The Budongo Forest Landscape: Diets, Food Security and Nutrition

IMG_1366Around the Budongo forest, expanding sugarcane production, the establishment of tree plantations and forest loss have altered the landscape. In this rural area where nearly all households have a home garden or farm and, as such, rely, to varying degrees, on the food produced on their own land, such land use change can have a dramatic impact on livelihoods, diets and nutrition. Be it because of an increased incidence of crop raiding, unreliable weather patterns and seasons, or soil erosion, all thought to be a result of forest loss in the area, the changing landscape is a cause for concern among those who live there. A key element of the research in this landscape is to try to understand the links between land use change and food and nutrition security. As a first step this included investigating current levels of food insecurity, the diets of local people, how households characterise food security and what the drivers of food insecurity might be.

In Uganda, 48% of households were food energy deficient between 2009 and 2010 and the number of people suffering from hunger has increased from 12 million in 1992 to 17.7 million in 2007, mainly due to high population growth.

Deaths in children attributed to malnutrition 40%
% of children under the age of five who are stunted 38%
% of children under the age of five who are underweight for their age 25.5%
Prevalence rate of vitamin A deficiency 5.4%
% of the population affected by iron deficiency anaemia >50%
Total goitre rate due to iodine deficiency >60%
Average calorie consumption as a per cent of recommended requirements 75-90%
% below minimum recommended levels for protein consumption 33%
% below minimum recommended levels for fat consumption 20%

Source: MAAIF & MIH, 2005

In the Budongo Forest landscape, individuals and communities were asked about their ability to access and produce enough food. Many people reported that due to decreasing soil fertility, land exhaustion, high food prices and unpredictable or extreme weather such as droughts and floods, they were not able to produce enough food for their families year round. Many families (just under 50% of the 540 households interviewed) shared that they had experienced food shortages in the last year, with 3 to 6 months being the most common length of time such food scarcity occurred for. During these times coping mechanisms, apart from eating less, included turning to a neighbour or family member for help or trying to obtain a job on someone else’s land as a labourer. Income earned off the farm is then used to buy food or rent land to produce more food. [Read more…]

2013 State of Food Insecurity in the World

Farmer AfricaThe 2013 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World, was launched recently, which summarises the number and location of people suffering chronic hunger. As an evaluation of progress made towards reaching the first Millennium Development Goal, the report caveats achievements made with the need for significant additional effort in ending world hunger.

The estimate for the number of chronically hungry people in the world for the period 2011-2013 is 842 million (12% of the global population), a reduction on the figure of 868 million for the 2010-2012 period. Since 1990-1992 the number of undernourished people in the world is estimated to have fallen by 17%.

827 million people of the total number live in developing countries, where progress in tackling hunger has been mixed. Sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest prevalence of undernourishment, has seen modest progress; Western Asia has seen no progress; and Southern Asia and North Africa show slow progress.

This year’s report has a focus on the multiple dimensions of food security, namely availability and access, utilization and stability, and undernourishment and undernutrition. The key to understanding food security is to measure and monitor all dimensions. For example, monitoring the inadequacy of dietary energy supply, an indication of undernourishment, fails to provide a clear picture undernutrition, which has a much higher prevalence and is better measured by childhood stunting. Monitoring both, along with other dimensions of food security, can give us much better understanding of the extent of hunger and identify priority areas for action.

The current rate of reduction in the number of hungry people is not sufficient to meet the 2015 MDG of halving hunger and much more needs to be done if we are to achieve this. Economic growth, often pursued with the goal of reducing hunger and poverty, can be beneficial but is not certain to reach the most vulnerable. Policies that specifically target agricultural productivity and smallholder farmers can be successful in reducing hunger even in poor regions.

The report concludes that a “long-term commitment to mainstreaming food security and nutrition in public policies and programmes is key to hunger reduction”.

 

Appropriate technology to feed the planet

ID-100143278As we know the world faces the challenge of feeding a growing population in the context of a changing climate. Weather events currently impacting crop production are only expected to get more frequent and more severe. As a new report published by The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation and the London School of Economics, entitled Feeding the planet in a warming world. Building resilient agriculture through innovation, argues this challenge will require an agricultural system as well as individual crops that are more resilient to future shocks and stresses.

The report also argues that current policies to achieve a more resilient agricultural sector fail to recognise the inadequacy of relying only on existing technologies. While overcoming global socio-economic barriers to accessing and disseminating such appropriate technologies should be a priority this in itself is not enough. Authors claim that we will also require “critical, game-changing solutions for building global agricultural resilience”.  In particular new higher-yielding and more nutritious crop varieties that use less water while being more resistant to pests and diseases and more tolerant of weather extremes: heat, cold, flooding, drought. This includes the use of ‘demonstrably safe’ genetically modified (GM) crops. As the report states, “Agriculture will need every existing tool in the box, as well as the development of new ones.” [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Talk point: is water a commodity or a human right?, The Guardian

Demystifying modern biotechnology, Modern Ghana

FAO leader calls for shift towards more sustainable food production and diet, Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR) 95th Anniversary Symposium

Yes, I get furious when foreign aid is wasted. But Britons are saving lives… and are leading the world, says Bill Gates, Daily Mail

George Osborne declares ‘historic moment’ on UK aid target, The Guardian

Stop GM crops in Europe – new campaign launched, GM Watch

Food, fuel and plant nutrient use in the future, Council for Agricultural Science and Technology

GMO poll finds huge majority say foods should be labeled, Huffington Post

New metric to be launched on hunger and food insecurity, FAO

New EU policy to improve nutrition across the world and save millions of lives, EU

Connecting the dots between vaccines and hunger, The Guardian

Africa is on the rise – come see for yourselves, Financial Times

Aid for Trade: Reviewing EC and DFID Monitoring and Evaluation Practices, Traidcraft and CAFOD

Global Food Security Index

Having discussed, both in the book and on this website, several measures of hunger such as the Global Hunger Index and the FAO’s State of Food Insecurity, it only seems fair to mention a recently developed index. The Global Food Security Index was designed and constructed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and is sponsored by DuPont, and unlike its counterparts it is updated quarterly ‘to adjust for the impact of fluctuating food prices’.

It takes its data from United Nations agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation, World Food Programme, World Trade Organisation and World Health Organisation. Qualitative indicators developed by EIU analysts such as those measuring political instability and the presence of food safety net programmes sit alongside quantitative.

In total there are 25 indicators which measure affordability, availability and quality (the three tenets of the 1996 World Food Summit’s definition of food security) across 105 countries (see Table). [Read more…]

FAO releases new (conservative) hunger numbers

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in their 2012 State of Food Insecurity report estimate the number of hungry in the world to be 868 million, 852 million of which are in developing countries. This is down from their past estimates of 925 million in 2010 and 1.02 billion in 2009.

The FAO, over the past year, has been in the process of improving its methodology for calculating chronic hunger and reviewing its data sources to reflect a more multidimensional view of food insecurity. Such revisions were called for by the Committee on World Food Security in 2011 and have resulted in this updated figure. Most notably FAO’s calculation of its undernourishment indicator has been adjusted and is thought to have declined more steeply up to 2007 than previous estimates while the actual impact of recent food price spikes on the number of hungry was less than originally thought.

There are reasons, however, why the 868 million should be considered conservative. For example, the calculation of food available for household consumption doesn’t take into account food wasted and while resource-poor households are unlikely to waste precious food, the FAO does recognise that “this effectively makes the FAO Prevalence of Undernutrition estimate a conservative indicator of food insecurity”. [Read more…]