The role of international organizations in combating food insecurity and diseases
Eradicating hunger is a major challenge facing the world today. There is the need to find sustainable solutions to meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
The UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 is concerned with Zero Hunger – i.e it pledges to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030 (UN). The following organizations have made significant contributions towards achieving the SDGs related to food security and diseases:
- Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):
The FAO aims to:
- Help eliminate hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition
- Make agriculture, forestry and fisheries more productive and sustainable
- Reduce rural poverty
- Enable inclusive and efficient agricultural and food systems
- Increase the resilience of livelihoods to threats and crises
The FAO is empowering smallholders and family farms for improved rural livelihoods and poverty reduction. In Georgia, sixty farmers have been supported with facilities for smoked ham and pig production, as well as agricultural tools and equipment. Wine makers, mushroom producers, beekeepers and woodworkers, with specialization in making agricultural tools, have also benefit from the FAO rural development project, financed by the Government of Austria. For details click:
- Georgian smoked ham and other rural enterprises benefit from FAO project
- Traditional smoked ham is focus of FAO pilot project in Georgia
2. World Food Programme
World Food Programme (WFP) aims at providing emergency assistance, relief and rehabilitation, development aid and special operations. It is committed to ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition by 2030‘, in line with the United Nation’s goal of achieving Zero Hunger by 2030. WFP contributes in achieving this goal by providing food and food-related assistance to people in conflict affected countries where people are likely to be undernourished.
“On any given day, WFP has 5,000 trucks, 20 ships and 92 planes on the move, delivering food and other assistance to those in most need. Every year, we distribute more than 15 billion rations at an estimated average cost per ration of US$ 0.31. These numbers lie at the roots of WFP’s unparalleled reputation as an emergency responder, one that gets the job done quickly at scale in the most difficult environments “World Food Programme
As the UN’s main agency responsible for combating hunger around the globe, the WFP, in 2017, provided food assistance to 91.4 million people in 83 nations, helped to avert famine across vast swathes of sub-Saharan Africa and offered school meals and take-home food to 18.3 million children (World Food Programme, 2018)
In 2016, WFP deployed logistics and assessment teams to bring much-needed relief to those affected by Hurricane Matthew. With the loss of lives (470 people) and extensive destruction of property in Haiti and Cuba, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that 750,000 people needed immediate humanitarian assistance. (World Food Programme, 2016). This shows the unwavering effort by the FAO to end hunger by 2030.
3. World Health Organization (WHO)
The United Nations aims at achieving Good Health and well-being (Goal 3) for all by 2030, with WHO mandated to achieve this target. The World Health Organization aims at:
” providing leadership on matters critical to the health and engaging in partnerships where joint action is needed; shaping the research agenda and stimulating the generation, translation and dissemination of valuable knowledge; setting norms and standards and promoting and monitoring their implementation; articulating ethical and evidence-based policy options; providing technical support, catalysing change, and building sustainable institutional capacity; and monitoring the health situation and assessing health trends” (World Health Organization).
Globally, the WHO plays a crucial role in reducing maternal mortality by increasing research evidence, providing evidence-based clinical and programmatic guidance, setting global standards, and providing technical support to member states. In addition, it advocates for more affordable and effective treatments, designs training materials and guidelines for health workers, and supports countries to implement policies and programmes and monitor progress.
In November 2018, WHO, in collaboration with the government of the Demographic Republic of Congo and other partners, launched a campaign in the Northern Kivu Province town of Beni to distribute anti-malarial drugs as well as insecticide-treated mosquitoes nets to over 450,000 people. (World Health Organization). This led to a reduction in malaria-related deaths in the country.
The role of governments in combating food insecurity and diseases
Governments play a key role in ensuring food security through government agriculture development policies, research and development and private sector participation. National governments can focus on designing policies and programmes to support the agriculture sector, including policies on food imports or the provision of subsidies to support the agriculture sector.
For example, the EU government provides subsidies to farmers. This goes a long way to ensuring that food is made available for the citizens every time. The EU introduced the Common Agriculture Policies as a strategy to ensure food security. The success of this policy led to what is known as the ” mountain of wheat and the Lake of Wine”. The FAO defines food security as when all individuals have secure “access to adequate safe and nutritious food to maintain a healthy life.” (FAO). It is therefore the responsibility of every government to make food available to its citizen at all times. Details on the CAP: Arguments for and against the Common Agricultural Policy
Governments also play a key role in combating diseases. This could take the form of policies on disease prevention, health promotion and health protection. For example, public health laws need to be passed by the government to limit the free movement of people, especially in the case of communicable diseases such as the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone in 2017, where the government declared a curfew on the capital in order to carry out door-to-door inspection of homes to find Ebola-infected patients.
Governments could also undertake health programmes to vaccinate people against certain diseases. For example, the government of Nigeria, in collaboration with the World Health Organization, undertake mandatory vaccination for all children under five against the six infant killer diseases.
In 2008, the Government of China issued the policy paper on Health Literacy for Chinese Citizens – Basic Knowledge and Skills and started to implement the ongoing national health literacy promotion project. The project funding is more than 40 million USD annually (WHO).
The role of NGOs in combating food insecurity and diseases
Oxfam International is a charity organization that provides support in ensuring food security, gender justice and improving health. In Yemen, a country ravaged by a protracted civil war leading to the deaths of several hundred people, Oxfam contributed significantly to meeting the needs of several refugees in neighbouring countries.
