Insight into Global Food Inequalities

Reducing food inequalities across the world means ensuring all populations - regardless of income - have access to sufficient quantities of nutritious food and are therefore able to consume healthy, balanced diets. In fact, an increase of 60% in food production globally is required if the goal of feeding a predicted world population of 9 billion by 2050 is to be achieved.

The trend toward lower-income countries having the problems of hunger, malnutrition and associated health problems such as stunting needs to be addressed. Equally, the health issues - such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer - associated with the over-consumption of highly processed foods by populations in higher-income countries need mitigating.

These challenges may seem overwhelming, but numerous strategies can be followed and practices that can be adopted that can help reduce food inequalities across the world.

Climate smart agriculture (CSA) provides opportunities for maximizing agricultural yields while ensuring sustainability and includes:  agricultural diversity and farm biodiversity, efficient land use, climate-resilient crops and land, changes in diet, and the utilization of both scientific and traditional knowledge, and innovative technology.  

Food Bank

Image Credit: addkm/Shutterstock.com

How can agricultural diversity reduce global food inequalities?

Diversity in agriculture could reduce global food inequalities by improving the availability of a wider variety of healthy food items to more people than is currently the case. At present, 66% of all crops produced worldwide comprise only nine plant species, and diets across the globe tend to be homogenous.

Growing a more diverse array of healthy foods would provide greater choice for consumers when making decisions about what to buy to eat, and education about diet and nutrition would also need to be provided alongside this, especially for more vulnerable groups, if healthy dietary choices are to be consistent.

Agricultural diversity synergistically improves biodiversity on the farm. In turn, biodiversity improves agricultural productivity through enhancing the climate-resiliency of the soil (and thus, the crops grown) by strengthening its aggregate stability, that is, its ability to withstand extreme weather events, which can lead to erosion and further degradation. This is especially vital for farms in parts of the world that are already climate-sensitive, and where subsistence farming is already the norm.

Although monoculture is often a feature of commercial farming, it is not a sustainable farming strategy due to the necessity for fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides for the nutrient-poor soil resulting from single-crop farming, and the detrimental effect that the run-off of these chemicals has on aquatic ecosystems and other natural habitats. Biodiverse farms, especially those which adopt agroforestry, by contrast, tend to have much more nutrient-rich soil due to leaf litter, and thus higher crop yields in the long term.

How can changing to a plant-based diet reduce food inequalities?

The 60% of all agricultural land that is used for livestock grazing as well as the additional land that is used to grow livestock feed, could be repurposed to grow a diverse selection of fruit and vegetables. A meat-focused diet is not sustainable on a planetary scale.

Less ruminant grazing could lead to less methane being released into the atmosphere, which would help reduce the effects of climate change since methane is one of the key greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.

A reduction in the number of people following a diet consisting of highly processed food  (typically in higher-income populations) would mean a decrease of up to 56% in the amount of energy used in food production, as well as 64% less greenhouse gas emissions.

Providing a broader variety of plant-based foods across the globe alongside education about diet and nutrition, especially in poorer rural communities, could encourage more people to choose a plant-based diet and this could prevent up to a quarter of all adult deaths.

Reducing the effects of climate change in one part of the world can have positive impacts on other parts of the world. It can decrease the risk of the more climate-sensitive parts of the world being adversely affected by extreme and unpredictable weather events, such as storms, heavy rain, and drought, all of which can adversely affect crop production and harvests, which in turn affects food security, both locally and globally.

How can technological innovation reduce global food inequalities?

Integrated crop management (ICM) technology - which comprises the integrated management of nutrients, pests, and finance, as well as crops - can increase crop yields significantly. Practices that can improve productivity can not only increase the amount of food available to populations but can also improve farmers’ income, thereby improving their ability to move beyond subsistence farming. 

Smart farms can utilize mobile technology to also increase crop yields and farmers’ income in many ways, such as soil nutrient monitoring, irrigation management to optimize watering and maximize the use of available water, and using climate data to better predict weather patterns, rainfall, and temperature. Apps can also be used to identify local markets where smallholders can sell their products at a fair and profitable price.

Mobile technology can also improve global food inequalities by providing rural populations with better access to education, dietary and health information, products, and extension services. Sustainable technologies such as solar-powered cold storage systems for storing surplus harvest in climate-sensitive areas with consistent sunlight offer innovative ways of ensuring minimal food wastage.

In conclusion, adopting the outlined agricultural practices can reduce global food inequalities, including the provision of sufficient, healthy food to populations across the world, and the minimization of hunger and malnutrition. The sustainability of such farming practices means it does appear to be possible to maintain a healthy planetary ecosystem while feeding future generations.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020

Sources:

  • Bhattacharyya P., Pathak H., Pal S. (2020) Messages and Way Forward. In: Climate Smart Agriculture, Green Energy and Technology, pp 189-193. Springer, Singapore. https://doi-org.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/10.1007/978-981-15-9132-7_12
  • UN Environment Programme (2021) How tweaking your diet can help save the planet.  www.unep.org/.../how-tweaking-your-diet-can-help-save-planet
  • Di Cesare M., Ghosh S., Osendarp S., Mozaffarian D.(2020) The Global Nutrition Report, Development Initiatives. globalnutritionreport.org/.../assessing-progress
  • Rola-Rubzen M.F., Villano R., Estevão M., Brito F.E., Hardake J. B., Dixon J  (2020) Adoption of Integrated Crop Management Technology for Poverty Reduction and Food Security, The Case of Smallholder Rice Production in Timor Leste. DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190949501.003.0019.  In: Science, Technology, and Innovation for Sustainable Development Goals: Insights from Agriculture, Health, Environment, and Energy (Adenle A., Chertow M.R., Moors H.M., Pannell D.J. (2020) Oxford Scholarship Online. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190949501.001.0001

Further Reading

Last Updated: Apr 5, 2022

Shyron Golding

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Shyron Golding

Shyron Golding brings a rich and varied academic and professional experience to the environmental sector, and naturally adopts an interdisciplinary approach to complex environmental situations.

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