by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: FAO

Oct 17 2012

The latest dismal report on world hunger

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has just released the latest iteration of its annual report on the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012.

It’s bottom line estimate: 870 million people in the world are hungry, 852 million of them in developing countries.

The good news is that this figure represents a decline of 132 million people from 1990-92 to 2010-12, or from 18.6 percent to 12.5 percent of the world’s population.  In developing countries, the decline is from 23.2 percent to 14.9 percent.

The not-so-good news: Since 2007-2008, global progress in reducing hunger has slowed and leveled off, and hunger in Africa has gotten worse.

Much of the press attention to the report yawned at the major message but instead focused on errors in the previous estimates, which were higher.

the projections were wrong. They were calculated using figures from non-U.N. sources that were fed into the U.N.’s number-crunching model, because FAO was expected to quickly come up with an estimate of how many people might go hungry from the dual crises of high food prices and the global downturn

The UN bases its hunger projections on figures on population, food supply, food losses, dietary energy requirements, food distribution, and other factors.

The report contains other bad news.  While 870 million people remain hungry, the world confronts a double burden of malnutrition: 1.4 billion people are dealing with the consequences of overweight and obesity.

Focusing on the need to address world hunger Sir Gordon Conway, Professor of International Development, Imperial College, London writes in the Huffington Post:

as I set out in my latest book One billion hungry: can we feed the world?, I believe there is reason for optimism. Yes we can feed the world, but only if we accept that agricultural development is the best route to achieving sustainable economic growth in developing countries, and achieve an agriculture that is highly productive, stable, resilient and equitable.

Sounds like a good plan to me.  Let’s get busy.

Apr 7 2011

Cassava for biofuels?

It’s bad enough that corn is grown for ethanol, but cassava?  Many populations depend on cassava for food.

According to today’s New York Times, cassava is the new “go to” crop to burn for fuel.  Doing this, of course, prices cassava beyond what people can afford:

It can be tricky predicting how new demand from the biofuel sector will affect the supply and price of food. Sometimes, as with corn or cassava, direct competition between purchasers drives up the prices of biofuel ingredients. In other instances, shortages and price inflation occur because farmers who formerly grew crops like vegetables for consumption plant different crops that can be used for fuel.

The Times graph of the increase in use of food for biofuel is sobering:

New York Times, April 7, 2011

The rise in food prices has stopped temporarily, but prices are still an astonishing 37% higher than a year ago, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization

None of this makes sense to me.  We need a sensible food policy and a sensible energy policy.

Mar 3 2011

NOAA’s new aquaculture policy

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has proposed the nation’s first aquaculture policy, which it says it did in response to consumer demand for local, safe, sustainably produced seafood (FoodNavigator.com has a good summary).

Ah yes.  Seafood.  The wild west of the food industry.  Safe and sustainable sounds good, but the statistics are not reassuring.

As NOAA explains, U.S. aquaculture – meaning farmed – currently only accounts for about 5% of our seafood.  Get this: an astonishing 84% of U.S. seafood is imported. Of this, half is farmed.

Worldwide, farmed seafood exceeded catches of wild seafood for the first time in 2009.

NOAA guesses that with wild fish stocks depleting rapidly, we will see plenty more fish and shellfish farming.

NOAA quotes the depressing Food and Agriculture Organization report on world fisheries and aquaculture.  This says that worldwide per capita fish availability is about 17 kg per year, and supplies more than 3 billion people with at least 15% of their average animal protein intake.  No wild fish stock can keep up with that kind of demand.

NOAA’s yawn-inducing recommendations (edited):

  • Enable sustainable aquaculture…in harmony with healthy, productive, and resilient marine ecosystems
  • Ensure agency decisions to protect wild species and coastal and ocean ecosystems
  • Advance scientific knowledge concerning sustainable aquaculture
  • Make timely and unbiased aquaculture management decisions
  • Support aquaculture innovation and investments that benefit the nation’s coastal
  • ecosystems, communities, seafood consumers, industry, and economy.
  • Advance public understanding of sustainable aquaculture practices
  • Work with our federal partners to provide resources and expertise needed to address aquaculture challenges
  • Work internationally to learn from aquaculture practices around the world

It’s going to take a lot more than that to fix the fish situation.