Fact: we produce enough food for all people on Earth. Yet nearly one billion people suffer from food shortages. Each year 8.8 million children die from the effects of malnutrition. How can that be, and what can we do?
Research by the United Nations revealed that 2,800 calories per person per day are available. In principle that is sufficient for a healthy life for all, but unfortunately food is unevenly distributed: developing countries have deficits, while in Western countries a lot of food is just thrown away. In addition a lot of food is used in the production of bio-ethanol.
There is another important reason for food shortages: the food buffer is too small. There is less and less food stored for austere times. If the harvest is disappointing, it will create an immediate problem. Once that was different: large stocks were held, but because of corruption that system inevitably failed. Keeping small stocks also saves money and that is financially interesting. ‘Just enough just in time’ is the motto.
There is no single comprehensive solution to address food scarcity. Different strategies need to be combined, such as strengthening legislation, increasing the food buffers and further development of agricultural crops and methods. But all good intentions aside, without creating and strengthening local food systems, these efforts are futile. Food shortage is closely related to poverty. If you have no money to buy food you will never benefit from a smooth distribution. Empowerment of local farmers in developing countries is vital.
Happily this insight is shared: several NGOs have successfully launched projects in which local food systems have experienced strong growth. The result: a higher harvest, stable prices and fewer imports. But there is a downside: this market-oriented approach often benefits at the expense of the individual farmer who just has some chickens and goats. They do not usually benefit from new techniques or new seeds, because they have no money to buy them. What remains is a hopeless life in the margin.
This raises the question: what is ‘better’? A market approach or empowerment of the individual? In the long run, a market-driven approach is inevitable, because only then we can feed the ever-growing global population. Nevertheless, this does not have to be at the expense of small farmers. Indeed, both strategies in their own right contribute to a healthy food supply chain. They both are a part of the solution. Sometimes it is not necessary to choose.
Next week: 3 inspiring examples of urban farming.
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