The main challenge now is to engage young people to sustainably eradicate hunger and poverty globally by 2030
Sustainability is key to fight hunger, poverty
By Deepanwita Niyogi
The celebration of the 35th World Food Day (WFD) on Friday at the Milan Expo witnessed the presence of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, President of Italy Sergio Mattarella and several other dignitaries.
Welcoming the delegates, the Italian President said, “Feeding the planet is the challenge of our era. Feeding all of the people on our earth is a great political project in this era of globalisation where times the rules of finance prevail over those of the real economy…The right to food and water can be affirmed in all continents.”
This year, the WFD was a unique opportunity to send out a strong message to the Zero Hunger challenge. The main priority now is to engage all in a bid to sustainably eradicate hunger and poverty globally by 2030.
The ceremony commemorated FAO’s 70th anniversary and addressed the theme of WFD 2015—Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty. This was linked to the UN expo theme—The Zero Hunger Challenge: United for a sustainable world.
Representatives from FAO member countries, representatives of the Italian government and other participants attended the event.
A big thanks to farmers
The FAO Director General thanked farmers, fishers, forest workers and other food and agriculture workers for their contribution to the "amazing achievement" of increasing sustenance for all even as the world population tripled since 1945.
Referring to this year's WFD theme, he noted that "production and economic growth alone do not solve the problem, if the hungry remain excluded. India, Brazil and Ethiopia and other countries show us that increasing the power of the very poor to buy food offers an affordable key to hunger eradication."
Pope Francis said in a message that hunger is due to both "iniquitous distribution of the fruits of the earth" and inadequate agricultural development.
On the occasion of this historic day, the UN Secretary General said, “In a world of plenty, no one not a single person should go hungry.”
Some of the objectives of WFD this year include zero stunted children less than two years, complete access to adequate food throughout the year, sustainability of all food systems, increase in small-holder productivity and income, zero loss and wastage of food.
Emphasis on sustainability
This year the emphasis is on sustainability and how sustainable agriculture practices should be encouraged to ensure food for all. “Policy makers should make youth development and employment one of their top priorities. If not, many parts of the world will have a lost generation, rather than a generation that secured zero hunger,” Rob Vos told Down To Earth in an email interview from Rome.
Access to food for the poor can go hand in hand with improving productivity where we support small-holder family farming, many of which are now among the rural poor, he said.
This can be promoted through social protection, which helps people sail through bad times and put enough food on the table. “By reducing income insecurity, poor families can better protect their assets, invest in their farms, as well as in their future, such as through better nutrition and education for their children,” Vos added.
According to him, more diversified agricultural practices, such poly-crop farming across seasons, are part of sustainable agriculture and can help secure year-round food security, provide multiple livelihoods to small-holder family farmers and provide for more diversified and nutritious food availability.
However, such practices can prove to be viable if farmers are well connected to markets, if they have adequate storage space and access to irrigation and when there is adequate food processing capacity.
By Richard Mahapatra
The monsoon season has come to an end. But despite deficit rains, India’s tribal and forest dwellers will not stop celebrating the onset of the most awaited season, popularly called the festival season. Till May next year, the cultural calendar is dotted with festivals. And each festival is a celebration of a produce that plays a critical role in the local food economy.
Of late, this season is also being celebrated in small and big towns in numerous food festivals. From Anantnag in Jammu and Kashmir to Paderu in Andhra Pradesh, one gets to see more food festivals now. A quick scrutiny of my email inbox shows that in the last year alone, I got invitations from 65 such food festivals. And most of them celebrated or demonstrated the rich diversity of uncultivated food in local areas. These festivals showcase the greens local people collect and consume. Many revolve around specific uncultivated foods.
Such food festivals have become a new-age obsession for many. These food festivals have several similarities, despite being hosted in different locations and diverse in nature. Most of them are organised by ngos working on food security and biodiversity.
Secondly, most of these festivals are organised with the active participation of tribal or forest communities, and representatives take efforts to disseminate the economic importance of such foods to larger audiences. Those who manage these festivals intentionally talk about modern day ailments and the importance of uncultivated foods in our diet. It is perhaps for these reasons that uncultivated food is also called the green social and cultural economy.
But the first question: why are such food festivals getting popular? It is my inference that non-profits work-ing on local biodiversity and food security have finally understood the crucial connection between ecology and economy. There was never any doubt about the diversity and importance of uncultivated food. But groups either worked on conservation of such biodiversity or articulated the cultural aspects of local communities’ link to ecology. So food security was mostly viewed from the perspective of national food distribution system, under which government gives cheap foodgrains thus ensuring food for all.
