Green revolution, climate change and global ‘nutritional’ security: Back to the future?
by MA Kabir Chowdhury, Sales Director - South Asia, Jefo Nutrition Inc
In the last 50 years, global food production, be it from plant or animal sources, has increased significantly resulting in improved global food security. Green revolution and subsequently, the blue revolution, have contributed to the many-fold increase in global food production. Although it has helped to reduce hunger worldwide, the nutritional quality of the food produced can be questioned.
As the global food production increases, often, there is a linear decrease in key micro-nutrients. For example, to satisfy the daily dietary need of polyunsaturated fatty-acids (PUFA) from farmed Atlantic salmon, one need to consume a portion more than double than that of couple of decades ago. Similar example can be drawn from the shift in consumption of grains.
In a recent study in India covering 800,000 households, intake of iron and other micro-nutrients from 84 food items were calculated over a span of 28 years (from 1983 to 2911)1. Authors reported substantially reduced iron intake without compensation of other food groups.
They identified the loss of coarse cereals such as pearl millet, finger millet, sorghum, barley and rye from the Indian diet as the main reason for reduced iron intake, particularly in states where rice, rather than wheat, replaced the coarse grains.
Another issue is the presence of pesticide, herbicide and other potentially carcinogenic compounds in animal feed that eventually ended up on human platter. Global pesticide use has grown to 3.5 billion kilograms of active ingredients per year.
A significant portion of these chemicals has proved to be excessive, uneconomic and unnecessary causing serious hazard for human health. Pesticide residues have been detected in fodder, cattle feed, pasture and hay, rice, wheat flour, oils, dairy products, milk, eggs, liver, kidneys, hair, skin, vegetables, human adipose tissues, breast milk and blood2.
Another factor affecting global food and nutritional security is the continuing climate change. It is suggested that, without action, climate change will impact nutrition through decreased food quantity and access, decreased dietary diversity, and decreased food nutritional content3.
A better understanding of the pathways involving climate change and nutrition is critical to develop effective solutions to combat nutritional insecurity in future generations.
Modern day agriculture production follows highly intensive mono-species farming system. Over more than major 100 cultivated crops by land area, top four comprises about 50 percent of the cultivated crop land.
These four items – wheat, corn, rice and soybean – are therefore referred to as 'global staple ingredients'. Any sudden catastrophic event or disease outbreak can therefore create massive havoc in global food supply chain by destroying the supply one or more of these four crops.
Diversification can reduce the dependency on few major crops would be a key step for future food security. The surface of the earth is 70 percent water and 30 percent land. Currently, we are using the 30 percent for almost everything we need and using the 70 percent as a 'toilet bowl'. We do need to change our mind-set.
We need to move our food production from land to ocean. We can use advanced technologies to produce algae (macro- and micro) as a sustainable food for animal and human. Technology is already here, what we need is the will to do it.
Increasingly, technology such as AI will play a much bigger role in improving food security. With the availability of 5G network, real-time delivery of information and developing tools for peer-to-peer training and knowledge sharing will be a common phenomenon.
In the future, using mobile phone, activities such as training and extension (scaling), research evaluation (evidence creation), stakeholder identification and mobilisation (a model web-based platform), and assessing farming systems, farmers' needs (baseline assessment) could be easier than ever.
Implementation of block-chain technology to trace food from farm to plate can improve food and nutritional security by reducing wastes and triggering immediate reaction to any catastrophic event. It can also help to standardise the nutrient composition of any product available for consumers.
Now, there is no magic solutions to the challenges we are currently facing or we shall be facing in the upcoming years. Old solutions such as 'sustainable polyculture' that can be defined as mix farming of grass, small shrubs, large shrubs, small tree, medium tree, and tall tree with vines. Another old solution is 'permaculture' – that involves farming using and managing the surrounding ecosystem.
We do need a combination of old and new solutions to maintain and improve global nutritional security and human health.
Finally, death from hunger will be reduced to 'zero' in the next few years. While deaths from mal-nutrition, mal-nutrition related diseases, and from toxins and carcinogenic chemicals are more prevalent today than before.
We need to change the term 'Food security' to 'Nutritional security'.