Climate change, food production and food security

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Photo by 9comeback

Last week we introduced a study looking at how climate change will potentially affect crop growing in sub-Saharan Africa and how extreme the changes to farming methods will need to be in order to adapt. Now several recent articles researchers explain how food and nutrition insecurity is likely to worsen in the face of climate change and how we can prevent our food production systems from undermining efforts to mitigate the long-term climate effects.

A recent study in The Lancet, building on previous research, indicates that global food supply as impacted by climate change could cause over half a million deaths by 2050, largely due to a rise in undernutrition. While it is understood, at least to some degree, that crop yields will be affected, largely adversely, by climate change, the findings that it will also affect the composition of many people’s diets is relatively novel. The study also predicts the impacts of climate on diets will surpass undernutrition as a major cause of death.

The availability of healthy foods is expected to decline under climate change with consumption of fruits and vegetables predicted to decrease by some 4% by 2050, in comparison with a scenario free of global warming. And while this decline is likely to be most severe in low and medium-income countries in the Western Pacific region, the impacts will be felt everywhere including high-income countries.

And we are already seeing the effects of climate change in Southeast Asia and Africa where droughts have increased undernutrition in children, food prices have dramatically increased and crop production declined. Obviously since the poorest households spend the highest proportion of their income on food, low food availability and increased food prices will have a substantially greater impact on them. While meeting commitments made in the Paris Agreement will go some way to minimising the effects of climate change on diets and nutrition, governments will also need policies in place to address shortfalls in both production and in consumption. [Read more…]

Making progress on nutrition

SUNA new report was launched last week in the Houses of Parliament which lays out progress made in tackling nutrition in several counties, as well as the challenges still ahead. “What works for nutrition? Stories of success from Vietnam, Uganda and Kenya”, a joint publication from RESULTS UK, Concern Worldwide and the University of Westminster, discusses these countries success in the context of global nutrition targets and concludes with key recommendations for government and civil society to build on this success and learn from their experiences.

Despite considerable progress in reducing hunger and the physical signs of malnutrition (the number of hungry people has been reduced by 200 million since 1990 and stunting in children under age five by 40%), malnutrition still places a heavy burden on survival and overall development. Some two billion people, for example, are estimated to suffer from micronutrient deficiencies (about 27% of the global population), which can have wide ranging long-term and irreversible consequences for their health and livelihoods. Undernutrition can reduce GDP and an individual’s earnings by as much as 10%. Progress in tackling malnutrition has also been uneven and inequitable: children in rural areas, for example, as twice as likely to be stunted as those in urban areas. But global initiatives are improving awareness of global malnutrition, and in 2012, the World Health Association (WHA) endorsed six targets on nutrition to be achieved by 2025.

  1. Achieve a 40% reduction in the number of children under-5 who are stunted;
  2. Achieve a 50% reduction of anaemia in women of reproductive age;
  3. Achieve a 30% reduction in low birth weight;
  4. Ensure that there is no increase in childhood overweight;
  5. Increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months up to at least 50%;
  6. Reduce and maintain childhood wasting to less than 5%.

Financing for nutrition has been growing recently, although evidence indicates donors need to quadruple their financial pledges and governments need to at least double the amount allocated to nutrition in order to meet the WHA target on stunting in 37 high burden countries. And nutrition is a good investment: every dollar invested in nutrition yields more than 16 in return. [Read more…]

4 ways to reduce malnutrition

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Image courtesy of [rakratchada torsap] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tackling undernutrition is, as the full extent of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies becomes apparent, critical for human wellbeing and development. In the past we have tended to focus, with limited success, on ensuring people have enough to eat, on making the world “food secure” and on fighting hunger but now we are beginning to understand that if we are to lead healthy, productive lives, it is also about having enough to eat of the right mix of nutrients. And unlike hunger, often viewed as a more common problem in developing countries, poor nutrition, whether through famine or feasting, can be universal.

In 2008, when The Lancet published their Series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition, global policymakers began to take notice and the Scaling-Up Nutrition movement was born. Today this momentum is continuing and the new Sustainable Development Goals focus more on nutrition and non-communicable diseases than the Millennium Development Goals did. We are also learning more and more about what can be done to lessen the burden of malnutrition. Here we discuss four approaches, all of which will be needed for malnutrition to significantly decline: the scaling up of successful and cost-effective direct interventions; prioritisation of the first 1,000 day window in a child’s existence; the development of food systems that deliver enough healthy food and prioritise human health; and coordination and collaboration across government sectors to put nutrition at the heart of relevant policies and programmes.

