history and geography of food and drink and he is the vice-president of the International Commission for Research on European Food History (ICREFH).
So, if it is the United Nations’ second Sustainable Development Goal to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030, why is the number of malnourished and hungry people rising for the first time in over a decade (FAO, 2017)? Does climate change play the biggest role, with increasing droughts and changing ecosystems? Is it overpopulation, or a power struggle between governments? What effect does Covid-19 have on food security?
In Africa, where most of the food insecure are living, climate change is playing a huge part in peoples’ fate. With countries experiencing extreme droughts, the agricultural productivity of major crops, like wheat and rice has plummeted. Individuals, families and societies depending on the vulnerable ecosystem for income have experienced losses, which in turn challenge their long-term resilience (scidev, 2020). Making use of more sophisticated models of global warming, it is generally expected that the Asian Monsoon will worsen, and Mediterranean and African aridity will spread in the future (The Conversation, 2017).
However, Professor Atkins emphasised the relevance of civil or international conflict as the principal cause of food insecurity. In the past, natural disasters were responsible for reduced food production or interrupted trade. This changed towards the end of the 20th century, as poor political governance, corruption and dysfunctional economies. For instance, South Sudan citizens are not victims of drought. A bitter conflict has pushed millions into the most extreme symptom of poor governance; hunger and malnutrition.
As of 2020, there are already approximately 690 million people hungry in the world (UN), and the wake of COVID-19 is expected to put an additional 83-132 million at risk more depending on the rate of economic recovery (eitfood, 2020). Professor Atkins explained that children will be most affected by these changes, although less they are least susceptible to the virus itself. Instead, reduced access to food and health care has decreased the coverage of essential maternal and child nutrition and health services to about 30% of its original state (UNICEF, 2020).
These deficiencies make finding a solution to worldwide hunger is no simple task. While bringing the problems to the attention of governments has worked in the past (e.g. Marcus Rashford’s initiative for free school meals over summer 2020), the situation is more complex in poor countries. Atkins suggested the following:
- Keeping agrifood systems going by allowing trade while minimizing the risk of virus transmission.
- Helping farmers to produce nutrient-rich foods for the consumption of their own families and villagers.
- Use of mobile phone text messages to get government health/nutrition messages out to the population. In Bangladesh farmers have benefited from this technology.
- Cash and voucher schemes to help the poorest access basic foods.
- Support maternal and child health services.
- Provide hand-washing facilities and combine with better availability of clean water and sanitation.
Until these strategies are fully implemented and executed, we must realise that hunger is inevitable and we have the moral duty to tackle the problem as soon as possible. As Atkins said, “there is (and will be) enough food in the world but access to it is unequal”, and this applies to not only Africa or South Asia, but also our community in county Durham. Feel free to check out our resources below if you have any food that you can donate. So, this World Food Day, take a moment to be grateful for the food you eat and share it with others.
Who are Embrace the Waste?
Embrace the Waste is an organisation that empowers students to create the sustainable world of tomorrow, today. We provide sessions, resources, and support to students who are looking to lead their universities and fellow students to become more sustainable. Focusing on food waste, zero waste, and clothing waste, Embrace the Waste Durham aims to create a community of sustainability leaders who enact real change on campus, both with fellow students and within Durham. Read more and get involved here. Read a previous blog about food waste in colleges here.
1 in 4 people in our region are living below the poverty line. For people on low incomes a sudden crisis – redundancy, benefit delay or even an unexpected bill – can mean going hungry. Every day parents skip meals to feed their children and people are forced to choose between paying the rent and eating. Durham foodbank provides emergency food and support to local people in crisis. The Durham Foodbank (The Trussell Trust) or Facebook
BBC on World Hunger: https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/53349869