Possible solutions to food insecurity
While HICs have successfully implemented policies (such as the Common Agriculture Policies in the EU) to achieve sustainability in food production, ensuring food security still remains a big challenge in most LICs. A number of measures can be implemented as a possible solution to food insecurity. These include economic, political and environmental as well as technological solutions.
a) Economic solution
Investment in agriculture – financial investment such as agriculture subsidies given by the government could be given to farmers in order to increase food production.
Loans – this could be micro-loans given to rural farmers at low-interest rates to invest in farming.
Food crop cultivation – this will make food available for consumption, rather than investing to feed industries producing biofuels.
Commercial agriculture – this will encourage large-scale farming of food crops that could potentially make food available at cheap prices or for export to increase the farmer’s revenue
b) Political solution
Food aid helps to alleviate food shortages because they serve as an emergency source of food during war or natural disasters like famine or drought. eg. Food aid was sent to Burma when they were affected by a cyclone named. Quite recently (in 2015) food aid was sent to Nepal when the country was affected by an earthquake. Food aid also reduces the financial pressure on the government. It forms a strong bond between the recipient country and the donor country. However, food aid can damage the local production of food in the recipient country. For example in 2002-2003, food aid donors overreacted to a projected 600,000 metric tonne deficit in Malawi causing a severe decline in cereal prices and hurting local producers.
Fair trade attempts to be socially, economically and environmentally responsible. ie. They adopt policies that meet the livelihood of the people, respect/preserve their local culture and protect/use environmental resources wisely. Fairtrade cabins take responsibility for the wider impact of their business and aim at sustainable development for disadvantaged/excluded producers. It provides improved working conditions, employs sustainable methods of production and is characterized by the absence of any “middlemen”.
Fairtrade may help farmers obtain fairer prices for their produce. It provides farmers with the needed technology to increase food production like tractors, and combined harvesters and provides guaranteed markets for the products. More income returns to farmers and stays within the country (with an economic multiplier effect); the greater possibility of farmers growing food crops, rather than industrial crops. Examples of fair trade companies include Blue Skies in Ghana, which exports pineapples and also produces pineapple juice for export and the local market.
Free trade: an agreement between two countries to trade between themselves without any restrictions or barriers. Examples of free trade include ACP, NAFTA (North Atlantic Free Trade Area), the EU, ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and many other agreements. Trade with other countries could potentially lead to increased production of food crops for export, thereby making money available for the farmer to invest in agriculture on a large scale. This will also ensure regular income for the farmer and encourage them to stay in agriculture.
Free trade makes food cheaper for the recipient country because there are no tariffs imposed on imported food. For example, it costs 99p per bag to import rice. Countries that do not have access to particular foods due to their geographic location can benefit from some food items that are not grown in their countries. e.g. Ghana imports apples from South Africa due to their geographic location. Food companies can relocate to areas experiencing food shortages in order to provide food. Trade between the two countries allows the exchange of agricultural technology which can be used in increasing food production.
Fertilizers that they use may cause environmental pollution. Besides, it is difficult to control food miles as food is mostly transported by air. The factories that involve in food processing contribute to the carbon footprint of the areas.
Policies aimed at increasing food production to meet the needs of the ever-growing population. Governments should have long and short-term agriculture development policies to support the sector.
An increasing population means more mouths to feed. If efforts are not made to control population growth or increase food production to meet the needs of the growing population, it could lead to a Malthusian catastrophe where famine becomes inevitable.
Civil wars or ethnic conflicts in some countries such as the Darfur region in Sudan, and recently, the war in Yemen have all contributed to the severity of famine in these areas. War makes it difficult for farmers to visit their farms, food stored in times of war may also run out and international aid might be difficult reaching the conflict areas. These combine to compound the problem of food shortage, thereby increasing the severity of the famine.
c) Technological solution
Use of irrigation
Dry season farming plays a critical role in alleviating food shortages. In areas close to the desert, such as the Sahel or Sudan climate, there are perennial water shortages resulting from the extended period of the dry season. Again, due to climate change, these areas are getting drier and drier by the year as a result of low rainfall or drought. The solution would be to invest in dry-season farming/irrigation so as to provide water for crop farming and livestock production.