Scale-up direct interventions where they work

Nutrition, while impacted by agricultural productivity, poverty and income, is unlikely to be improved through more general programmes aimed at bringing about economic and social development. Income growth alone will not reduce rates of malnutrition, and so we need direct interventions to tackle malnutrition. Things such as vitamin, mineral and micronutrient supplementation; delayed cord clamping after birth, kangaroo mother care, early initiation of breastfeeding, promotion of dietary diversity, fortifying staple foods, cash transfer programmes, community-based nutrition education, and school feeding programmes. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

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

The sustainable intensification of European agriculture, Rise

The Role of Trees in Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture in the Tropics, PAEPARD

World Bank and UN carbon offset scheme ‘complicit’ in genocidal land grabs – NGOs, The Guardian

Food waste reduction could help feed world’s starving, BBC

The Next Green Revolution May Rely on Microbes, PBS

Which governments are doing best/worst in the fight against hunger and undernutrition?, Duncan Green, Oxfam

Food security report – MPs call for ‘Plan B’ for animal feed, Farmers Guardian

Fertilizers: quality over quantity, Global Food Security

Picking up the pieces from a failed land grab project in Tanzania, Global Post

Agronomic and environmental aspects of the cultivation of genetically modified herbicide-resistant plants, Tappeser et al (eds)

Malnutrition a threat with use of climate-resilient crops, scientists say, Thomson Reuters Foundation

‘Land grabbing’ could help feed at least 300 million people, study suggests, EurekAlert [Read more…]

Nutrition for Growth – one year on

nutrition for growthThe 2nd of June marked the one year anniversary of the Nutrition for Growth summit in London hosted by the UK Department for International Development, the Brazilian government and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. During the summit, over $4.1 billion was pledged to nutrition programmes until 2020, a financial commitment unprecedented and one that put nutrition in the spotlight. On the 2nd of June, an event hosted by the School of African and Oriental Studies entitled, Nutrition for Growth – one year on, reported progress made since the summit.

Nutrition has been gaining momentum on the international stage over the last few years: from the Lancet series on Maternal and Child Health in 2008, to the Scaling Up Nutrition movement begun in 2010, to the World Health Assembly targets on nutrition agreed in 2012. Dialogue at an international level about how to integrate nutrition in decision making is happening, in part spurred by the cost of malnutrition to the global economy. Ahead of the summit, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation announced that the cost of lost productivity and healthcare due to malnutrition could be as much as 5% of global GDP, or $500 per person. In November this year the Second International Conference on Nutrition will take place in Barcelona and ongoing discussions around the post-2015 development goals will likely feature nutrition in some way. Proposed goals and targets on Sustainable Development for the Post-2015 Development Agenda were released recently by the UN and include targets to reduce both stunting and wasting.

Countries, governments and donors are also making progress in tackling nutrition. In May, Canada hosted a summit on maternal, new-born and child health, with nutrition a key theme, and pledged $3.5bn between 2015 and 2020. DFID have launched nine new projects to increase spending to tackle malnutrition in some of the world’s poorest countries, including a £36 million nutrition programme in Ethiopia that will reach 3.5 million children. [Read more…]

The 2013 Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition

logo_siteIn 2008, The Lancet published a series of papers on maternal and child nutrition. In particular the journal highlighted the significant burden of undernutrition in early life on an individual’s development and survival but also on their future education, labour productivity and earning potential and, as a result, on a country’s GDP.

The series was followed by high-level international action, specifically the 1000 Days Initiative and the UN’s Scaling Up Nutrition movement.

Today The Lancet has released a second series of papers on maternal and child nutrition. The series examines progress that has been made in tackling undernutrition as well as the emerging issue of the double burden of malnutrition in low-income countries: populations exhibiting both obesity as well as micronutrient deficiencies.

Changes, from the last series, in numbers of children stunted, a commonly used measure for malnutrition in children, are largely positive. In 2011, the prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years in developing countries was 26%, compared to 32% in 2005. The number of stunted children has also decreased globally, from 178 million in 2005, to 165 million in 2011.

Obesity however is on the rise. The number of overweight mothers has risen steadily since 1980, and leads to increased maternal morbidity and infant mortality. In children under five, obesity is increasing, particularly in developing countries and is becoming a more significant contributory factor to adult obesity, diabetes, and non-communicable diseases. [Read more…]

Hidden Hunger: Tackling micronutrient deficiencies

HGAs we wait to hear from global policy leaders meeting at the Nutrition for Growth summit in London tomorrow, we have been thinking about all the different ways that malnutrition can be tackled, in particular agricultural measures than can be taken to boost nutrition.

In a new video story, Alina Paul of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) outlines the extent of micronutrient deficiency (termed hidden hunger) in India. Looking in particular at iron-deficiency, over 70% of children under the age of 3 and half of women in India suffer from anaemia, often linked to iron deficiency. Such deficiencies affect their development and survival.

In order to combat widespread deficiencies in iron, India is taking steps to promote iron-rich crops such as pearl millet, which is high in vitamin B, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc as well as being well adapted to drought, poor soils and high temperatures. The Indian government is aiming to reverse the trend of declining millet production by incorporating the crop into school feeding programmes, thereby improving school children’s nutrition and creating market demand. Elsewhere the Home Grown School Feeding programme is making great strides in procuring traditional nutritious food for school children from local farmers.

International donors are also funding research into the development of higher yielding pearl millet with enhanced iron content. HarvestPlus and ICRISAT have partnered with Nirmal Seeds in India to develop and distribute a new conventionally bred, higher iron pearl millet variety. Since May 2012 over 25,000 farmers have bought and planted this seed.

But breeding more nutritious crops is only part of the solution to tackle hidden hunger. Growing a diversity of nutritious crops will help to boost household nutrition. Gordon Conway often references his experiences of Home Gardens in Java (see picture) that grow a wide variety of plants and crops and house different livestock, all of which can be consumed or sold. The M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation has recognised the importance of local people in fighting hidden hunger and has established a programme of Community Hunger Fighters, village volunteers who are trained to address the major causes of malnutrition within their community. [Read more…]