Farmers and policymakers can achieve SDG 2 by “breaking the silos” and approaching agriculture with a deeper consciousness towards responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), which will simultaneously contribute to achieving better health and well-being (SDG 3).
Policies should encourage the production of indigenous crops by allocating funding to research on local nutrient-rich crops and pilot programs for indigenous seeds.
Support for small-scale farmers, such as training on storage methods and international food export standards, as well as help for farmers to access better storage facilities, should also be pursued.
Our world produces food for over 10 billion people1; however, 815 million still suffer from hunger or malnutrition2. With the global population reaching only 7.5 billion, the sad truth is that the world already produces enough food to feed each person, but factors including nutrient-poor crops, food waste, and poor storage methods, prevent nations from achieving global food security. Since 2016, UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 23 has placed an emphasis on the importance of ending hunger for all by 2030, which has prompted leaders to reassess their approaches to agriculture. Farmers across the globe have piloted different agricultural technologies such as genetically modified seeds (GMOs), biofortification, and organic agriculture, in search of a more sustainable approach to food security. Moving beyond a technological fix, we argue that farmers and policymakers can also achieve SDG 2 by “breaking the silos” and approaching agriculture with a deeper consciousness towards responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), which will simultaneously contribute to achieving better health and well-being (SDG 3).
Food waste is one of the key causes of food insecurity worldwide. According to the World Bank, African farmers typically lose 20-40% of their grains to post-harvest losses4. These post-harvest losses can occur due to a range of reasons, including poor on-site storage infrastructure, improper food handling, or inadequate food storage methods during transport to local or international markets. When stored improperly, crops can become infested by pests and other rodents or spoil due to high temperatures and humidity. This recurring “storage issue” is often seen in Africa during the export phase. For example, to export to the European Union (EU), all goods must meet standards regarding mycotoxins (fungi), unauthorized food additives, and pesticide residues, amongst others. Foods that fail to meet these standards are immediately rejected. In Africa, the number of border rejections for African fruits and vegetables has significantly increased, from 110 rejections in 2002 to 479 in 2012, due to mycotoxin standards – and this number only continues to grow5. After rejection, farmers and cooperatives with poor storage methods often face challenges in selling their rejected goods to local markets due to rot and decay during transportation. This situation results in increased food waste and economic loss and subsequent hardship
Another issue associated with food insecurity is undernutrition. In sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 are attributable to undernutrition.6 According to a report of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, local diet data indicates that low-income women in rural areas experience high levels of micronutrient deficiencies and have diets low in dairy and eggs compared to higher-income women.7 These micronutrient deficiencies can affect women’s health and contribute to stunting, undernutrition, and learning deficits in their children. Research has shown that many indigenous plants are richer in protein, vitamins, iron, and other nutrients compared to popular non-native crops such as kale8; however, these plants are often neglected. Indigenous crops, or superfoods, favor their local climate and are typically more drought and pest-resilient9 Due to their nutritional value, growing indigenous crops may become a less costly means to add the key micronutrients and protein that children in sub-Saharan Africa need for their cognitive growth.
In summary, the key to improving food security is not to produce more food, but to be more responsible with food consumption and production. To address these challenges in food security policy, governments and decision-makers should implement agricultural policies that help farmers and low-income families achieve targets under SDG 3 and SDG 12. We propose the following two steps for in-country interventions:
First, policies should encourage the production of indigenous crops by allocating funding to research on local nutrient-rich crops and pilot programs for indigenous seeds. In these pilot programs, governments can collaborate with local agricultural extension workers to provide training on indigenous crop growing and conduct consumer acceptance surveys to improve household adoption rates. Governments should then launch awareness campaigns in collaboration with universities and local restaurants that teach locals how to cook with indigenous plants. These campaigns can be strengthened to fit local traditions (oral or visual storytelling) and encourage countrywide participation. For populations with limited access to large amounts of food, even consuming smaller portions of these nutrient-dense indigenous foods can help combat undernutrition and decrease the number of preventable deaths in children under 5.
Second, policymakers and local NGOs should also advocate for support initiatives for small-scale farmers, such as training on storage methods and international food export standards, as well as grants that help farmers access better storage facilities. Reducing post-harvest losses by even 1% could generate approximately US$40 million per year10.
Achieving these objectives will require a global effort, but if we work together to improve agricultural production and halve food losses (SDG 12), we can eradicate hunger (SDG 2) and contribute to better health (SDG 3).
The authors of this article, Astrid Ansah, Peter Aloys, and Robert Cesari, are M.A candidates at the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University in Washington, DC.
1 Holt-Giménez, Eric & Shattuck, Annie & Altieri, Miguel & Herren, Hans & Gliessman, Steve. (2012). We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People … and Still Can’t End Hunger. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture – J SUSTAINABLE AGR. 36. 595-598. 10.1080/10440046.2012.695331.
2 FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2017. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017. Building resilience for peace and food security. Rome, FAO, page 2.
3 United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals, 2015.
4 Adebayo B. Abass, Gabriel Ndunguru, Peter Mamiro, Bamidele Alenkhe, Nicholas Mlingi, Mateete Bekunda, Post-harvest food losses in a maize-based farming system of semi-arid savannah area of Tanzania, In Journal of Stored Products Research, Volume 57, 2014, Pages 49-57.
NO O.I. Kareem, “European Union Standards and Food Exports from Africa,” Journal of African Development, 18: 83-97 2016; Kareem et al, “European Technical Barriers to Trade and Africa’s Exports: Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures,” Global Governance Program, Jan., 2014
6 UNICEF Data: Monitoring the Situation of Children and Women: Malnutrition. (2017, December). Retrieved December 05, 2017, from https://data.unicef.org/topic/nutrition/malnutrition.
7 Global Panel Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, “ Food Systems and Diets: Facing the Challenges of the 21st Century.” (2017, September) pg. 110. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from http://glopan.org/sites/default/files/ForesightReport.pdf.
8 R. Cernansky, “Super Vegetables”, Nature, Vol. 522, PP., 146-148, 2015; Biodiversity International, “Role of Wild, Neglected Foods in Reducing Cost of Nutritious Diets in Baringo, Kenya”, 2017
9 R. Cernansky, “Super Vegetables”, Nature, Vol. 522, PP., 146-148, 2015; Biodiversity International, “Role of Wild, Neglected Foods in Reducing Cost of Nutritious Diets in Baringo, Kenya”, 2017
10 “World Bank. 2011. Missing Food : The Case of Postharvest Grain Losses in Sub-Saharan Africa. Washington, DC. World Bank. pg. 19. Retrieved on December 4, 2017, from https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/2824 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.”