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There are 842 million people around the world suffering from chronic hunger. Think about this. That breaks down to about one in eight people who are not regularly getting enough food to maintain an active life, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States. While that total number for 2011–2013 was less than the 868 million recorded by the FAO for 2010–2012, there are still differences in the prevalence of undernourishment across countries and regions. The FAO reports that sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment (about one in four people undernourished) and modest progress in reducing the numbers from 32.7% to 24.8% in the last two decades, whereas Southeast Asia has seen a much greater decline in the prevalence of hunger from 31.1% to 10.7%.
This information is presented in The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013 report and was released by the FAO just prior to World Food Day on October 16. The event, which is observed in 150 countries, calls attention to some of the data mentioned earlier in this article as well as other issues contributing to food insecurity, promotes economic and technical cooperation among both developed and developing countries, and examines the achievements in food and agriculture development and how these can be furthered to continue to reduce the numbers of those who are hungry, malnourished, and live in poverty.
The theme of the 2013 World Food Day was “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition,” an important concept in understanding how to address hunger and malnutrition issues, said José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director–General during the ceremony held at the FAO headquarters in Rome. “We cannot improve nutrition without food security, and we cannot achieve food security if we don’t have the right food systems.”
The FAO defines food system as the combination of people, environment, institutions, and processes by which agricultural products are produced, processed, and made available to consumers. This means that everyone—from farmers and food product developers to government officials, researchers, and consumers—are stakeholders in ensuring productive and thriving food systems, which as da Silva suggested, will help to improve the nutrition of diets for malnourished people around the world. Furthermore, sustainable food systems use water, land, and energy resources efficiently, use safe methods to control agricultural losses from pests and diseases, and reduce food and nutrient losses and waste through improved sanitation, food handling, and storage technologies. To the last point, the FAO stresses that advances in processing and packaging technologies can make perishable, nutrient-dense foods like dairy, fruits, and vegetables more affordable and available to consumers year-round, which is a good thing, but energy-dense, highly processed foods may contribute to overweight and obesity, which can lead to vitamin deficiencies, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. The organization wants to see continued work by the food industry to increase the micronutrient content of staple foods through biofortification or encouraging the use of staple food varieties with higher nutrient contents or nutrient-rich staple food varieties that are not used that frequently.
The role of consumers in maintaining sustainable food systems is important too, reported the FAO, as consumers can choose healthier food options when shopping, educate themselves about good nutrition, and change their shopping, eating, and food storage behaviors to reduce food waste. Campaigns to educate consumers about nutrition, health, and diet can encourage them to make significant lifestyle changes that have meaningful effects on their health and the overall sustainable food system.
Most importantly, though, sustainable food systems set the foundation for future generations to feed themselves, suggests the FAO.
The Institute of Food Technologists and other organizations around the world recognized World Food Day and the continued efforts to improve sustainability across all sectors of the food industry in developed and developing nations. Over the years, many IFT members working for universities, product development companies, and government agencies have developed products and technologies that address sustainable agriculture and food production and health and nutrition, with several members consulting for organizations that focus on these issues. For the 2013 World Food Day, IFT has made available a number of resources that refer to topics discussed at the event as well as to the role that food science plays in feeding the world’s population now and in the future. The resources include articles and reports, videos, and an interview with IFT Past President and 2007 World Food Prize winner Philip E. Nelson about the use of his aseptic processing and packaging innovation in reducing post-harvest waste, and can be found at www.ift.org/Home/Newsroom/World-Food-Day.
Senior Associate Editor