What's Been Done?
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Individuals play a significant role in the issue of food security. Most importantly, food security itself is about feeding the many individuals of the world. Then, there are also people who are directly tied with improving or worsening the situation.
Each and every person who lives on this planet is a consumer, and so are in some way tied to this issue. On a global scale, this relationship to the issue is expressed in each country as an average quantity of BTU consumed per person. On a much smaller scale this can be seen as individual people's diets and everyday food choices. On average, richer countries tend to over-consume, while poorer countries eat a lot less, and have much higher statistics of starvation and malnourishment. These statistical trends have negative effects on both ends of the spectrum. The poor countries of course bear the brunt of the negative effects of food insufficiency even now. However, despite being seemingly better off than most others, the diets of rich over-consumers are also quite unhelpful. Along with a variety of lifestyle diseases caused by over-consumption, the rich-man’s diet also increases the already the overdrawn demand for food.
Farmers are primarily responsible for the production of food as a primary resource. Unlike almost any other resource, we actually see primary production stemming not from companies or groups, but instead from each individual person's effort. This fact is both a benefit and problem to the world's food production. The advantage is of course that people will farm efficiently for their own benefit, and each farmer will use their available resources like fertiliser, land-area and machinery, to the best of their ability. Individuality also provides greater freedom for farmers to try experimental or highly advanced new techniques like GM seeds, or super fertilisers in order to increase efficiency. Both of these The disadvantage however, is that there is of course no communication or organisation between farmers, meaning that farming resources are unevenly distributed, and the surplus created in richer places is not used to assist or boost deficiencies in much poorer places. So although individual farmers are the people responsible for producing the food required they have done little to actually improve the issue.
Independent scientists are responsible for a variety of discoveries into new solutions and improvements on agricultural practices and the consumption of food. Dr. Mark Post (affiliated with Maastricht University, Netherlands) has very recently developed the world's first in-vitro meat. It is estimated that this lab-grown meat would require 90% less water and land, and cut energy requirements by 70%. Although, this would not still be as efficient as feeding grain to humans themselves, and would also not completely eliminate the requirement of animals, as cells must be taken from live animals in order to start the in-vitro growth, this could serve as an effective means of satisfying the world's appetite for meat in a way that would not significantly limit food security. It is scientific discoveries like this that have major effects on the food security issue on a world-wide scale.
Groups are heavily involved in this issue at a variety of scales. Different non-government groups contribute to food security in various areas, ranging from universities researching the latest in technologies, to unions trying to make a change in the people.
VIB (Ghent University)
In 2008, scientists at VIB, a research division of Ghent University, successfully converted annual plants into perennial plants through the discovery that two genes, when deactivated, would lead to the formation of root structures which converted the plant into a perennial one. Perennial plants are those that maintain the same root structure for 2 or more years, with continuous flowering. This is because annular plants have high early growth rates, sacrificing structural strength for speed growth. Since 70% of the world's food comes from annular crops which are uprooted and replanted every year, using perennials would provide many benefits. These include reducing the amount of fertiliser required for initial growth and removing the need for tilling and uprooting on a yearly basis, which would lower erosion, and increase the amount of nutrients that the soil would retain.
Vegetarians (International Vegetarian Union)
On the international scale, a wide variety of organisations corroborating through the International Vegetarian Union have been promoting a switch to vegetarian diets, using social medias like Facebook and Twitter, and through various other awareness campaigns. Changing from the Western world's current meat-based diet towards a more vegetable-based diet would reduce the reliance on phosphorus fertilisers, on top of saving water and grain for feeding animals. As shown in Figure 14, only 4.2kg of phosphate rock would be required per year per person for a vegetable-based diet, while a meat-based diet would require almost 3 times that. If less meat were to be consumed, the demand for phosphorus would decrease, as feeding animals for food is less efficient than simply growing food for humans.
Figure 14: Phosphorus comparisons of a vegetable-based diet compared to a meat-based diet
Feeding the Five Thousand
Established by Tristram Stuart, who discusses the level of food wasted (Food Waste), this organisation works with governments, businesses and civil society at the international level to spark change in social attitudes to tackle food waste. This group has also conducted an event where 5000 members of the public are given a free lunch using ingredients which would otherwise have gone to waste. This event not only raises awareness about the extent of food waste, but also - although only slightly - reduces the level of food wasted.
Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)
The FAO is a permanent organisation established and funded by the United Nations. This organisation aims to achieve food security for all, and does through a vast variety of issues. In terms of contributing to food security for the world's population in the future, the FAO has assisted in the conversion of unsustainable agricultural practices into significantly more sustainable ones. For example, the FAO worked with local governments to educate farmers and increase the uptake of conversion agriculture. This no-till system increases yields while protecting fields from erosion, improving soil quality and mitigating the effects of drought, assisting many people maintain their livelihoods while increasing food security for these people both short term and long term. The FAO has also assisted in reducing overfishing in the Tam Giang-Cu Hai in Viet Nam's Hue Province - Asia's largest lagoon ecosystem. Communities around the lagoon were educated about the importance of establishing fishery management plans, and also its impact on a much larger world of environmental, economic, social and governance issues. An additional 26 fishery associations were established, creating a means of managing 80% of the lagoon's area. Introducing Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to these fishery associations, they were able to replan the uses of the lagoon, designating areas for nurseries, capture fisheries and aquaculture. This has overall resulted in a decrease in fishing by some 30-40%, allowing resources to rebuild and eventually catch bigger fish in a more efficient way. By increasing the sustainability of agriculture and aquaculture, higher levels of food are being able to be produced in the long term, increasing food security.
Food security can be tackled by governments at a variety of scales. Local and state level governments have the power to impose laws and regulations on landuse, fertiliser use and water use. However except during drought periods, very little is done at this level to create any kind of long term change or benefit. Unfortunately due to a lack of communication between local and federal governments, major action towards food security cannot be undertaken, as the issues are presented to federal governments on a global scale. The solution actually needs to addressed on a local scale.
Essentially, governments have been providing assistance, primarily financially, to groups such as the FAO, scientists as well as individual farmers. This support enables the FAO to operate and contribute to food security, while in the case of scientists, accelerate research into increasingly efficient methods of food production. These new methods are then employed by the farmers.
One example of a nation which exceeds the efforts of other nations is Bangladesh. On the national scale, the Bangladeshi government with assistance from the FAO has been working to increase food production. Through technology transfer and management techniques, the FAO has tripled rice production and quadrupled the area of irrigated land. It also launched the first comprehensive National Food Policy Plan of Action (NFPPA) in 2008. This initiative, which surpasses those of other nations, primarily exists to ensure food security for the approximately 40% of its population that lacks it by 2015, containing detailed objectives to improve food availability, access to food, and nutrition. To assist in its implementation, the US government and the European Union have contributed USD $7 million. In order to ensure actions made are as effective as possible, seven Bangladeshi universities, along with American and European researches, will participate by providing important research and policy recommendations. The main way the government has improved food security is through increased management and development of various agricultural sectors, including soil fertility, aquaculture and livestock development,and increased food safety. For example, tailor-made training courses were established at the Savar Dairy Farm of the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock for people and organisations to improve efficiency, quality and safety of milk production.