Mechanization of agriculture
This includes, but is not limited to, investment in road infrastructure by extending feeder roads to farming areas, and providing tractors and other forms of farm machinery to farmers to cultivate crops on a large scale. It also involves investing in silos and other processing industries to store or preserve food for use during the lean season.
Food waste reduction
To ensure food security, efforts must be made to reduce the amount of food waste generated in hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. For example, it is estimated that
“about 40% of food prepared in the developed countries like the United States or the EU go to waste. That means each year, the average American household is throwing away about $1,400 worth of food. And yet, hundreds of thousands of people live without sufficient access to safe and nutritious food. In 2016 the number of chronically undernourished people in the world reached an estimated 815 million, up from 777 million in 2015, either because of one defect on the food or due to overproduction” (www.facingthefuture.org).
Food is wasted because of the expiry dates on the label, which suggests that food is best eaten by a given date or there is just so much to eat that enough is left as food waste. Food waste could also result from defects in food fresh vegetables and fruits.
To reduce food waste a restaurant in Bristol, UK now serves dishes prepared using expired foods. Some supermarkets have already taken the lead to cut down on food waste by the end of March 2018.
- Tesco ranks top supermarket for food waste reduction
- Tesco pledges to end food waste by March 2018
- World’s first supermarket selling only expired food opens in Denmark
One case study of attempts to tackle food insecurity
Advantages and disadvantages of contemporary approaches to food production
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals whose genetic makeup(DNA) has been transformed by scientific engineering. The process leads to the development of a new organism whose DNA is different from the natural one.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as “organisms in which the genetic material (deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA for short) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.” This technology also called genetic engineering, allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species. The resulting organism is said to be genetically modified, genetically engineered, or transgenic.
The top genetically engineered crops in the United States are corn, soy, sugar beets, papaya, alfalfa, arctic apple, canola, and cotton. The first GMO food crop is Flavr Savr tomato and the first GM animal is AquAdvantage salmon. The USA is the leader in the cultivation of GM crops, with 92% of all corn produced and 94% of soya beans.
The use of GMOs has generated a lot of debate in recent times. Others argue that is harmful to humans whilst others think otherwise.
Opponents of GMOs claim that:
- Releasing GMOs into the natural environment can damage natural varieties that are cultivated, which could alter the genetic makeup of foods consumed by humans.
- It may lead to the growth of superweeds, meaning weeds that have become resistant to herbicides such as glyphosate, thus making them ‘stubborn’ weeds for farmers to contain.
- GM seeds come with a lot of issues, such as patent rights etc. This means that farmers cultivating GM crops are not allowed to store the seeds for another growing season without the permission of the engineering company. In fact, the fruits from GMOs do not have the ability to reproduce when planted
- The cultivation of GM foods could make disease-causing bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics
- It is argued that GM foods have an unusual taste, different from organic ones.
Those in favour of GMOs claim that:
- GMOs have the ability to withstand powerful herbicides. Because most weeds have developed a strong resistance to herbicides, there is the use of more powerful herbicides which destroy the weeds and yet, do not have any negative on the GM crop.
- GMOs have also been developed to improve the nutrient content of food. For example, some varieties of rice have high levels of Vitamin A, higher than organic rice, which is beneficial for consumers in low-income countries
- GMOs are also said to be insect-resistant. This means they are able to resist pest infestation, as certain toxic bacteria are sometimes added to the GM crop in order to reduce the number of insecticides needed.
- GMOs are developed to resist drought and extreme temperatures, in some circumstances. This means that farmers in areas experiencing water shortages or low rainfall can cultivate GM crops without having to worry about sufficient rainfall.