What has triggered this change? It is not only a local issue, but also a global trend where policymakers and thought leaders are increasingly focusing on uncultivated foods. There are two reasons for this renewed surge: increasing food prices and issue of food security transforming into availability and access to uncultivated food to ensure proper growth. After the 2008 global food crisis, it has now become clear that there must be a food system that is locally available and is also cheap. The uncultivated food is the best option. It comes free and ensures easy access. For example, forest dwellers in India source up to 50 per cent of their food from uncultivated sources. An average forest dweller has access to over 150 types of uncultivated foods, thus ensuring food security round the year. Despite decades of focused efforts to ensure food security, the debate over food security has progressed to nutrition security now. India’s malnutrition level still remains high even though food availability has gone up. This problem can be solved only by restoring people’s traditional food basket. That is the reason why these food festivals intentionally talk about nutrition security and their economic importance.
Whether these food festivals have already made an impact is debatable. But the fact remains that they bring out our food diversity at a time when the average Indian is consuming just four to five types of grains and vegetables.
Enjoy the food festival season!
Richard Mahapatra is Managing editor, Down To Earth. He has been associated with the fortnightly since 1997 and has written extensively on rural affairs and development matters.
A taste of India’s biodiversity
Food is very personal. We know that. What we often don’t realise is that food is also more than personal. Food is also about culture and, most importantly, about biodiversity. We often do not think how flora and fauna around us make up our culture. We do not think that food diversity, indeed cultural diversity, is linked to diversity in the biological world.
So here is a look at a few recipes that will bring back the connection between our stomach, our kitchen, our life and the world around us.
Breakfast snack: More than religious makhanas
By Vaidya Balendu Prakash
Makana (Euryale ferox), or foxnut, is a common fixture in religious ceremonies in north India. It grows in the wetlands of Bihar, largely in Mithila, and in the ponds of West Bengal. The makhana plant is almost covered in thorns. The fruits, ready by May-June, are about the size of a small orange. They carry eight to 20 black seeds which are roasted and cracked open. The seed’s outer black part falls off to reveal the puffed makhana seeds.
Makhana’s medicinal properties are well-documented in Ayurveda. It is effective in curing cardiovascular diseases, leucorrhoea and circulatory problems and is used in post-delivery care. Makhana is also believed to increase hormone secretion. According to an Indian Council of Scientific Research publication, Nutritive Value of Indian Foods, 100 grammes of makhana contain 9.7 per cent protein, 76.9 per cent carbohydrate, 0.1 per cent fat, 1.3 per cent minerals and 12 per cent water. The makhana plant, though, finds itself prey to a variety of pests and pathogens.
Indiscriminate pesticide use, silting of wetlands and weeds, like water hyacinth, threaten it. But makhana is still prominent as a major cash crop in parts of Bihar. Known as the poor man’s manna, makhana is easy to digest and affordable. Cultivation is an inexpensive affair. Seeds left over from the previous year’s harvest germinate to make up the next season’s crop. The only labour required is in prising the seeds open. But if the wetlands disappear so will the nutritious makhana.
Makhana is the seed of a member of the water-lily family and grows wild in ponds in the eastern part of the country. It grows in the Indo- Gangetic flood plain, the country’s largest wetland system. It is commercially cultivated in northern Bihar, lower Assam and a few districts of West Bengal. Food experts believe that makhana has the potential to become a multi-crore enterprise just as a household snack. They believe it could become an important cottage industry for fishing communities.
Eat shoots and leaf
By Hoihnu Hauzel
Be it for the medicinal value or the flavour, people around the world love eating bamboo shoots. The young shoots of an edible species of bamboo, plucked as soon as they poke out of the ground, are said to be rich in vitamins and amino acids. They are also a good source of fibre, carbohydrates, vegetable fat and proteins. The Japanese believe that powdered bamboo bark prevents bacterial growth and they use it as a food preservative. In Indonesia, bamboo species are used for medicinal purposes, such as for controlling internal bleeding.
In many parts of the country, nursing mothers consume bamboo soup. Bamboo shoots are crunchy and slightly sweet. They become bitter with storage but the bitterness can be removed by boiling. The shoots take the taste of the food they are cooked in but do retain a pungent taste. For a Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese, Thai or Nepalese, bamboo shoot is a staple. In Nepal, each household consumes about 46 stems per year and Taiwan consumes 80,000 tonnes of bamboo shoots annually.
