There’s something seriously wrong with our food system. The world produces enough food to feed the entire planet and yet, 870 million people go to sleep hungry every night. In contrast, another 1,000 million suffer different forms of obesity; a disease which has already become chronic in many countries. More than a quarter of the food we produce ends up in the trash, as result of an inefficient marketing system and a model of consumption based on waste and capricious demands. In some countries, the current food system is threatening our natural resources: a Western citizen consumes, on average, the same energy, water and food as approximately ten Asians or Africans.
Hunger is generally not a problem in large cities, but eight in ten hungry people live in rural areas. In fact, food insecurity is concentrated in rural communities, precisely those who cannot afford the food they need to survive. These communities are lacking economic alternatives and they spend up to 80% of household income to purchase food, making them highly vulnerable to price increases.
At present, the problem of hunger resides in the distribution and access to food: enough food is produced, but not everyone has access to traded food.
The future, however, holds challenges that we will have to address: the United Nations estimates that by 2050 we will have to produce 70% more to be able to feed a planet of 9,000 million people. This increase places more pressure on natural resources, where we are already failing to cater adequately for demands. The challenge of the food system is to produce more with fewer resources, while transforming our consumption patterns.
The majority of farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America are small producers and family farms, and their communities concentrate the highest levels of food insecurity. The participation of these farmers in production and providing access to food is a vital component of managing the food security of our planet. However, farmers are the weakest link in the food chain: they are forced to accept prices imposed by large companies, their crops are directly affected by climate change, and many suffer from expropriation of their land by foreign and national investors.
This is another great paradox of the global food system: small farmers, whose communities are most likely to suffer poverty and hunger, are the solution for the future of food security on the planet. If these small farmers are given access to adequate resources, can take ownership of their land and compete on equal fair trade terms, farmers in the poorest countries hold the key to increase food production, sustainable food security and more balanced distribution of food for the planet as a whole.
Also see Food Justice in Tanzania.