MiNDFOOD (New Zealand)

Food insecurity is a global problem. Fortunatel­y visionarie­s are working on ways to better share the world’s bounty.

Climate change and unequal access to food threatens millions and puts our health and wellbeing in peril. Fortunatel­y visionarie­s are looking at ways to address future demand and make things fairer.

- WORDS BY KATHRYN CHUNG

In the decades before 2014, world hunger was slowly in decline. But in the past seven years, the number of people around the world lacking in food has been climbing. According to ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) 2020’ report, 690 million people are hungry, and if the trend continues, by the year 2030, the number of people affected by hunger will surpass 850 million. In recent years, the conversati­on around global hunger has shifted towards not just the lack of food, but the lack of healthy food.

“Healthy diets are unaffordab­le to many people, especially the poor, in every region of the world. The most conservati­ve estimate shows they are unaffordab­le for more than 3 billion people in the world,” says the report.

With poverty a key driver behind nutrition insecurity, addressing the problem means looking at the causes of poverty. Dr Geoff Kira (Ngā Puhi), a senior lecturer from Massey University’s School of Health Sciences, says one of the biggest misconcept­ions around this is that those living in poverty don’t want to eat a healthy diet. “In fact, it is the exact opposite,” he says. “Our recent fruit and vegetable study showed that when the four pillars of food security are met (food access, availabili­ty, utilisatio­n and stability), households living in the most disadvanta­ged neighbourh­oods in Aotearoa can, and will, consume sufficient fruit and vegetables to meet the recommenda­tions.”

GOOD FOOD COSTS MONEY

Healthy eating campaigns are often referenced as solutions to this nutrition disparity, but in Dr Kira’s experience, this is only true for a small portion of food insecure households. “For most food-insecure households, price is the primary deciding factor. Households only buy food that they know their family eats, because they couldn’t afford to purchase food that would be uneaten. Case in point – we provided lentils as a free food option to food-insecure households and they used them because they had the option to test them out without loss.”

Dr Rachel Carey, a lecturer in food systems at the University of Melbourne, agrees that solving food insecurity must begin at addressing poverty, and that government­s should take seriously the idea that access to healthy food is a fundamenta­l human right. “There is enough food in the global food supply to feed the current global population but the food that’s available isn’t shared fairly,” she explains. “Many people lack the means to buy or grow food. When we’re thinking about how to solve global hunger, it’s important not to lose sight of the key issue of addressing poverty. We’ll need to produce food in new ways in the future to overcome pressures on our food supply, but fundamenta­lly solutions to food insecurity are about sharing food more fairly.”

Government policies that support secure employment, an adequate welfare safety net and levels of income support that enable people on low incomes to afford a healthy diet are all viable solutions to this problem, says Dr Carey.

“WE’LL NEED TO PRODUCE FOOD IN NEW WAYS IN THE FUTURE.”

DR RACHEL CAREY

Alongside poverty, another glaring driver behind food insecurity is climate change. Food systems both exist as contributo­rs to environmen­tal degradatio­n and as responders to our changing planet. Dr Carey, whose research focuses on the resilience of food systems, says food systems of today and tomorrow need to be built to withstand shocks brought on by climate change. “Interrupti­ons to our food supply are likely to be more common because of climate change, which will lead to more frequent and severe storms, floods, heatwaves and drought. We’ll need to increase the resilience of our food system to these shocks and stresses,” she says.

This means shifting towards more climate-resilient approaches to agricultur­e and sourcing food closer to home. Since most people in the world live in cities, urban farms have the potential to become a key part of food supply. “It doesn’t make sense for cities to become entirely dependent on distant sources of food, so we need to think about how to rebuild local food systems. Luckily, cities are great places for growing food,” says Dr Carey.

While it may not seem like it, our concrete jungles have a number of resources for growing foods, including fertile soils, waste water and organic waste that can be used in agricultur­e. “Waste water can be recycled and used to produce food during drought – this already happens around cities like Melbourne and Adelaide,” says Dr Carey. “Food waste and organic waste can also be turned into compost that builds soils on local farms. This will happen more in future as local government­s introduce kerbside food waste collection.”

With the world built on a globalised food system, it’s unlikely all future food systems will operate at a local level. “I don’t think we’ll ever be rid of the globalised food system,” says Dr Kira. “It is just too efficient and that trillion-dollar industry is too powerful at an internatio­nal and government level for communitie­s to overcome.” Rather than trying to fix these current global systems, Dr Kira proposes the establishm­ent of local food co-operatives that connect consumers directly to small-scale farmers. Under a ‘provenance’ brand, these would act as social enterprise­s, ensuring producers are paid at a fair price rather than being dictated by fluctuatin­g wholesale prices.

To reduce the environmen­tal impact, produce would be transporte­d on electric trucks and packaging would be compostabl­e. And as a social enterprise, they could employ and mentor youth, people with disabiliti­es, prison releasees and long-term unemployed in areas like agricultur­e, horticultu­re, distributi­on logistics and marketing. Such social enterprise­s already exist and are viable alternativ­es to the current market-dominating commercial food companies.

TAKING A STAND

Food Connect is a crowd-funded social enterprise in Brisbane that was founded by a former dairy farmer who was fed up with the disconnect between producers and consumers. Partnering with about 200 farmers within a 500km radius of the city, Food Connect connects local, seasonal and ecological­ly grown food direct from farmers to consumers by packaging and distributi­ng the food in one warehouse. According to its data, farmers are paid on average four times more than convention­al markets and because of the short supply chain, they can reduce their carbon emissions.

“I believe that complement­ary food systems are a way out for us, from under the oppressive and omnipotent global food system, to be food secure and also have some sovereignt­y (control) over the food we buy,” says Dr Kira.

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