Blog by Larissa Pelham, CARE International UK Food Security Advisor.
Food price hikes, land grabs, population increase, carbon emissions, escalating humanitarian crises; it feels overwhelming. As World Food Day comes round again, my inbox becomes awash with the latest figures on the state of world food security: 870 million people are ‘hungry’.
That’s nearly one in seven people, except that 98 per cent of these people live in developing countries and 60 per cent are women. One quarter die before their fifth birthday; hunger is responsible for more deaths than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined.
As we go about daily life, where is our own place in all this?
Food's role in global warming and changing weather patterns
The more packaging, the more intensively produced food, the more food flown in from overseas, then the more we’re contributing to global warming. This in turn contributes to well documented changes in the climate: increased desertification and severer weather patterns around the world.
This makes it more difficult for farmers to know when to plant their crops and because their land is more prone to extreme weather events it is harder to be sure that each year will be a decent harvest or if there will be enough to feed the family, or enough to stock the local markets.
Plastic waste and its impact on oil needs
Islands of discarded plastic bottles floating in the sea comprise the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch estimated at 1-2 times the size of Hawaii. Production of plastic containers guzzles oil and water: three litres of water for every litre bottle and at least a quarter litre in oil. Increase demand for oil-draining plastic and it increases prices, hurting the poorest most – those who require oil-based fertiliser for their land and fuel for the water pump.
Meat production and greenhouse gases
It takes 7kg of grain to produce 1kg of meat, and 2 kg of grain to grow 1kg of poultry. Animal products now account for 20 per cent of western diets as one third of the world’s crops go to feed animals, not people. Livestock (most of it intensively produced) contribute 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming – more than all transport put together, including cars and planes.
World Food Day 2012
So this year for World Food Day, CARE International UK has decided to look internally at how we each can contribute to world food security. We’re trying to go package-free for the day, and measure our waste compared to other days when sandwich wrappers and plastic food trays stuff our bins, in order to reduce our use of plastic and the oil and water consumption that goes with it.
We’re working at exactly what can and can’t be recycled in the office and at home, from plastic food trays to tin foil (you can check all the things you can recycle in your home at www.recyclenow.com).
And we’re working on a ‘sustainably aware’ lunch, which will be mindful of the carbon and methane output and the oil, water and land consumption of our food.
This isn’t demanding a dogmatic, unrealistic end to purchasing meat, overseas-sourced foodstuffs, or packaged food – the pros and cons of what’s the ‘best’ thing to do can be endlessly debated . It is just the very simple matter of being conscious of how the cycle of our own access to food and nutrition impacts upon the access to food and nutrition of others. And it’s easy enough to do.
Another thing we will do on World Food Day is ask colleagues what they think makes them food secure; I expect the answers will be varied, encompassing employment, upbringing, location, good education and health services and family networks.
There’s enough food in the world to feed the seven billion of us, so food insecurity is much more complex than just not having enough of it.
- It’s about whether it is locally available – can farming households grow enough each year and are markets stocked each season?
- It questions whether it’s accessible: is there enough cash in the household to purchase food, can women still access the markets, even in the rainy season?
- And whether grown or purchased, it must be adequate – is the food enough to prevent stunting (low height for your age) and of sufficient quality and what people accept and know how to use.
- And finally can it be utilised: are there the means to process, store and prepare the food for all the family, do people know how to retain the nutrition when they prepare food in order to maintain their health, to prevent both stunting (low height for your age) and wasting (low weight for your height).
This is what our food security work at CARE is about.
Working with other systems
Of course, being cognisant about the types of food and the ways we purchase and consume, together with the work that CARE and other Non-Governmental Organisations do in developing countries won’t end world food insecurity. It also requires other systems to work equitably to benefit the poor: politics - who gets to speak, what donors and governments will support and what they will concede; how conflict is managed and reduced; and how the private sector is engaged so that the poor benefit too. This is work which many other parts of CARE are all energetically involved in. But right now, just for today, we’re thinking about the individual slice that we each contribute to the pie.
About the author:
Larissa Pelham is CARE’s Food Security Advisor responsible for providing technical advice on any aspect of CARE’s work that involves food security.
Food security refers to a household's physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that fulfills the dietary needs and food preferences of that household for living an active and healthy life. Larissa advises on food security programming, coordinating knowledge and response with other Non-Governmental Organisations and the UN system; and guaranteeing that CARE and others learn from our work.
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About the author:
Barbara Jackson is CARE International’s Humanitarian Director.