Some countries have banned the use of GMOs eg. Algeria, Bhutan Venezuela and Madagascar among many others. In the EU, foods containing GMOs (>0.9%) must be labelled before being sold at the supermarket.
Vertical farming is the growing of crops vertically, in layers, especially in urban areas. Although, still in its infancy, vertical farming is beginning to gain popularity in the developed world, where food production is taking place in tall buildings in urban centres.
Advantages of vertical farming
- It reduces the cost of transporting food from rural to urban areas. Thus, food becomes cheaper and healthier as it is mostly grown in urban areas.
- Again, the need to employ tractors, combined harvesters and other forms of heavy equipment used in agriculture is eliminated. This is because as farming takes to the skies, heavy machinery becomes useless. This reduces the cost of food production and saves the environment from greenhouse gases.
- Furthermore, vertical farms do not use large amounts of pesticides and herbicides. This is also a cost-cutting benefit to the farmer and the consumer at large.
- Vertical farming does not produce polluted water which runs into rivers and lakes, to cause eutrophication.
- The energy requirements for conventional farming are much higher than it is for vertical farming. This saves the environment from greenhouse gases and protects water bodies.
- With vertical farming, floods, droughts and other natural disasters are eliminated, because the crops are cultivated in a controlled environment.
- Large tracts of farmland could be saved in rural areas for purposes other than farming, which could be a way of reducing our ecological footprint.
- Vertical farming critics have argued that the system is not energy efficient and that it requires more energy to cultivate than traditional farming practices.
- Land values are high in cities and it would be economically unwise to cultivate crops on high-value lands which could have been used for commercial ventures.
- Vertical farming may lead to low food production since it does not allow for large-scale cultivation of food.
In Vitro Meat
In vitro meat, also known as cell-cultured meat, clean meat or synthetic meat is the production of meat using tissue engineering technology, where a cell is taken from a living animal and placed into a protein-rich liquid, causing the cell to grow without the need for the animal body (Codrington, 2017). The cells multiply to produce artificial meat, however, not all forms of meat can be produced this way.
- Large tracts of farmland could be saved in rural areas for purposes other than farming, which could be a way of reducing our ecological footprint. e.g for every hectare of in-vitro meat, about 10-20 hectares of saved for other forms of farming practices.
- It is environmentally friendly, as it reduces the need for non-renewable energy sources, which could lead to the production of greenhouse gases (just 4% production of GHGs)
- Large quantities of meat can be produced from a very little cell capable of producing about 10 tonnes of meat.
- In vitro meat is also said to be nutritious as it allows additives such as vitamins or omega-3 fats.
- It saves animals from the harsh treatment they go through to produce meat.
- It is unethical to cultivate in-vitro meat, according to religious beliefs, because it is against natural principles to ‘grow’ meat artificially.
- People who tried in-vitro meat complained about the texture, claiming it was too artificial and lacked bones.
- The first in-vitro meat cost around $230,000 to produce. Even if this is cheaper in the long run, it will still be too expensive for the average farmer in a developing country to afford the technology.
- In-vitro meat requires a great deal of scientific ingenuity. To begin producing it, laboratories would need to develop sophisticated technology.
- Some developing countries may find this prohibitively expensive.
- This meat does not contain antibiotics and could be less resistant to diseases when eaten.
The merits of prevention and treatment in managing disease
The system of health care delivery in any country is as important as the availability and access to the health facility. There are two main systems of healthcare delivery:
- Preventive Health Care -i.e measures taken to prevent a disease from occurring as opposed to the treatment of a disease. In other words, preventive health care emphasizes the need to prevent the incidence of the disease before it occurs. E.g. Polio vaccination takes place in Ghana every year to prevent the spread of polio among children.
