- Nearly 690 million people are hungry globally FAO
- COVID-19 pandemic could add 83-132 million people to this number: FAO
- FAO has called for diversification in the food we grow and consume
New Delhi: Nearly 690 million people are hungry globally, up 10 million since 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic could add between 83-132 million people to this number, depending on the economic growth scenario, states the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations. FAO believes that a steady increase in hunger since 2014 together with rising obesity indicates the need to accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen food systems and protect people’s livelihoods. On World Food Day 2020 which also marks the 75th anniversary of FAO, the organisation has called for growing a variety of food to nourish people and sustain the planet.
To promote the diversification of food and nutrition for sustainable living, the FAO has decided to celebrate the World Food Day 2020 on October 16 with a theme of ‘Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together’. The theme calls for collaborative efforts to make healthy food and sustainable habits a part of everyone’s lifestyle. FAO believes that World Food Day this year is not ordinary as the world is fighting the Coronavirus pandemic which has pushed people to hunger and has exposed the fragility of the existing system.
Ahead of World Food Day 2020, NDTV spoke to Bishow Parajuli, United Nations World Food Programme Representative and Country Director in India to understand the steps needed to achieve FAO’s goals.
NDTV: The theme of World Food Day 2020 is to grow, nourish and sustain together which essentially means our food systems grow a variety of food to nourish a growing population and sustain the planet, together. How can we achieve this?
Bishow Parajuli: In a way, our food system is imperfect or somehow broken so that needs to be improved. And how do we do that; by improving the production and distribution process. We need to reach out to those hungry people who are really missing benefits from these systems; there is a huge amount of food loss happening so we need to address that. Additionally, there are elements of shock because of climate change that affect food production and distribution.
We need to put various efforts such as elements of crisis stabilisation so that the crisis doesn’t affect the vulnerable. We also need to ensure there is an element of nutritive food and our planet is preserved. Also, ensure we don’t over exploit or destroy the planet; because excessive use of land without nurturing it and extreme use of water can create more problems for future generations. We need to adopt a sustainable approach.
NDTV: According to the FAO’s report on ‘The State Of The World’s Biodiversity For Food And Agriculture’, while more than 6,000 plant species have been cultivated for food, fewer than 200 make substantial contributions to global food output with only nine accounting for 66 percent of total crop production in 2014. How can we bridge this gap?
Bishow Parajuli: The issue here is food habits. Unfortunately, we are losing a lot of our traditional food habits like, in Africa, Cassava is one of the traditional foods but now people are moving to foods like rice, wheat and potato. Similarly, in rural areas of India, Nepal and several countries in Africa, we used to grow and eat millets. However, now a shift towards rice, and bread is being seen. People are moving to easy food habits which wasn’t the case earlier.
We need to promote not necessarily all 6,000 plant species but at least diversify the crops we grow and create a market for them. Crops like millet, Cassava and Sorghum are adaptable to climate and can be included. In public food distribution programmes like mid-day meal in India or ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) and other initiatives that support women and children, these varieties can be included.
In India, under the Public Distribution System (PDS), beneficiaries are provided with rice and wheat. But now, the government is trying to support millet production through Intensive Millet Promotion in some of the Southern states like Odisha and that’s a good incentive for farmers. Hence, there is a need for incentive programmes and a bit of encouragement for farmers to grow diversified crops.
At the United Nations, World Food Programme, we buy food like Cassava and distribute it among people. We are also heavily encouraging and making efforts to support small farmers to grow and also buy from them.
NDTV: What is the importance of diversity in food and localisation of food in sustaining the planet? How can it help in the reduction of carbon footprint?
Bishow Parajuli: The key aspect of diversification and localisation is the adaption of the local condition. For instance, in Africa, Maize was introduced during British time. They used to have traditional millet and Sorghum and continued to consume it until the rainfall pattern changed that added a full stop on the growth of maize.
Sustaining is letting the local system help to produce on its own without destroying the nature. Like in Punjab, there is increased use of water for the cultivation of rice instead of wheat. As a result, the water table is going down and one day there will be no water. We are destroying nature. We need to find a way where we produce food for ourselves and also save nature. Here, comes the role of diversification and localisation. Grow crops that are suitable to the environment and don’t need a lot of natural resources.
Additionally, there is a lot food wastage (like at weddings) and food loss. In France, there is a law against food wastage. The idea is to bring consciousness among people.
What Is Food Loss?
Food loss refers to food that gets spilled, spoilt or otherwise lost, or incurs reduction of quality and value during its process in the food supply chain before it reaches its final product stage.
- United Nations Environment Programme
At WFP, we buy food locally and distribute it where it is needed. This promotes local economy and avoids transportation of food which further reduces carbon footprint. We also distribute cash to the people so the local market is strengthened and encourage school meal programmes to include home grown food; depending on location and country.
