Food security, malnutrition and food waste on the agenda for 2018

According to a new report from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 14.3 million people in Asia are still not getting the food they need and malnutrition problems are on the rise. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in Europe and Central Asia 2017 Report, analyses a range of food security and nutrition indicators to assess progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture) by 2030.

The report examines dietary energy supply, nutrition indicators, anaemia and obesity, as well changing diets and their impact on different population groups. After good progress in recent years, the situation in the region now appears to be stagnant. According to the report, poverty remains the single, most important obstacle to food security.

The report points to the fact that not everyone is underfed however. Malnutrition in one or more of its three main forms – undernutrition, overnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies – is present to varying degrees in all countries of the region, the report states. Often all three coexist, in what is called the ’triple burden’ of malnutrition. The FOA says that it is not unusual for countries to experience high rates of both child undernutrition and obesity. Micronutrient deficiencies and overnutrition in children, women and men have become two major food security and nutrition concerns across the region.

Overnutrition among the adult population is another important problem, the report found. The report points to a 30 percent increase in the number of obese adults during the period between 2000 and 2014.

Growing rates of obesity in the region closely correlate with per capita incomes that allow for consumption of food products with higher caloric value, coupled with increasingly sedentary lifestyles. But obesity can also be a result low incomes associated with the consumption of cheaper foods with high levels of total fat, sugar and other refined carbohydrates. A lack of awareness about healthy diets also contributes to the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity across the various income groups in the region.

The report points out that women and men in the region suffer from different forms of malnutrition. Women of child-bearing age are at greater risk of anaemia, constituting an important public health problem. While women are mainly responsible for growing, purchasing, processing and preparing most of the food consumed, to make a real difference, initiatives to improve nutrition should target both women and men.

This year’s report features the theme: Ensuring food security through better management of scarce and fragile natural resources in the context of climate change. Food demand in the region is growing, consumption patterns are changing, and urbanisation is accelerating. At the same time, many production systems in the region are already unsustainable and vulnerable to shocks – including those stemming from climate change and extreme weather events – making future productivity difficult. Achieving food security will require increases in agricultural production, greater resilience and more efficient use of natural resources.

Many countries in Asia are among the most vulnerable to changes and variability in climate, and many are already experiencing negative impacts on their agro-ecosystems, according to FAO. The report points to increased damage and losses to the crop, livestock, forestry and fisheries subsectors are already being reported.

One particular challenge for 2018 is going to be addressing food waste. The need to reduce food losses and waste, which account globally for over 30 percent of the food produced, is becoming even more urgent. By wasting less food, and reducing food losses along the value chain, pressure on fragile ecosystems is alleviated, greenhouse gas emissions are cut, agri-food systems become more productive and food security and nutrition are enhanced.

It is important that governments work alongside the private sector to address food security and nutrition problems. To date, few governments have policy frameworks that address all four pillars of food security: availability, access, utilisation and stability. Countries and companies need to begin recognising the importance of addressing nutrition issues in order to achieve food security and improve the wellbeing of their citizens (and for businesses their employees and customers).

We need to work together to develop nutrition policies and programmes combined with coordinated measures – such as social protection, rural development, addressing food waste and nutrition awareness programs – and focus on the underlying causes of each type of malnutrition.