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The United Nations and the Food Security Challenges Confronting the Global Community

The evidence is quite clear: Action is needed by the international community on the way we grow, share and consume our food if we are to address the hunger needs of the 925 million people who are chronically malnourished in the world today. To further exacerbate this problem, by the year 2050 there will be 2 billion more mouths to feed. In order to keep pace with the needs of such an acceleration in the population, it is estimated that food production must increase by 70%. According to Ilse Aigner, the German federal minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection "Agriculture is supposed to produce food and it is supposed to produce energy to fight climate change but there is not much space left in the field [to accomplish this]." Today our soils, freshwater, oceans, forests and biodiversity are consistently being degraded due to climate change, natural disasters and global population pressures. Because land is rapidly degrading, as Mr. Aigner stated, many people are having to migrate from their rural homes into the cities. Urbanization is accelerating at an alarming pace. According to United Nations’ statistics, at present, there are 3.2 billion city dwellers – more than half of the world’s total population. Now, fast forward to the year 2030, this figure jumps to 5 billion which roughly equates to 60% of the world's inhabitants residing in urban areas. The sustainability of our cities are threatened. The food security challenge is a problem of immense proportion that requires multilateral solutions. The world cannot ignore this matter and somehow hope it resolves itself over time. This will not happen. It must be addressed now!

The U.N. Recognizes the Urgency of the Matter As is the case with many of the world's most difficult challenges, the U.N. has stepped forward and taken the lead to mobilize global support. In June 2012, at the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Zero Hunger Challenge initiative which "invites all countries to work for a future where every individual has adequate nutrition and where all food systems are resilient." Speaking in Rio, the Secretary-General added, "Zero hunger would boost economic growth, reduce poverty and safeguard the environment. It would foster peace and stability." He urged all of the constituent groups present -  from business to farmers, to scientists to civil society to ordinary consumers - to help in the fight to stamp out hunger.

Zero Hunger Challenge has five specific objectives to address this issue:  ·      100% access to adequate food all year round.  ·       Zero stunted children under 2 years, no more malnutrition in pregnancy and early childhood.  ·       All food systems are sustainable.  ·      100% growth in smallholder productivity and income, particularly for women.  ·       Zero loss or waste of food, including responsible consumption. In September of this year Jose Graziano da Silva, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO - a  U.N. agency), spoke at a high-level event at U.N. Headquarters in New York titled:MDG Success: Accelerating Action and Partnering for Impact. The event sought to increase action on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by showcasing those programs that are achieving success. The Zero Hunger Challenge initiative was highlighted as a success story. Mr. Graziano da Silva said, "The Zero Hunger Challenge calls for something new - something bold, but long overdue." "[The challenge marks] a decisive global commitment to end hunger; eliminating stunting; make all food systems sustainable; eradicate rural poverty; and minimize food waste and losses."

Global Food Security Hotspots: Africa's Burden

The continent of Africa faces the greatest burden as it relates to food insecurity. Climate change has already altered many nations weather patterns causing more prolonged droughts, floods and cyclones. The wild swings in weather wreaks havoc on the growing seasons, thus reducing many of the vital crops relied upon to feed their populations. In addition, they must grapple with a scarcity of resources, a population expected to double by 2050 and, of course, having the most hungry people in the world. Food prices are expected to double as demand increases compounding an already fragile situation. The Horn of Africa, according to the FAO,  is " of the most food insecure regions in the world." It is estimated that 40% of the populace is undernourished. The region encompasses seven countries -  Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, the Sudan and Uganda.  This area is acutely susceptible to two factors that drive its food insecurity: environmental conditions and conflict. 

Drought plays a huge role in the ability of these countries to produce food. In Karamoja, Uganda, an extended period of no rainfall has increased its "lean season." In the Sudan, food subsidies have been lifted and lower crop production threatens to worsen food insecurity in this area.  The unforgiving landscape, the overall weakened health conditions of its inhabitants and the lack of quality education are several contributing factors that the FAO points out as additional challenges in confronting the food insecurity dilemma in this part of the world.

Where To Go From Here: Potential Solutions To Solve This Problem As the Secretary-General pointed out at Rio+20, this issue will require the ability of all stakeholders to come together for one common purpose: Confronting the challenge of food insecurity.

From the private sector, the corporate food processing giant Cargill believes governments should support open markets because they feel that this increases food surpluses. The surplus of food can reach those areas of the world whose need is the greatest. They also feel that smallholder farmers require assistance in how best to sustainably produce agriculture.

In Kenya the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a non-governmental organization (NGO), hosted a forum last summer to develop innovative ways to address the issue of food insecurity. The NGO looks to help move small farmers out of poverty. They seek to create avenues to increase productivity and income of farmers while at the same time preserving and protecting the environment.

AGRA initiated Kenya Vision 2030 which is a development model comprising three pillars: Economic, Social and Political. The Economic pillar seeks 10% annual growth; the Social pillar is to ensure a clean environment as well as equitable and fair social development; and the Political pillar seeks a system that is democratic and accountable to the people.

 Food insecurity not only poses a threat to citizens of those affected nations, but the economic costs are equally as daunting. According to the FAO's report "The State Of Food And Agriculture",  malnutrition and its associated health concerns account for 5% of global gross domestic product (GDP). If this matter is left unchecked, the economic and social ramifications on a global scale are, to say the least, going to be staggering. Action is clearly needed now.


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