AS the world’s population, expected to reach nine billion by the mid-21st Century, continues to rise, FAO estimates that 60 percent more food is required by 2050 to sustain the rapidly-growing world population. 

Between 2010-2012, FAO reported almost 870 million people were chronically undernourished – representing 12,5 percent of the global population, or one-in-eight people; with higher rates in developing countries, where 852 million people (about 15 percent of the population) were reported chronically undernourished.

To maximise the impact of its work, FAO strongly promotes national ownership and local empowerment in the countries in which it operates with gender and governance fully integrated in their strategic objective action plans.

Under the auspices of the UN’s Economic and Social Council, this specialised UN agency works hand-in-glove with other UN international agencies including IFAD, the EU, OECD, SIDA, UNICEF, UNDP, UNEP, USAD, USAID, WFP, WHO, GRID, SADC. SARDC, ZAMCOM and others locally.

In 1996, the year after celebrating its 50th birthday, in response to widespread under-nutrition and growing concern about agriculture’s capacity to meet future global food needs, FAO brought together Heads of State from 185 countries and the EU for the World Food Summit, in Rome, to renew international commitment in the fight against hunger.

The Summit’s Plan of Action set a number of targets for government and NGOs for achieving food security at all levels – individually, household, nationally, regionally and globally.  

The Rome Declaration established the goal of halving the number of people suffering from hunger by the year 2015.  The Summit also declared that: “…food should not be used as an instrument for political and economic pressure.” 

In 2007, due to higher incentives for farmers to grow non-food biofuel cropsand land degradation, rising transportation costs, climate change, population growth and growing consumer demand resulted in acute food shortages.  

About 37 countries in Asia, the Middle-East, Africa and Mexico faced food crises and 20 imposed food price controls.  

Besides rising food prices, some shortages resulted in food riots and deadly stampedes. 

In mitigation, FAO launched its ‘Initiative on Soaring Food Prices’ to help small producers raise their output and increase earnings.  

Under the initiative, FAO contributed to the UN High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Crisis, to produce the Comprehensive Framework for Action. 

Since the Great Global Recession of 2008-2009, the prevalence of food insecurity increased worldwide.  

In 2012, National Food Security Surveys, the main survey tool used by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to measure food security in the US, estimated that 17,6 million (14,5 percent) households in the US were at some point food insecure. 

With an estimated one billion people suffering from chronic hunger worldwide, another World Summit on Food Security was held in Rome in 2009.  

As part of its commitment to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, FAO introduced its flagship initiative – the Special Programme for Food Security.

Here, an initial aid package worth €125 million was signed between FAO and the EU to support small farmers in countries affected by rising food prices. 

The aid package, under the EU’s €1 billion Food Facility and the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Crisis, and FAO, focused on programmes with quick permanent impact on food security. 

Currently, USAID estimates over 800 million people across the globe “…still go to bed hungry every night; most being smallholder farmers who depend on agriculture to make a living and feed their families.” 

Food Security and the Right to Food were recognised by the UN in 1948 in its ‘Declaration of Human Rights’. The UN has since acknowledged the right to food as a vital right for the enjoyment of all other rights.

FAO’s Right to Food Guidelines were adopted in 2004. They offered guidance to states on how to implement their obligations on the right to food.  

FAO identifies ‘availability’, ‘access’, ‘utilisation’ and ‘stability’ as the four pillars of food security.

USAID defines food security as: “Having, at all times, both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life.  

A family is food secure when its members do not live in hunger or fear of hunger.  

Food insecurity is often rooted in poverty and has long-term impact on the ability of families, communities and countries to develop and prosper. 

Prolonged undernourishment stunts growth, slows cognitive development and increases susceptibility to illness.” 

Food insecurity is defined by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), as: “Limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” 

The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), holds that failed agriculture market regulation and the lack of anti-dumping mechanisms cause much of the world’s food scarcity and malnutrition.  

The former UN Director-General, the late Kofi Annan, chair of the Africa Progress Panel, said: “Individuals who are food secure do not live in hunger or fear of starvation. Neglect of these sectors has allowed inequality on our continent to accelerate.”

As a source of knowledge and information, FAO helps developing countries and countries in transition to modernise and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices to ensure good nutrition and food security for all.  

FAO’s support to member-countries includes designing, formulating and planning national strategies, policies as well as training.  

FAO also advocates that food, where possible, should be produced where it’s needed most – in develop­ing countries — to increase their production sustainably.  Notwithstanding the implications this will have for the limited natural resources on which farming depends, particularly water for irrigation and livestock farming, land for growing crops and grazing as well as limited nutrients.

With two thirds of Africa’s population dependent on farming for their livelihoods, boosting Africa’s agriculture is one of FAO’s more pressing concerns.  

To increase agro-production substantially, create economic opportunities, reduce malnutrition and poverty, and generate faster, fairer growth is their goal.

Dr Tony M. Monda BSc, DVM, is currently conducting veterinary epidemiology, agronomy and food security and agro-economic research in Zimbabwe. He also holds a PhD. and a DBA in Post-Colonial Heritage Studies.  

For views and comments, email: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com 

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