Does the world need more food?

Human populations are growing and people are hungry. Does that mean the world needs more food? The answer depends partly on whether you focus on food sovereignty or food security.

My fellow blogger Jessica Duncan at Food Governance tells us what ‘food sovereignty’ means. Quoting the Declaration of the Nyéléni Forum of 2007, Jessica says that food sovereignty is ‘the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.’

I’ve mentioned before how some people are saying that food sovereignty is the next big idea. This isn’t just privileged people spouting ideology. It’s being said by peasants at La Via Campesina and by peasants, pastoralists and other resource-poor farmers at Nyéléni. It’s being said by Monkombu Swaminathan (‘Father of the Green Revolution in India’) who calls for an ‘ever-green revolution.’

Jessica at Food Governance also tells us what ‘food security’ means. Quoting a ‘broad consensus’ from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at its World Food Summit of 1996, Jessica says that food security exists ‘when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.’

To achieve food security, FAO has predicted that the world’s farmers will need to produce 60% more than they produced in 2005.

Yes, 60%. People aren’t breeding mindlessly, like bacteria or something, but kids aren’t dying so much. And many people aren’t so poor. Populations are still growing, but not so fast as they did. Here’s a documentary in which Hans Rosling tells us ‘The Facts About Population’

The FAO report says, ‘Global resources are sufficient, but the outlook is uneven… some countries will need… broad-based economic growth… Such countries are typically those characterized by persistent poverty and high population growth.’

It seems to me that FAO’s focus is more on food security than food sovereignty. Does this have to be a fight? Can both goals be achieved?

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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3 Responses to Does the world need more food?

  1. EqFe says:

    I’d like to see more emphasis on actually implementing “sustainable” agriculture. Most of the world’s agricultural practices are not sustainable in the long run. That term gets thrown around quite a bit, but it’s a very difficult thing to achieve even on a small scale.
    Frankly if using a definition you linked to “Food sovereignty emphasizes local control and self-sufficiency”, then I don’t think that it is achievable in much of the world. Despite a trend in the US to eat locally, with market gardeners in most of out states growing fruits and vegetables throughout the year, the majority of our fruit and veggies are “imported” from the West Coast, especially California, an area currently in the midst of a record drought. This time of year, many of the “fresh” fruit and vegetables that I eat come from South America. Fifty years ago, when I was a kid, this time of year we mainly ate vegetables that store well, like potatoes, carrots and cabbage, and fruits like apples that were grown in the US.
    I suppose it depends a bit on how one defines local, but global climate change is making it more difficult to grow food in many parts of the world.

  2. I think you’ve mentioned it before, but “waste” is such a big issue – both of food and of primary products before they’re even classified as food (which is another big issue – a food crop that’s not harvested isn’t classed as food. In the UK that happens a lot). It seems strange for the FAO to be saying there is a “need” to “produce” more and such a high percentage.

  3. Pingback: Biodiversity to feed the world | Science on the Land

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