In 2009, the population of inadequately nourished people is projected to exceed 1 billion for the first time according to new estimates published by FAO. It is hard to imagine 1 billion people. Consider for example merely counting them: allowing just 1 second for each, counting day and night, it would take more than 30 years.
The most recent increase in hunger recorded by FAO is not the consequence of poor global harvests but is caused by the world economic crisis that has resulted in lower incomes and increased unemployment leading to reduced access to food by the poor. If the new journal Food Security needed an early example to justify its breadth of coverage, the FAO report certainly provides it: originating from the International Society for Plant Pathology in a joint venture with Springer, Food Security is subtitled The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food.
The second issue of Food Security is now published, and is free online. It documents some of the multiple causes of food insecurity. Topics include desertification, flooding, adaptation of remote communities to modern technology, seasonality of food crops and the corresponding dearth between harvests, lack of iron in traditionally consumed food, resulting in anaemia, and taboos that inhibit people from supplementing their diets with nutritious wild fruits that are readily available. One paper also considers the vulnerability of our crops to acts of agroterrorism. Conversely, the amelioration of dietary deficits is treated by several authors. Procedures include the establishment of policies that buffer countries against price swings of food materials on the international market, encouragement of domestic agriculture, a framework for deciding whether aid should be given in cash or in kind and construction of a dryer out of simple materials, which can be used to remove water from produce and consequently dramatically prolong its shelf life.
There is a single review article by Lindsay Stringer in which she explores the relationship between desertification and food security. She shows that both share considerable common ground and argues that this should be recognised in interventions. These, she contends, should be approached from the perspective of livelihoods and vulnerability.
The first original paper by Ian Douglas takes up the theme of the physical environment, but here the concern is flooding rather than desertification. He points out that climate change is likely to cause an increase in the magnitude, depth and duration of floods in South Asia and that there is a gender disparity in those who suffer, women and children faring worse than men.
The next paper by Paul Dorosh is also concerned with South Asia. He points out that the sharp rise in international cereal prices in 2007 and 2008 had a profound impact on the food security of countries in this area but cautions against over-reaction with policies that ultimately slow economic growth and inhibit poverty reduction. Instead, he advocates the accumulation of national stocks to prevent very large price increases, reliance on international trade to limit the need for government interventions in most years, promotion of domestic agriculture and targeted safety net programmes for poor households which, ideally, would be cash based.
The principle of cash distribution versus direct food aid is taken up by Christopher Barrett and co-authors. Building on a previously published decision tree, these authors propose a question and analysis framework to help operational agencies anticipate the likely impact of these alternatives.
Andrew Scourse and Corinne Wilkins give a fascinating account of food security issues on a Pacific atoll. They describe how traditional methods of ensuring adequate food are gradually being eroded by the advent of modern technology and products. These include boats with outboard motors, facilitating movement between islands but incurring a requirement for fuel, modern equipment for fishing and exotic food, which is welcomed, but is dependent on the irregular arrival of government ships.
A staggering 2 billion of the world’s population are anaemic. Emily Levitt and co-authors analysed the diets of communities living in the Balkh Province of Afghanistan as a preliminary to establishing a comprehensive programme for the control of anaemia in the north of the country.
Many countries face conditions in which the season for a given crop is short and they lack equipment to prolong the shelf life of the produce. Antoine Nonclerq and co-authors demonstrate the feasibility of constructing solar powered drying equipment in Mali from locally obtained materials and demonstrate that tomatoes dried in a prototype may be kept for over a year, whereas the harvesting season is only 3 months.
Ethiopia is a country with a relatively rich flora containing many plants that produce edible fruits. Mengistu Fentahun and Herbert Hager show that, although at least some of these are prevalent throughout the year and would do much to enhance the local diet, there is little enthusiasm for their consumption owing to local taboos and customs.
Finally, Frédéric Suffert and co-authors consider the risk to food security posed by the malicious introduction of plant pathogens. Although the development of a serious outbreak of plant disease from such introductions is far from certain, the disruption of trade is likely to be a casualty.
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