Food security is vital to achieving good health and well-being, eradicating poverty and ending hunger. Good health and well-being, ‘‘no hunger’’ and ‘‘no poverty’’ are three of the United Nations sustainable development goals (UN SDGs) that are inextricably intertwined with food security. Considered to be an essential element of development strategies designed to alleviate poverty, hunger and promote good health and well-being, policymakers, development organizations and relevant stakeholders have been committing resources to achieve food security, which has not been a cinch. Achieving food security has been a daunting task, especially for least developed countries (LDCs).
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, food security exists when the entire population, at all times, have social, economic and physical access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences that is required for an active and healthy life. It is surprising to note that the quantity of food produced across the globe is more than enough to feed everyone in the world but achieving food security in all parts of the world has been a tough row to hoe.
The Global Report on Food Crisis (2021) indicates that the world is not making progress towards achieving ‘‘zero hunger’’ by 2030. The report reveals that in 2020, about 155 million people in 55 countries were in a food crisis or worse, representing an increase of 20 million people from 2019.
A detailed examination shows that 66% of the 155 million people were in 10 countries: Democratic Republic of Congo (21.8M), Yemen (13.5M), Afghanistan (13.2M), Syrian Arab Republic (12.4M), Sudan (9.6M), northern Nigeria (9.2M), Ethiopia (8.6M), South Sudan (6.5M), Zimbabwe (4.3M) and Haiti (4.1M).
High incidence of food crises in these countries impedes efforts to gain good health and wellbeing for both adults and children. In these food-crisis countries, children are susceptible to malnutrition; in 2020, about 75.2 million children (under 5 years) were stunted and 15.8 million children (under 5 years) were wasted. With 142 million people in 40 countries projected to be in a food crisis or worse in 2021, concerted measures should be implemented to attain considerable progress towards eliminating hunger by 2030.
Undoubtedly, the covid-19 pandemic has contributed significantly to the immensity of the current food crisis as it has exacerbated the impact of primary drivers of food crisis such as conflict, economic shocks and unfavourable weather conditions. Addressing the food crisis will require a revamp of the current food systems into more resilient, inclusive and sustainable structures, that will mitigate food loss and food waste. At present, a substantial share of food produced around the world is lost from harvest to the consumer or retail level.
According to the World Bank food lost or wasted from harvest to the consumer or retailer represents one-third of the total food produced globally; this amounts to $1 trillion annually and contributes 8% of global greenhouse gas emission. In addition to this food loss or waste, a sizable proportion of natural resources are used every year to produce food that is not consumed; this puts unnecessary pressure on natural resources. In developing countries with poor waste management systems, food wasted covers a large area of land which constrains the productive use of the land.
All these bottlenecks should be addressed within the medium-term especially as the global population continues to soar and meeting the world’s food demand is becoming exigent particularly for developing countries; developing countries will account for the largest percentage of global population growth.
In spite of the increase in the population of acutely food-insecure people in most developing countries, a large quantity of food is lost in these parts of the world. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where 6 out of the 10 countries with the worst food crisis in the world can be located, postharvest loss for cereal grains (the region’s major staple food crop), is $4 billion for an annual production of $27 billion; this far exceeds the food aid SSA receives yearly. This value is also enough to feed more than 48 million people in the region.
However in SSA, a 1% reduction in postharvest loss could lead to $40 million of yearly gains for the region. Most farmers in SSA transport their harvest from the farm to their homes where they store the harvest in traditional storage structures which are usually made of mud, grass and bamboo. These storage structures which are also used by many farmers in South Asia are ineffective in preserving cereals, fruits, vegetables and other harvested crops; the largest quantity of food loss is experienced at this stage.
How can postharvest loss be mitigated during storage? This problem could be solved if effective postharvest management practices and reliable food storage infrastructure is available in SSA. Adequate postharvest management practices and storage facilities could improve food security, increase income of farmers and reduce the pressure on natural resources in the region
The most efficient way to assuage postharvest loss during storage is to leverage technology to improve the needed infrastructure. Through technology adequate storage equipment such as the on-farm storage facility can reduce postharvest loss during storage. In addition to being more effective in preserving food than the indigenous storage structures, the on-farm storage facility will eliminate food loss and the cost associated in transferring harvests from farmlands to the home of farmers, where they are stored.
Again, through digital technology such as e-commerce, farmers who do not have appropriate storage facilities or wish to sell their farm produce instantly after harvest can easily do that without experiencing food loss.
Developing countries could improve food security by drawing lessons from countries that have built reliable infrastructure that is supporting the use of technology in reducing food loss.
In my previous article, I highlighted how China, the world’s largest agricultural economy, which is also home to the world’s largest e-commerce market, is using technology to strengthen food security as it reduces food loss, improves food availability, increases income of farmers and limits the pressure on natural resources. For example, Pinduoduo Inc., China’s largest online marketplace for agriculture products is matching demand with supply as this technology platform connects farmers to consumers.
Through the services of Pinduoduo Inc and other online market platforms such as Alibaba and JD.com, farm produce that could have been lost because farmers could not get buyers are now traded successfully. To strengthen food security in an effort to achieve ‘‘no hunger’’, ‘‘no poverty’’ and good health and well-being, which are three of UN SDGs, it is important for all countries around the globe to collaborate in a problem-solving process to accomplish these sustainable development goals.
About the Author
Alex is an economic consultant, chartered economist and a chartered financial analyst with a keen interest in the economic landscape of countries in Asia and Africa