Food security — serious and determined challenge

Access to at least an adequate amount of nutritious food is the most basic of all human rights. However world is not that just. War, poverty, crimes, hunger; with all of the injustices that exist in today’s world, it is important to acknowledge the existing injustices and view them as serious issues that need to be resolved, it is equally important for us to realize our own part in seeing those solutions become part of reality.

Food security is the measure of an individual’s ability to access food that is nutritious and sufficient in quantity. It must also meet an individual’s food preferences and dietary needs for active and healthy lifestyles. It has four main components:

Availability — refers to the existence of food within a community and closely linked to the efficacy of food production. Non-availability could be due to lack of necessary resources, such as water for irrigation or the agricultural land is damaged or degraded.

Access – Sometimes enough food is available but not within reach. The individuals should have the resources to obtain a sufficient quality of nutritious food. Access to food is affected many factors like pricing, household proximity to suppliers and infrastructure all affect our access to food.

Utilization — It is equally important that food is nutritious and healthy enough to provide the energy people need for their daily activities. Individuals should have the necessary knowledge and tools to properly ‘utilize’ the food available to them.

There are several methods used to assess food security.

  1. Estimating calories per capita
  2. Household income and expenditure surveys
  3. Measuring individual’s dietary intake
  4. Measuring individual’s height, weight and body composition
  5. Reports of individual’s experience of food security
Building climate change resilience

Climate change and climate disasters are becoming increasingly devastating for those affected. Farmers have experienced an increasing number of such events, including floods and droughts, which put their food supply and livelihoods at risk. By helping farmers develop more sustainable and resilient agricultural practices, we can fight back against climate change. Diversifying crop production, improving irrigation and promoting sustainability can lessen the impact of climate disasters, while helping overall food production to increase.

Government’s responsibilities

Government’s first task is to provide “the public goods needed by societies to remain peaceful and prosperous, goods that are unlikely to be produced in sufficient quantity by private markets alone or by non-governmental institutions”.

Global food security index

The GFS Index is sponsored by Corteva Agriscience while it is designed & constructed by London-based Economist Impact. The index is published every year. GFS measures the underlying drivers of food security.

The GFS Index measures the underlying drivers of food security in 113 countries, based on the factors of affordability, availability, quality and safety, and natural resources and resilience. Pakistan and Sri Lanka have scored better than India, which has been ranked 71st among 113 countries in the Global Food Security (GFS) Index 2021, in food affordability. India with 50.2 points is below Pakistan (52.6 points) and Sri Lanka, which has fared even better in this category with 62.9 points.

The top position was shared by Ireland, Australia, the UK, Finland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, Japan, France and the US with the overall GFS score in 77.8 to 80 points range on the index. India also scored better than Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh in terms of availability of food, quality and safety as well as protecting natural resources for food production. While Pakistan improved its score by 9 points, Nepal by 7 points and Bangladesh by 4.7 points since 2012, the jump for India was only 2.7 points.

The average Pakistani household spends 52 per cent of its income on food. … In effect, as Pakistan’s economy deteriorates, the risk of high inflation rates increases. This makes Pakistan’s current economic crisis of significance to its food security.

Food security refers to the availability of food and one’s access to it. A household is considered food-secure when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation. According to the World Resources Institute, global per capita food production has been increasing substantially for the past several decades.

Food availability, food utilization, and food access are the principle variables that define household food security and should guide interventions:

i. Food Availability: Sufficient quantities of appropriate, necessary types of food from domestic production, commercial imports, or donors, are consistently available to individuals, are in reasonable proximity to them, or are within their reach.

ii. Food Access: Individuals have adequate incomes or other resources to purchase an appropriate food needed to maintain consumption of an adequate diet and nutritional level.

iii. Food Utilization: Food is properly used and many suitable techniques are employed for storage. At the global level, Hunger results from political and economic inequality, environmental degradation, unjust trade policies, inappropriate technology, and other factors depending on local context. At the local level, the food inequality results by the lack of nutritional education, poor quality of food, and from inadequate quantities of the rights kinds of food.

Weaknesses in the variables of access, availability, and proper utilization of food lead to what individuals and households experience as hunger. There are considered to be two types of food insecurity: chronic and temporal.

Chronic food insecurity results from inadequate food intake over a longer period of time and is constant. Temporal food insecurity results from a temporary decrease in food intake due to price changes, production failures, or a loss of income. Temporal food insecurity can also be related to the hungry season.

i. The poor and rural are most likely to be hungry in any given country and situation.

ii. Production, income, and the high price of food are the variables that contribute to hunger in rural areas.

Poverty leads to hunger and vice-versa; families caught in a cycle of hunger and poverty find their opportunities and resources further diminished in other areas.

iii. Hunger and malnutrition lead to poverty, which leads to:

a) Unsustainable use of natural resources

b) Reduced capacity to access markets and resources

c) Reduced school attendance and learning capacity

d) Less education and employment for women and girls

e) Weakened immune systems and rising child mortality

f) Impaired maternal and infant health

g) Risky survival strategies, spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Food insufficiency

There are 6 groups of nutrients: carbohydrates, protein, fat, minerals, vitamins and water. It is essential to consume a percentage of each nutrient every day for overall health, without any of these nutrients a person will be malnourished, undernourishment & malnourishment.

i. Undernourishment: Undernourishment is the lack of sufficient calories in available food, so that one has little or no ability to move or work. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimated that on an average minimum caloric intake on a global scale is 2500 calories/day. People receiving 2000-2200 calories/day are said to be undernourished, who suffer from various deficiencies and health problems.

ii. Malnourishment: Malnourishment is the lack of specific components of food such as proteins, vitamins or essential components. It is possible to have excess food and still suffer from malnourishment due to nutritional imbalance caused by a lack of specific dietary components

iii. Malnutrition: Malnutrition is the lack of one or more essential nutrients in food. About 15-20 million deaths occur annually due to malnutrition. Human nutrition is the provision to humans to obtain the materials necessary to support life.

In general, humans can survive for two to eight weeks without food, depending on stored body fat. Survival without water is usually limited to three or four days. Lack of food remains a serious problem, with about 36 million humans starving to death every year.

Childhood malnutrition is also common and contributes to the global burden of disease. However global food distribution is not even, and obesity among some human populations has increased to almost epidemic proportions, leading to health complications and increased mortality in some developed, and a few developing countries. Obesity is caused by consuming more calories than are expended, with many attributing excessive weight gain to a combination of overeating and insufficient exercise.

Importance to Pakistan

Pakistan’s government is failing to protect its farmers from pricing problems and risking its economic security in the process. A recent survey conducted by the World Food Program suggests that 36.9% of Pakistan’s total population is experiencing food insecurity. Close to 82% of children in the country have been deprived of a meal when they need one, and Pakistan has the second-highest rate of malnutrition in the region. Approximately 18% of children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition and 40 % of children in the same age group suffer from stunted growth.

Suggestions to improve

Action is imperative at all levels — local, national, and global — to end hunger and malnourishment and ensure food security for all. Tomeet these present and emerging future challenges requires that investments in food security are sustained – from innovation in climate-resilient crop yields to investing in programs to assist the most vulnerable.

The author, Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, is a freelance columnist. He is an academician by profession and writes articles on diversified topics. Mr. Nazir Shaikh can be reached at [email protected]

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