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Agriculture: Primary production of nutritious food
By the year 2050, there will be 9 billion people inhabiting planet earth. In the coming decades, food production world wide will have to increase by 70% to make sure that all people on the planet will have access to food. It is a major challenge to make sure that everybody will have access to food, let alone access to nutritious food to make sure that the problem of malnutrition is sufficiently addressed. There are a number of challenges that have to be addressed if food production is to grow. However, there are also several windows of opportunity.
As indicated above, the accellerating growth in the human population worldwide is a major concern recognised throughout many sectors in international development. It is a potential threat to the environment, the sustainable use of resources and peace. It also constitues a magnificent challenge for access and availability of nutritious food in the world and especially in developing countries. Countries like Uganda and Nigeria, where stunting levels are often reaching alarming levels, are among the countries with the highest population growth rates worldwide.
Although population is growing rapidly, the population that in the end needs to take care of the primary production of food is not following this trend. Developing countries increasingly have to deal with high rates of rural to urban migration. In Tanzania, for example, where in 1967 95% of the population was living in rural areas, currently 30% of the population is living in cities and this percentage is growing relatively quickly. One of the main underlying reasons for this phenomenon is that the rural youth prefers to look for careers outside of agriculture. Inhabitants of rural areas in developing countries explain that children see how their parents are struggling to make a living out of farming or related enterprises. They consequently decide to test their luck in the fast growing cities.
Other challenges include those related to climate change and effects of poor farming and foresting practices on the environment in which farmers operate. Apart from lanslides and floods that take many lives, soil erosion also has severe consequences for agriculture. In Bangladesh, 75% of total agricultural land suffered from degradation due to soil erosion. Furthermore, climate change has triggered an increase in long periods of drought in East Africa, resulting in the deaths of high numbers of cattle as well as humans starving from hunger.
- Empowering female farmers. According to the FAO, women produce between 60 and 80 per cent of the food in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world's food production. Studies by the FAO confirm that women have more difficulties than men in gaining access to resources such as land, credit and productivity-enhancing inputs and services. Addressing these issues and enabling women to sustainably produce more food will unlock a huge potential of increased food production, both staple and nutritious commodities.
- Reducing post-harvest losses. The high rate post-harvest losses in developing countries is a huge contributor to food insecurity. It is hard to measure post-harvest losses, but estimates for Sub Saharan Africa range from 15% to 50%. The causes of post-harvest losses are, amongst others, harvesting at an incorrect stage in the growing process, excessive exposure to rain, drought or extremes of temperature and pests and diseases that reduce the value of products. The FAO argues that with adequate investment and training in, for example, packing and transportation practices, food losses could be drastically reduced. Experiences in Kenya. Afghanisatn and Guinea have shown promising potential to make a significant difference with limited efforts.
- Despite the need for agriculture prodcution to drastically increase in response to the world wide increase in population, yields are hardly increasing. The challenge for technology is to break this trend, given that a continuous the pattern established over the past five decades would not be sufficient to meet food needs by 2050. This will also as a principal means contribute to pro-poor economic growth. Agricultural technology can affect smallholder income, labour opportunities for the poor, food prices, environmental sustainability, and linkages with the rest of the rural economy:
What about nutrition?
Although the challenge of producing 70% more food by 2050 on a global level seems very straightforward, it is easy to loose sight of the necessity to also make sure that nutrition security is also achieved. Hence, increased food production and income are not the only piece of the puzzle. They are an important step in order to secure food and nutrition security. However, without complementary conditions like nutrition education and awareness, the effects of increased income and production will be far from maximised and levels of under-nutrition will dramatically increase.