In the northeastern region of India, no dish is complete without a dash of bamboo shoots. The people believe that eating bamboo shoots makes people strong and tough. This explains why nearly every home in the northeast has bamboo groves in the backyard.
Many make a living by weaving bamboo baskets and selling fermented bamboo shoots. From cradle to grave, bamboo is part of life.
Welcome winter sweetly
By Snigdha Das
The earthy sweet aroma of haldi patra pitha on a winter morning makes me nostalgic. The delicacy is the speciality of Prathama Ashtami, a festival that falls on the eighth day after Kartik Purnima—late October or early November that heralds the winter season.
The memory of my mother fervently invoking God to bestow good health on children and the overwhelming aroma of the pitha are still vivid. The puja ends with the distribution of the pitha. The sweet dish is wrapped in green turmeric leaves before it is steamed. The leaves impart a subtle flavour to the batter and infuse nutrients into the pitha.
Ayurvedic doctors say that every part of the turmeric plant (Curcuma longa), rhizome, the flower and leaf, has medicinal properties. Its active ingredient, curcuminoids, has antioxidant and antibacterial properties. It boosts the body’s immunity and staves off flu. Turmeric leaves are rough and not pleasant to eat. That’s where tradition helps; it is obligatory to use turmeric leaves in winters just when they are needed for warding off chills and agues.
Odisha’s vegetable vendors sell the leaves a couple of days ahead of the festival, but my mother prefers growing them organically in her kitchen garden. It is usually planted before the rains begin and is fully grown by early winter. For diabetics, the pitha can be made without the filling and can be served with a curry of choice.
How to make pitha
Soak the rice and urad dal separately overnight. Strain the rice and grind it coarse. Grind urad dal with water.
Mix. Add salt and leave it for three-four hours to ferment. Cut the leaves six inches long. Spread oneand-a-half tablespoon batter evenly over the shiny side of each leaf, leaving a thin margin. Place a line of filling in the middle of the batter. Fold the leaves along the length and place them in a steamer. Cook at medium heat for 15 minutes.
A juicy fruit of dry areas
Karanda is cultivated for its edible fruits in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. A number of varieties are common, according to taxonomists, they all belong to two species—Carissa congesta and Carissa carandas.
Karanda is drought-resistant and cold-tolerant. But it grows and profusely bears fruits in well-drained soil. In north India, it yields fruits during May-July but it may bloom throughout the year in the country’s southern parts. The fruits are a good substitute for gooseberries. The unripe ones are sour and are used in pickles and chutneys.
The ripe fruits are sweet and can be eaten as such, or used in salads, jellies, puddings, jams, juices, carbonated drinks or wine. The seed within is bitter and should be removed before cooking.
The fruits are rich in minerals and vitamins. They contain chemicals such as lupeol, sitosterol, tartaric acid and citric acid, which are good for health and have a cooling effect. Karanda is valued in Ayurveda. Its leaves, fruits and seed latex are used for treating rheumatoid arthritis, anorexia, indigestion, colic, piles, cardiac diseases, oedema, amenorrhoea, fever and blood pressure by Ayurvedic physicians.
According to Siddha system of medicine, the seeds and latex can cure worm infestation, gastritis and dermatitis. An extract of roots prepared in alcohol exhibits cardiotonic (good for the heart) and anti-hypertensive properties (effective against high blood pressure). Roots come handy while making insecticides and flowers yield an aromatic volatile oil.
Karanda wood is used for making combs, spoons and other household items. It can be used to make many more products which can be marketed easily given the present popularity of eco-products. It will also provide employment to the poor.
Using neglected, under-utilised crops to improve food and nutrition security in mountain areas
By Lipy Adhikari
Agriculture is the dominant sector in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan (HKH) countries. It significantly contributes to food security, livelihoods and rural economy of the region, which, as a whole, remains a net food-deficit area. Increasing population pressure, diminishing landholdings, soil degradation, high price of inputs, and climate change impacts are looming threats. This adds urgency to the need for a focused strategy to reduce vulnerability to food shortages, climate change impacts, and increased productivity and value addition in smallholder agriculture. In HKH countries, particularly in Nepal, 66 percent of the population is engaged in the agricultural sector, which is a major source of rural livelihoods.
