Will our global food system be ready to welcome the 9 billionth person in 2050?

16 October 2012

As we mark this year’s World food day, the main question that readily comes to my mind is: Will our food system be able to meet global food and nutrition demands when we welcome the 9 billionth person in 2050?

One year after we welcomed the world’s 7 billionth person, the pace and urgency of key players to realize change in our food system, in order to meet the food and nutritional needs as well as the labour and socio-economic demands of hundreds of millions of people, is unbelievably slow. Earlier this year at Rio+20, UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon put forward a ‘Zero Hunger Challenge’, which in my view challenges governments all over the world who are still dragging their feet on agriculture, food and farm policies, and many companies in the private sector who are failing to take responsibility for actions within their supply chains and the negative impacts of their business practices.

The recent FAO report on the state of food insecurity in the world 2012 reveals that the number of hungry people “remains unacceptably high”, with almost 870 million people still chronically undernourished. UN experts state that food production must increase by 70% if we are to feed the 9 billion people expected in 2050. Yet, our food system continues to shed about 1.3 billion tons of food as waste. Drought and other associated climate change effects in several parts of the world spark food price volatility. The threat of water scarcity looms, as food and agriculture production accounts for 70 per cent of the world’s water use.

Today, women, children, temporary and migrant workers, who produce and process much of the food we eat, increasingly suffer flagrant socio-economic and labour rights violations in global food and agricultural supply chains. Women account for 60 per cent of the world’s hungry despite their enormous contribution to our food system and the fact that they make up about 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in poor and emerging economies. Undernourishment is still one of the main causes of death for the estimated 19,000 children under-five dying daily. Most of the world’s smallholder farmers and their dependents – about 2 billion people – still live in hunger and poverty despite the fact that small farmers account for 80 per cent of the locally consumed food in areas like Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

I believe that our global food system will only be ready for 2050 if governments and the private sector will make renewed commitments today to urgently engage in transformational solutions to start addressing these challenges. The world seeks solutions that will drastically reduce the number of hungry and malnourished people, particularly in low and middle income countries where 98 per cent of the world’s poor live; solutions that will seriously tackle climate change and its associated impacts on food production globally; solutions that will ensure that smallholders and their cooperatives are well supported and empowered to improve their productivity and income security; solutions that will finally put an end to child labour, gender discrimination and other social and environmental issues in global food supply chains; solutions that will seriously address global food waste, unequal food distribution and the increasing global consumption patterns.

On this world food day, while I urge key players to engage and take action now, I would also like to reiterate Fairfood International’s full commitment to continue our active advocacy work, encouraging food and beverage companies worldwide to change their policies and practices in order to address social, environmental challenges within their supply chains.

– Anselm Iwundu, Executive Director Fairfood International