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World: Report finds unsustainable food system with hungry people

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Today’s global food system has major weaknesses: nearly 800 million people are left hungry, one-third of the human race is malnourished, over half of some crops never make it to the table, and the planet is ravaged from environmentally unfriendly agricultural practices.

These findings are made by the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI’s) flagship publication, the 2016 Global Food Policy Report.

As the global population is expected to soar exponentially in the coming years, the report urges the stakeholders to examine ways to feed more people efficiently and sustainably, while combatting climate change.

“The Sustainable Development Goals task us all with the challenge of eradicating hunger and undernutrition in 15 years or less,” said director general Shenggen Fan.

“This report shows that if we are to meet these goals, we have a lot of work ahead.”

“We must promote and support a new global food system that is efficient, inclusive, climate-smart, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven, and business-friendly in order to ensure that no one goes to sleep hungry.”

This year’s report takes a look at the latest research on opportunities and challenges the world will face in achieving multiple SDGs.

The report includes chapters on climate change and smallholder farmers, sustainable diets, food loss and waste, and water management.

Shifting diets

Worldwide, the number of overweight people is two-and-a-half times larger than the number of undernourished people.

Urbanization, increasing incomes, and higher demand for animal protein is changing diets in developing countries.

Beef consumption, for example, is growing, and is one of the most resource-intensive and environmentally impactful foods to produce.

Beef production requires four times more land (and four times as much greenhouse gas emissions) than dairy for every unit of protein consumed.

Additionally, beef is seven times more resource-intensive than pork and poultry, and 20 times more than pulses.

In 2009, adding one American to the global population would have required an additional hectare of land, which is as big as the maximum size of a World Cup football field with more than 1,700 additional square meters to spare.

It would also pump out an additional 16.6 mt of carbon dioxide equivalent each year—or the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving from New York to Los Angeles and back seven times.

Food loss and waste

Measuring food loss and waste is difficult but most studies estimate that between 27-32% of food produced never makes it to the table.

This number is even higher for foods that are particularly susceptible to loss and waste such as fruits and vegetables.

Food loss and waste occur differently in developed and developing countries.

In developing countries, most food is lost at the production level—investments in infrastructure, transportation, and packing industries is key.

In developed countries, most food is wasted at the retail and consumer level.

Here, consumers need to be educated about food availability and appearance to reduce food waste.