Climatic changes such as changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, incidences of foods, and prolonged droughts have added challenges to agriculture, particularly in mountain areas. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that approximately 78 per cent of the world’s mountain area is not suitable, or is marginally suitable, for growing crops. Nonetheless, there are certain crops that have been grown in the mountains for ages. These are indigenous crops, cultivated under traditional farming systems, and are best suited for adapting to climate change.
Mountain agricultural systems and food production depend on local bio-physical conditions. Moreover, there is a huge shift from traditional varieties to new varieties and from traditional farming practices to new farming practices. This has led to the decline in the local food system and increased dependence on external sources for food grain. Although integration into the market system has increased mountain farmers’ access to food through cash crops, it has made them more vulnerable to food security due to frequent price shocks and disruptions in the transportation of food as a result of natural hazards. It is important to conserve local food systems and agro-biodiversity for better food security and livelihoods in mountains.
The FAO report published in 2009 revealed that out of millions of known plant species, only 120 are cultivated for human food, and of these, only wheat, rice and maize account for more than half of the dietary energy supplied by plant sources. The International Conference on Neglected and Underutilized Species (NUS) held in Frankfurt by Biodiversity International in 2011 emphasised on the need to promote NUS varieties. Capitalising on the potential of some neglected and under-utilised crops can play an important role in combating the negative impacts of climate change on food security in mountains through improving dietary diversity and income opportunities.
Many of these species are well adapted to stress conditions of extreme environments and form part of sustenance farming. Most of these crops do not require high inputs and can be successfully grown in marginal, degraded waste lands, with minimal inputs and at the same time, contribute to increased agricultural production, enhanced crop diversification and improved environment. They provide useful genes to breed better varieties capable of withstanding the climate change scenario and sustaining production.
When mountain farmers switch to high-yielding cash crops, dozens and sometimes, hundreds of varieties of traditional foods can be replaced with one or two single varieties. NUS are fast disappearing, mainly because of the standardisation of agricultural practices, mono-cropping trends and changes in food habits skewed towards a few commodity crops dominating food systems at all levels. The people of the HKH region have been practicing traditional farming since millennia. However, the protection and promotion of such practices is not a priority for their governments. This is responsible for heavy genetic erosion affecting traditional crops around the world, as well as the erosion of cultural diversity intimately associated with their use and appreciation. Nepal is not an exception.
The rural mountain farmers have been abandoning traditional crops like millet, buckwheat, barley and many other varieties considering them as “foods of the poor” and also because of the growing importance and demand of rice in the country. Millet has a wide adaptive range and is very nutritious; yet, in a survey conducted by the National Agriculture Research Council in Nepal, it was found that traditionally-grown finger millet was now considered as a low status food and consumed only by the poor and not preferred by those with a better economic standard. The unprecedented loss of traditional agricultural species has also been reiterated in the FAO report which was published in 2010 on the state of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. This situation is not so much different in other South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bhutan and many others.
There are numerous species of NUS which can be placed in the classes of cereals, legumes, root crops and fruits. These species may be prioritised and scaled up as an important livelihood source in Nepal and other HKH countries according to the area-specific agro-ecological potential. Some of these NUS are finger millet (Eleusine coracana), Buckwheat (Fagopyrum spp), Naked Barley (Hordeum vulgare), Beans (Phaselous vulgaris;Lablab purpureus), Black gram (Vigna radiate), Horse crop (Macrotyloma uniflorum) , Taro (Colocasia esulenta), Yam (Dioscorea spp.), Amala (Phyllanthus emblica) and Jammun (Syzygium cumini).
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) made a significant contribution in creating awareness about NUS through their two big projects which were implemented respectively in 2001/2005 and 2007/2010 in Nepal, India and Bolivia. IFAD is contributing to strengthen on-farm conservation through the development of innovative community-based participatory methods for documenting, monitoring and promoting agro-biodiversity on-farm.
NUS have the potential to address the serious challenge imposed by the changing climatic conditions on mountain food security. It is high time that the government and the people understand the importance of NUS and use it as an adaptive measure for their livelihood diversification and food and nutrition security in the Hindu-Kush Himalayas.
Lipy Adhikari (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Research Associate, Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation in the Himalaya (HIMALICA) at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)
'Worldwide food losses and waste amount to 30-40 per cent of total production'
By Deepanwita Niyogi
On the occasion of World Food Day, Rob Vos, strategic programme leader in FAO’s economic and social affairs division, talks about sustainabale agriculture and food wastage
What is the best way to engage youth—the Zero Hunger generation—to combat poverty and hunger in view of the SDGs’ agenda?
