Thursday, September 08, 2016

Feed the People - Protect the Planet

Every day 800 million people go to bed with empty stomachs and more than 8,000 children die needlessly from conditions linked to under-nutrition. It is hard to believe we live in a world of plenty and we actually produce enough to feed every hungry person on earth.

one third of the food produced in the world is never consumed due to loss or waste.
When we think of food waste in the developed world, we think of consumable food thrown out of supermarkets, restaurants and homes. In the developing world, it is a different issue. Food is lost before it even gets to the market. Grain losses in sub-Saharan Africa alone is enough to provide the minimum food requirements of at least 48 million people. 173 billion cubic meters of increasingly scarce water (almost a quarter of all water used for agriculture) and about 1.4 billion hectares of land (close to 30 per cent of available agricultural land) is used to grow food that is subsequently lost or wasted.

In Timor-Leste, for example, almost half the population lives below the poverty line and up to 60 per cent of children are malnourished. The annual “hungry season”, when food is hard to come by, lasts more than five months. Low crop productivity has long been a problem. Yet local farmers surprised scientists by resisting the adoption of higher yielding maize seeds. As farmers were already losing 30 per cent of their stored maize every year to rodents and weevils, increasing productivity was not their priority.

This problem of inadequate storage presented an enormous opportunity. It showed the potential for people to access almost a third more food – equivalent to about 360 kilograms of grain per farming household – without increasing their production.

In east and southern Africa, genetically modified, drought-tolerant seeds, or “new technology” are made available to small holder farmers at the same cost as conventional varieties via philanthropic support and international aid. Experience across Africa has shown that once the subsidies and credit to support the adoption of new varieties dries up, farmers can’t purchase the more expensive seeds. This also creates dependency on inputs such as synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and in the meantime their own seed varieties are lost.

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