Appetizer of grasshoppers, seaweed soup, and as the main course, man-made burgers on the grill. Been twisting the nose? Yet we should get used to similar menus. According to UN estimates, to feed the 2.5 billion additional people, according to some forecasts, who will populate the Earth in 2050, we will need to double world food production, reduce waste, and experiment with food alternatives.
How can everyone, everywhere, get enough nutritious food? A famous chef, the president of the World Bank Group, a mushroom farmer from Zimbabwe, and a proponent of “social gastronomy” explored ways to end hunger and meet food challenges at an event, Future of Food, ahead of the 2015 World Bank Group-IMF Spring Meetings.
About 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. By 2050, there will be 9 billion people in the world to feed. Agricultural productivity will have to improve, said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.
So how can chefs like David Chang, the founder of Momofuku restaurant, help?
Whether you’re a food producer or consumer, and no matter what part of the world you live in, I’m sure we can agree: The world needs a food system that can feed everyone, everyday, everywhere.
A food system that works for everyone can also create jobs and raise the incomes of smallholder farmers and rural residents who are 78 percent of the world’s poor people. After all, growth originating in agriculture is proven to be 2 to 4 times more effective at reducing poverty than growth originating in other sectors. An effective food system can also provide better nutrition, steward the world’s natural resources, and even be a part of the solution to climate change.
It’s spring in Washington during a pivotal year in development. Thousands of government officials, journalists, civil society representatives, academics, and CEOs are arriving for the Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund the week of April 13.
It’s one of the last such gatherings before decisions are made on the world’s development priorities and goals over the next 15 years – and how to finance them. In fact, the only item on the April 18 agenda of the Development Committee concerns these post-2015 goals and financing for development.
When you combine death-by-smog with deaths related to exposure to dirty indoor air, contaminated land and unsafe water, the grand total of deaths from all pollution sources climbs to almost 9 million deaths each year worldwide. That’s more than 1 in 7 deaths and makes pollution deadlier than malnutrition.
This fact deserves to be better known, as there are ready solutions. Inaction is not an option.
Over the past three decades, China has successfully lifted more than 500 million people out of poverty. For many years, the government’s poverty alleviation strategy focused on ensuring that every person had access to enough food. Driven by rapid economic development and urbanization, China is today one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of agricultural products.
Now the Chinese government has turned its attention to making the country’s food supply safer. The issue has become so important that, in the words of President Xi Jinping: “Whether we can provide a satisfying solution on food safety to the people is an important test on our capacity of governance.”
According to a poll published in March 2015, more than 77 percent of respondents ranked food safety as the most important quality of life issue. Environmental pollution, which experts consider one of the causes of China’s food safety problems, was another top issue worrying the public.
Chinese people attach significant importance to food, beyond its nutritional characteristics, due to historic memories of starvation. Food is also a symbol of regional pride and distinction, as well as a reflection of respect to guests.
Traditionally Chinese people believe each type of food brings specific medicinal features. Ginger cures a cold, garlic stops diarrhea, spinach is good for the blood, walnuts are good for the brain, pear relieves a cough, etc. When in China, you cannot avoid stories on how adding a specific food to one’s diet helped cure some disease. Therefore, it is understandable why Chinese people attach such importance to food safety. Contaminated or unsafe food poses a threat to public health and also risks undermining social stability and cultural identity.
The root causes China’s food safety problems come from the country’s rapid development. China has experienced unprecedented growth in recent decades and now is the world’s second-largest economy. Such rapid expansion has unleashed positive and negative effects. The industrial boom coupled with urban expansion and infrastructure development put significant pressure on both land and water resources. Over the long term, that pressure could constrain the ability to produce more food.
The world has made impressive progress against hunger in the past few decades – mostly due to the hard work of poor people themselves. They are the most important stakeholders: Who could be more invested in the struggle against hunger than a young woman with a hectare of land to farm and two children to feed?
The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) 2014 tells us that the hunger target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—cutting in half the proportion of undernourished people—is within reach. Even better, the evidence shows that the world is making progress rapidly enough to end hunger by 2030. Setting and achieving a goal to end hunger and malnutrition in the post-MDG, post-2015 era can bring an end to widespread chronic hunger, which affects more than 800 million people today.
Ending hunger is important for the present and the future. It is far better to prevent a crisis than to respond after it has occurred.
Ironically, people living with hunger are, by and large, the very same people the world needs to feed a growing population. Smallholder farmers often face structural barriers to food security—for example, they lack access to basic infrastructure, such as roads to get crops to the market, storage facilities, electricity, and irrigation. They lack access to credit and land. Helping them increase their incomes and build assets, strengthening safety nets, and focusing on health and education outcomes will help build their resilience to shocks that are beyond their control, such as climate change-related weather events.
The evidence tells us that malnutrition costs lives, perpetuates poverty, and slows economic growth. We now know that nearly half of all child deaths globally are attributed to malnutrition. I have seen in my own country, Indonesia, how stunting caused by malnutrition has diminished too many children’s futures before they even begin. Malnourished children are more likely to perform poorly in school and drop out earlier than their better-nourished peers, limiting their future earnings. Data from Guatemala show that boys who had good nutrition before age 3 are earning nearly 50% more as adults, and girls had a greater likelihood of having an independent source of income and were less likely to live in poor households.
Malnutrition diminishes not only the futures of individuals, but also of nations. Recent estimates suggest that as much as 11% of gross national product in Africa and Asia is lost annually to the impact of malnutrition. To end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity, the world must commit to end child stunting due to malnutrition. I will be joining leaders from around the world in London this week to focus on this critical challenge.
Higher food prices are again a concern as the World Bank and IMF head into their Annual Meetings. In the last several months, volatility in the price of wheat has been reminiscent of the kinds of market movements that occurred during the food price crisis of 2008. While that volatility has decreased somewhat, the World Bank Group is asking the World Bank Board of Directors to reinstate its food crisis emergency fund – the Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP)--so the Bank can be ready to respond quickly again if needed. The $2 billion program provided support for policy change, social safety nets and agricultural inputs to boost food production in hard-hit countries.
The longer term worry, of course, is food security, especially in light of a continued higher food prices, underinvestment in agriculture in the last decade, and changing weather patterns related to climate change. The Bank Group increased agricultural assistance last year to $6 billion, and will likely keep lending in the $6 billion to $8 billion range for the next several years, as recommended by our Agriculture Action Plan (pdf) for fiscal years 2010 to 2012. The plan calls for increased investments in agricultural productivity, especially in areas of Africa where the land is suitable and farmers currently struggle to make a living.
The consensus at today’s high-level meeting on “Scaling Up Nutrition” was this: the world can do better for its hungry children. Many of the Ministers and donor agency leaders who spoke at the event acknowledged the global commitment to fighting malnutrition had fallen short. As many as 3 million mothers and young children die each year due to lack of nutritious food.
OECD figures show that development aid for nutrition has been modest, with commitments of less than $300 million a year – one reason why nutrition has been labeled the “forgotten” Millennium Development Goal.