To engage more youth, agriculture has to be made more attractive and remunerative. Sustainable agriculture provides many such opportunities. For instance, in a project in Tanzania, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) supported young farmers to form a cooperative, gain access to a collective piece of land and credits to start a business of organic vegetable farming, which catered to locals as well as the high-end tourism sector.
The business was profitable overnight and could be made to serve their needs and aspirations. To make these kinds of initiatives happen, hurdles need to be removed for young people. It will take skills training, as much as changing policy and regulatory frameworks, to lift barriers faced by the (youth) in accessing land, credits and inputs.
(Also), private sector agents need to be open to do business with young farmers. The big challenge is to scale-up such initiatives. In Africa alone, about 11 million young people enter the rural labour market every year. Non-agricultural sectors start from a too-small basis to be the main absorber of new workers for years to come. Hence, agriculture will have to play a big role and, as indicated, it has the potential.
One of the goals of Expo Milano is equal access to natural resources and sustainability. Is it possible for all to have equal access when development itself is so lopsided? Please comment.
This objective is about equal opportunities. Access to land and water for farm production is highly unequal. Even worse, some are even restricted by laws to have any access, such as women farmers, who, in still too many contexts, have no right to own lands. (They), in turn, also fail to access other critical inputs (seeds, credits and so on) to make the farms they manage productive, climb out of poverty and contribute to overall food security.
Not creating equal opportunities is also more likely to continue the present practice of environmentally-unsustainable use of resources. In the end, this will be socially and economically unsustainable as well. This is the spirit behind this objective.
A report by Down To Earth says that there is huge food wastage in the US. What do you think is responsible for such wastage and what are the ways to reduce it?
Worldwide food losses and waste amount to 30-40 per cent of total production. It is important to distinguish between food losses and waste. We talk about food losses during harvest and post-harvest distribution and processing of food. Most of this happens in developing countries, because when prices are low, many farmers can’t afford to hire sufficient labour to harvest all produce, or food gets lost because of lack of adequate storage space or transportation, or because farmers lack access to markets (either fresh on the market or to food processing industries).
In richer countries more food is wasted during the process of consumption. Part of this may be inevitable as households or restaurants may not always be able to plan exactly how much food to buy. Most of the waste, however, is evitable with—inter alia—greater consciousness about food habits and the cost of waste (both by consumers and the food industry) and better food conservation practices.
What are FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) doing to achieve food security? Besides poverty, climate shocks play a defining role in determining global foodgrain production. What are the ways to ensure that the poor receive food in case of famine and drought?
FAO has a two-pronged approach to food security. On one hand, it supports countries both in creating the conditions and spreading the knowledge to enhance food production and improve diversity, quality and safety of available food. On the other hand, it works to improve access and utilisation of food.
Social protection is the main theme of the World Food Day this year. As said, having social protection mechanisms in place people can cope with many shocks. Where shocks are very large, we work with WFP and other partners to support countries set up emergency programmes to prevent famines. Such responses may consist of food distribution programmes, and cash transfers or other means.
It is important that such emergency responses are combined with reliance-building programmes, so that people will be able to manage the risks of droughts, floods or other shocks better by themselves.
Sub-Saharan Africa is marked by erratic weather, unreliable food access and undernourishment. How is it possible to ensure food security in this region all year-round?
Sub-Saharan Africa faces the biggest challenges, but it also has huge potential. It is the region where the land frontier has not yet been fully reached, and where there is a huge army of young people who can reinvigorate agriculture. A dynamic agriculture would support strong overall income growth and give a major push to achieving food security within decades. But this potential is unlikely to be tapped into if not many structural hurdles are overcome.
There are enormous infrastructure bottlenecks, water scarcity, lack of access to inputs, credits, technology and resources for many farmers.
Adoption of sustainable agricultural practices (which includes climate-smart agriculture) can also help production become less vulnerable to diseases, droughts, or floods, thereby ensuring higher and more stable food supply, as much as generating better incomes for many of the region’s poor households.
Developing countries are spending more of their income on food than developed countries while also suffering high rates of malnutrition. In what way can this gap be bridged?
This is a normal phenomenon. Poor people spend more on basic needs, of which food is the first. So, as a share of income people in poor countries spend more, but in absolute terms richer households spend more.
Bridging the gap would start by lifting incomes of the poor and, all other things being equal, reducing inequality. It is not the only thing that matters to eliminate malnutrition, but it is one important factor.
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