- Curative Health Care: involves treating the symptoms of the disease after the person has been infected. Curative health care involves massive investment in medical infrastructure by gov’t in the form of hospitals, nurses’ training colleges and medical schools to train doctors as well as providing enough resources to make them functional. Most countries in the world focus on curative health care rather than preventive health care.
- A third system combines both curative and preventive health care: i.e. Primary health care, and is seen as a viable alternative for LICs.
Advantages of preventive health care:
- It is cheaper, in the long run than curative healthcare
- It prevents pain and discomfort resulting from serious medical conditions that require curative care
- It encourages healthy habits – people begin to eat healthy foods, exercise regularly and try to avoid excessive alcohol, sugar or salt
- It saves a nation from economic losses resulting from work-related absenteeism
- The disease is contained before it spreads to other members of the community.
Disadvantages of curative health care:
- It is expensive to treat diseases once a person is infected
- It requires huge labour costs in terms of employing nurses and medical personnel
- It lowers productivity, as infected workers may have to be absent from work for a long time
- It reduces the life expectancy of a population
- Diseases can easily spread to the rest of the population, especially in the case of a contagious disease
In poor communities, people tend to suffer from diseases of poverty which, to a large extent are preventable. However, as a result of social marginalization in most countries, such people are often not provided for against such illnesses. The government tends to focus on providing expensive curative health care, especially in the case of degenerative diseases such as diabetes, cancer and other related diseases. It sounds reasonable to focus on preventive healthcare in such poor communities, as most diseases of poverty are communicable.
To achieve the goal of establishing preventive health care, government priorities must focus on providing primary health care services to the rural and poor communities in the country with the goal of preventing diseases and curing them as well.
The means of infection plays a critical role in determining the type of health delivery system that should be pursued. In the case of communicable diseases, it is expedient to embark on preventive health care to prevent the disease from spreading. For example, by providing portable drinking water to rural and low-income communities, can help prevent the outbreak of cholera and other water-related diseases. Also, in the case of Ebola and HIV/AIDs, it is important to undertake a massive public awareness campaign to sensitize people about the need to practice safe sex or avoid contact with infected people. This is much better than allowing the population to be infected by the disease before finding curative measures to treat them. The same goes for non-communicable diseases – education of the public on the need to lead healthy lifestyles to avoid chronic diseases
In all these circumstances, scientific intervention is important in determining which path to embark upon. Scientific innovation in the treatment of certain diseases could lead to cheaper treatments, thereby calling for curative treatment rather than preventive treatment. For example, in Ghana malaria is widespread the country, however, the cost of treating malaria is cheap, hence the government is focusing more on the treatment of malaria in urban areas (as they can afford to buy the drugs) and focusing on both curative and preventative health care in the rural areas by distributing treated bed nets for free. Recently, with scientific innovation, the World Health Organization has financed the development of a vaccine for malaria and it is piloted in Ghana, Malawi and a third African country. This is more of a preventive measure by the WHO, which, in the long run, will save many lives in Africa.
Question: Referring to one or more diseases, discuss the factors that determine the relative importance of policies of disease prevention as opposed to policies of treatment. [10 marks]
Numerous factors are relevant to this response, depending on the particular disease or disease chosen. They include
- relative costs of treatment per patient compared with prevention;- if the cost per patient in treating the disease is more expensive, one would opt for prevention and vice versa.
- cost-effectiveness and availability of disease-specific preventative measures such as vaccinations;
- whether or not the disease in question spreads by diffusion, and if so by which type of diffusion; for example expansion diffusion, hierarchical diffusion, contagious diffusion, network and relocation diffusion.
- potential long-term health or economic impacts of an outbreak of the disease in question;
- pressure from disease-specific non-governmental organizations.
Managing pandemics, including the epidemiology of the disease, prior local and global awareness, international action and the role of media
One case study of a contemporary pandemic and the lessons learned for pandemic management in the future
Read pages 121 -125 in Our Planet’s Food and Health by Stephen Codrington and 325 -327 in Geography Course Companion by Garrett Nagle.