World Food Day 2022 and our Environment

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(N. Munal Meitei)
Environmentalist, email- nmunall@yahoo.in

World Food Day is observed on 16 October every year since 1979 with this year’s theme “Leave no one behind.” The primary focus is to tackle global hunger, malnutrition, obesity to hunger and strive to educate people about the right to safe, hygienic and nutritious food as the basic necessities for all humans and to reduce food wastage and unfair allocation of resources to ensure healthy diets for the future generations.

Our globalized world is one where our economies, cultures and populations are becoming increasingly interconnected. When someone is left behind, the chain is broken. This impacts not only the life of that person, but also others. The world today faces two major problems. One is the issue of providing a healthy diet causing lifestyle issues such as obesity, diabetes. On the other hand, there is the issue of hunger which leads to malnutrition, death and abnormal growth in children.

There are about 821 million people chronically undernourished and nearly 99% of them live in developing countries. About 60% of the hungry people in world are women and nearly 20 million infants are born each year with low birth weight, of them, 97% are in under developed countries and that also one in every five births happens without a skilled birth attendant. Thus, about 50% of all deaths in children are under 5 years due to under-nutrition.

Every year there are more global deaths due to hunger than those caused by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined together. Each day, 25000 people, including about 10000 children die from hunger and related causes. It’s also true that more than half of the world’s hungry population lives in areas with conflict as it interferes with food production.

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India ranks 102 out of 117 countries in the 2019 Global Hunger Index. The world’s second most populous country and the 5th largest economy is the home to a quarter of the world’s undernourished people. Around 21.25% of the population still lives on less than Rs. 152 a day. Despite so much economic growth, India still is grappling with high levels of poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.

Article 47 of the Constitution states that it is the ‘Duty of the state to maintain the standards of nutrition in the country’. However, after 75 years of Independence, hunger and malnutrition in India is abysmal. The National Family Health Survey reports the shocking statistics for over 34.3% children in India are stunted. Close to three fourth of them are anaemic and one out of every three undernourished children in the world, is from India.

India was an agricultural economy for many decades but now, it is a service economy; still agriculture take a critical roll. Of India’s 1.36 billion populations, more than 248 million people were known to suffer from malnutrition. This makes India home to the maximum number of hungry people in the world. About 25% of the world’s hungry population resides in India and 42% children in our country are undernourished while 18% do not have access to safe drinking water.

The country, in 2013, had enacted the National Food Security Act which ensured food grains at subsidised rates to approximately two-thirds of the population. However, implementation to end hunger is far from being over.

When we link between the growing rate of hungry stomachs in India and meeting the same with the help of the annual produce, climate change enters in the picture. Climate change may add 50 million poor people in India by 2040 due to falling wages, rising food prices and slower economic growth.

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According to FAO, by 2050 we will need to produce 70% more food to feed the world population of 9.3 billion. But scientists put the limit on how many people the earth can feed are 10 billion at the maximum. To meet the food demand and other requirements, rich forests to the size of a football ground are cut and cleared for every second which amount to 15 billion trees per year griming our survival. It’s also a fact that by 2030, mankind will require 2 earths to meet our requirements.

Food production is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. At the global level, agriculture contributes to climate change through emission of greenhouse gases and reduction of carbon storage in vegetation and soil. Locally, agriculture reduces biodiversity and affects natural habitats through land conversion, eutrophication, pesticide inputs, irrigation and drainage. What we eat and how we grow it also effect to our environment and the planet.

Pesticides and fertilizers deemed to use for more food production, effects the natural world. Forests and habitats are destroyed for farmland and agriculture and when trees are cut, the habitats of the local wildlife are damaged and major carbon sinks are blocked.

Once farmland are created, heavy artificial herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers are used. The herbicides intend to prevent the growth of unwanted plants that would ‘steal’ nutrients from the crop, and the fertilizers increase the nutrients available in the soil so that the crop’s yield is maximized. As a result soil toxicity increases and kill organisms and ultimately enhancing the bio-accumulation in our body.

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The chemicals are more absorbed by the simple organisms, like algae which when eaten by larger animals causes genetic damages and killing populations. Production of fertilizers and pesticides consume large quantities of fossil fuels emitting greenhouse gases enhancing climate change. Transportation of food is also influences the global warming.

Food waste is a big challenge to our environment, right from crop growing, to market and final household consumption. One third of the food produced globally is wasted every year which value more than one trillion US dollars’ worth. An area larger than China and 25% of the world’s fresh water supply is used to grow food that is never eaten. Per capita food waste in the world is between 95-115 kg per year. Food waste produces 3.3 billion tons of CO2, that contributes to climate change.

More than enough food is produced to feed 7 billion people globally but as many as 811 million people still go hungry. About 8.9% of the world’s population – 690 million people – goes to bed on an empty stomach each night.

About 70% of all water use goes towards agriculture. Growing, production and transportation of food can create a long list of environmental pollution that can have adverse effects on our health and ecosystem.

Governments, private sector, academia, civil society and individuals need to work together to prioritize the rights of people to food, nutrition, peace and equality. The main cause of hunger worldwide is poverty. The food you choose and the way you consume, affects our health and that of the planet. Therefore with coming of World Food Day, 2022, let’s consume food judiciously and save from wastages for the sack of the mother earth and for those children sleeping without foods.

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