NDTV: Please suggest some of the ways to promote the concept of ‘grow local and eat local’?
Bishow Parajuli: The reason why we say ‘grow local and eat local’ is that when we transport food long distances we leave a high carbon footprint. In India, I often see different varieties of apple – from Himachal, Shimla, and California. While buying, I say give me Shimla apple. It might not be a perfect, shining apple but does it matter? As a consumer, being conscious of what are you buying, from where are you buying and what we are consuming is really important. It needs individual consciousness and also encouraging people to opt for kitchen garden. There are increasing efforts to promote rooftop garden and it is good. You may not get a lot from your kitchen garden but if a lot of people do it, it becomes significant.
Secondly, the whole issue of food wastage. We all need to be conscious about conserving food. Simple things can really help like take only how much you need.
Also, let’s learn to give and share. There are 690 million hungry people in the world. WFP estimates that due to COVID-19, the number of acutely food insecure people could jump by 80 per cent to 270 million by the end of 2020. Therefore, there is a need for all of us to join and support. Help your neighbour with whatever little they need. It is not a symbol of giving; it is caring; caring for humanity.
NDTV: How can we make food systems more resilient and robust so they can withstand increasing volatility and climate shocks?
Bishow Parajuli: There are multiple ways; firstly, use crop which needs less water so you adapt to changing climate. Secondly, a bit of diversification in the variety. There are varieties within a crop – early maturing variety and delayed maturing. A combination of the two can reduce environmental risk and build resilience. Thirdly, diversification of the crop itself that is growing multiple crops like rice, wheat, and maize.
In old times, people used to grow their own crops like my family used to grow Soyabean, maize, wheat, millets, rice, groundnut, and barley. All these combined. Certain crops were grown for the purpose of selling and others for one’s own consumption. We need to go back to our old habits.
There is a need for concrete policy and programme to support farmers. Like, in Zimbabwe, the United Nations did a programme wherein a farmer was growing enough in one-fourth hectare of land to feed his family, send kids to school and lead a happy life. They were growing a certain crop that had high export value. We need to educate farmers with good services.
India has achieved a lot on the production side especially due to the green revolution. Even during the coronavirus induced lockdown, harvesting was promoted and felicitated. We need to support women farmers and the nutritional need of women and children so for that diversification is important. The food system must ensure women and children are not left behind.
NDTV: In India, over 70 per cent of rural households depend on agriculture. It plays a big role in the nation’s economy. India is also one of the largest producers of foodgrains, fruits and vegetables, with overflowing granaries, how does our agricultural practices need to be changed to adapt to the goals of nutrition?
Bishow Parajuli: India in a way is already ahead of the curve because it has reached the self-sufficiency in production and now it is working on reaching out to every citizen of the country with all the needs of the diversified micronutrients. POSHAN Abhiyaan is one of the great examples of the same. India also has mid-day meal covering 120 million school students, PDS with 800 million people under it and the ICDS. India is making good efforts.
India is a big country and is a great example compared to other countries but it needs to work on three areas – reducing food loss; ensuring continuous diversification in food intake; supporting farmers in adapting to climate change.
Food fortification is there to ensure consumption of key micro-nutrients like vitamins, minerals, but I think, there is also a need to increase the consumption of vegetables, and fresh fruits.
In India, a lot of small farmers are dependent on rainfall so how do we ensure that they continue to grow food even if there is no rain? Farmers need to be supported with continuous research and development.
Like, we talked about Punjab; farmers need to move to different crops so as to reduce the burden on the water table. Maybe they need to get back to growing more of wheat. Maybe we need to find out alternative types of seeds that need less water and these types of development will help in going forward.
NDTV: The COVID pandemic exposed supply chain weaknesses across the globe. What are some of the steps being taken to tackle the fallout of COVID on food production and distribution?
Bishow Parajuli: Globally, unfortunately, the COVID-19 has shocked the food system. In the last few months, there has been some increase in prices but the supply aspect has not changed much. There was some disruption in some areas but overall, like in India, the food has always been available. Even during the lockdown, the transport facilities were available for the delivery of essential services.
To ensure smooth production, we need to provide farmers with fertilisers and agricultural inputs. And for distribution, the transport system is the key and we need to keep it running.
Due to COVID-19, people lost jobs which led to loss of income and reduced purchasing power. People are unable to buy food and that is the problem government and other organisations need to help WITH. In India, the government announced Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) that provides free food grains to people and was extended till November end. It was a quick and excellent move which really helped people. But going forward, we may need to continue this support for few more months.
WFP along with the Government of Odisha is doing vulnerability assessment to see the impact of COVID-19. This will give us a better insight and plan the next steps. Similarly, we should look for other programmes.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.