It’s 2021 and we live in a world of lab-grown meat and UberEATS. It seems that mankind has finally conquered hunger and food insecurity doesn’t it?. Appearances, however, can be deceiving. Look beyond the facade of human development and advancement, and you will find that the world still suffers from hunger and acute food insecurity.
Acute food insecurity is described as a situation in which a person’s life or livelihood is jeopardized due to a shortage of food. Currently, there are about 41 million people in 43 countries experiencing ‘emergency’ food insecurity, only one step away from declaring famine. In places like Yemen and South Sudan currently, internally displaced individuals and refugees caught between frontlines are among the most vulnerable groups, with many of them completely reliant on external food aid to survive.
While Asia has the highest number of undernourished individuals (418 million), Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment in terms of percentages at 24.1%. According to the newest edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, this is more than double the rate in all regions. Following nearly a decade of success, the number of hungry people has gradually increased, owing to the twin scourges of violence and climate change, which have now been compounded by COVID-19.
Reading this, you might think food insecurity affects only third world countries. You would be wrong. According to the US Census Bureau survey data obtained in late October and early November of 2020, one in every eight Americans reported not having enough food to eat at least once in the previous week, affecting approximately 26 million persons, a level many times higher than most pre-pandemic statistics. In families with children, this number has risen to more than one in six individuals. In Houston, Texas for instance, more than one-fifth of respondents, including three-fifths of adults in families with children, said they had gone hungry recently. Hunger rates have risen faster in Hispanic and Black homes than in White households, a terrible result of a sluggish economy that has left many scrambling for food to survive.
Related Post: How Food Insecurity Affects Physical and Mental Health
This situation is, if anything, getting worse and more widespread. According to a poll conducted by the World bank in 48 countries, a large percentage of individuals are running out of food or limiting their consumption. According to a separate statistic that tracks year-round access to adequate food, approximately 2.37 billion people (or 30% of the global population) lacked appropriate food in 2020, up 320 million from the previous year. So, while your situation may not be as dire as Yemen, in your corner of the earth, you might have noticed that food prices have increased and your money is buying less and less food for you. This means that food inflation is on the rise.
For those who are not very familiar with hunger and food insecurity it might seem that missing the occasional meal is not much of a problem. It is though, because this situation has far deeper consequences than you can imagine. The cost of doing nothing in the face of rising hunger will invariably be quantified in human lives lost. Reduced calorie intake and poor nutrition jeopardize advances in poverty reduction and health, and may have long-term consequences for young children’s cognitive development. Despite all advancements in agriculture and technology there does not seem to be a solution at hand.
The World Food Programme (WFP) says it urgently requires $6 billion to prevent famine, primarily through life-saving food and nutrition support. Personally I’m not placing all my hopes on this for one simple reason: primary interventions rarely provide long-lasting solutions. This is especially because a lot of the problems causing food insecurity are problems that money alone has shown not to solve. These include climate change violence and crisis and abysmal government policies and performances.
In Nigeria for instance, continuous crisis and violence, first between others and farmers and now by marauding bandits has largely depleted the country’s ability to produce food. While money may assist temporarily, a lasting solution would require sustained effort by individuals as well as governments. And we know how difficult that is.
Still, we can’t keep blaming the pandemic for this because chronic and acute hunger were on the rise even before COVID-19. Without a doubt, the pandemic made things much worse. It has led to decreased earnings and disrupted entire industry supply chains. Owing to several other variables such as conflict, socioeconomic conditions, natural disasters, climate change, and pests, COVID-19 has made a bad situation worse. The result is a significant and widespread increase in global food insecurity, affecting vulnerable households in almost every country, with effects likely to last through 2021 and possibly beyond as the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads.
One of the underlying reasons for this is society’s over-dependence on a food system that requires very complex supply chains. No more do communities grow what they eat; basic foods are now the product of global systems. The result is that a drought in Brazil means there is less food for a small town all over the way in the US.
In the future that we now face, a potential solution might be that we all become “farmers”. A pointer to this may be the fact that one of the world’s richest men, Bill Gates, has recently become the largest private owner of farmland in the US. I know we cannot all own farmlands, but I also know that we would be amazed at what we can achieve if we begin today to grow whatever food we can, in our own homes.
I am neither a social scientist nor a food expert. Perhaps, no one person can supply the lasting solutions to this hunger crisis we all face but growing what we eat (no matter how little) would be a great place to start. I was raised in a small agrarian community in Eastern Nigeria. I have seen first-hand the difference it can make in the lives of children and the community where families can grow their own food even in small quantities. That ability provides a setting of security that whatever be the economic conditions or policies of the day, the family is assured of a meal and in some cases, enough to exchange for other needs.
The next thing we can do is work hard to eliminate food waste in our homes. Every year, over one-third of the food we produce is lost or discarded, costing the global economy nearly $1 trillion. Food is typically wasted on the plate in rich countries, but it is lost during production in poorer countries. This is mostly because harvests sometimes go underutilized or unprocessed due to poor storage or the farmers’ inability to get their commodities to market in time. You might not be able to provide the farmers in various parts of the world with the proper storage facilities they need but curbing food waste in your home is just as valuable.
Each day, too many men and women throughout the world struggle to provide nutritious meals for their families. In a world where we have achieved so much advancement in nearly every industry, it is surreal to learn that up to 811 million people go to bed hungry every night. In fact, owing to the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on global food security, it is estimated that 660 million people will still be hungry in 2030, 30 million more than in a scenario in which the pandemic had not occurred. Even if you have enough food to eat today, this concerns all of us.
The best time to grow your own food was ten years ago. The second best time is now.
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Cover image of food hampers for the needy by Nico Smit.