In South Sudan, Oxfam is working with the local government to provide farmers with the needed support to develop sustainable farming practices. It also supports refugees who are living in neighbouring Uganda with food and other forms of support to meet their basic needs.
MSF (Medecins Sans Frontiers – Doctors without Borders) is a French Non-Governmental Organization that provides free medical treatment in conflict zones in low-income countries. The doctors are usually volunteer workers who provide medical services at no charge, but usually, receive funding from governments and individuals.
The influence of TNCs (agribusinesses and the media) in shaping food consumption habits
TNCs/Agribusiness and media:
Agribusiness refers to farming undertaken by large-scale business corporations or transnational corporations that embrace the production, processing, distribution of agricultural products, and the manufacture of farm machinery, equipment and suppliers. More recently, it has become synonymous with large agrochemical industries involved in the research and production of high-yielding seed varieties and genetically modified seed varieties alongside the chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides that support them. Examples of agribusinesses are BASF, Dupont, Monsanto, Syngenta, Nestle, Unilever, Kraft foods and Cargill.
How can TNCs or Agribusiness influence food consumption habits?
- The production of food on a large scale by TNCs makes food available to areas that do not have sufficient food supply because the TNCs can export food to such hunger-stricken countries.
- TNCs may sell food at a cheaper price to local consumers since they are able to reduce costs due to the large-scale nature of their operations. By so doing, they are capable of producing more at a lower cost.
- Since most foods produced by TNCs have preservatives, it increases the lifespan of food on the shelves. This means that the consumer will not suffer from food shortages resulting from poor storage facilities or the perishable nature of the food.
- TNCs also give consumers the opportunity of making food choices according to their preferences. The wide range of options available means the consumer buy food that meets their dietary needs and food preference – key ingredients in the definition of food security
Criticisms of TNC/Agribusiness
- At the input stage, the natural environment and natural breeding selection are losing out to genetically modified seeds.
- Large land grabs by TNCs deny the people power to cultivate food for domestic consumption, possibly leading to food shortages
- Food is preserved, processed and package-branded and marketed such that food is becoming increasingly unrecognizable. For example, it is becoming increasingly difficult to link processed meat products to the actual type of animal.
- They may encourage or emphasise the growing of non-food cash crops rather than food crops which would limit the consumer’s choice of food.
- TNCs often sell processed food, which has less fibre, thereby increasing the consumer’s risk of contracting diseases of affluence.
- The Media and advertising companies can also present food adverts which present unhealthy food as suitable for consumers. This could compel them to switch from eating healthy food to unhealthy one.
- They may gain control of the supply of seed for one or more basic crops; this seed may then be priced beyond the means of the average farmer or the seed may require higher than affordable investments in infrastructure or equipment in order for high yields to be obtained.
Transnational corporations, food systems and their impacts on diets in developing countries by William Bruce Traill, University of Reading
Gender roles related to food and health
- Gender roles and food production/acquisition
- Gender roles and disparities in health
Factors affecting the severity of famine
Famine refers to a severe shortage of food generally affecting a widespread area and large numbers of people. Natural causes include droughts, floods, earthquakes, insect plague and plant disease. Human causes include wars, civil disturbances, sieges and deliberate crop destruction.
Examples of countries suffering from severe famine include Yemen (currently), Central African Republic, Somalia (2011-12), Eritrea (1998-200)
Governance plays a key role in determining the intensity of a famine. In developing countries, most governments do not have strategic policies that can ensure food security. Countries like Sudan, Somalia, Niger and Mali, which often experience famine could be due to a lack of political will to ensure food security.
On the other hand, in developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, about 2% of the population is engaged in agriculture, yet they are able to produce more than enough food to feed their entire population and send some as food aid to developing countries. This is due to the effort of the governments of these countries to invest in agriculture. Therefore, the severity of famine in such countries, if that could ever happen, would be less severe than in LICs.
- The power of the media
The media can help to alleviate the severity of famine by telecasting news and documentaries that cover the famine in a given country. Pictures of children suffering from malnutrition such as in Yemen were shown on BBC and CNN which went a long way to touch the hearts of people worldwide. This led to the mobilization of funds to support such famine-stricken places. Examples include the July 1985 fundraising concert for the famine in Ethiopia which raised over 300 million dollars through ticket sales for the concert. A popular one is We are the World 25 for Haiti.
Despite the role of the media in creating awareness about famine, it can be biased in reporting famine in different parts of the world. Also, some images of famine-affected areas may only show an over-exaggerated situation and might not focus on the fundamental cause of the famine.
- Access to international aid
International aid is usually in the form of food aid. It is the assistance given by a donor country to a recipient country in the form of relief/food items such as maize, rice, oil or packaged food in situations where natural disasters have made it difficult or impossible for people to prepare their own meals. A good example of food aid is US oil and wheat flour sent to developing countries. International aid can also be given in cash (giving the government money to buy food items to feed the people in need).
International aid can help alleviate the severity of famine because it is usually given free of charge and any country in need would quickly embrace such a package for the food needs of the population – at least in the short term.
However, it 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. Besides, it’s usually given with strings attached.
- Climate change
Especially in the Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa, climate change has resulted in drought, extremely hot temperatures and a shorter cropping season. In some cases, the rains fail in a given year and in subsequent years, leading to a severe shortage of food.
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 to a severe famine.
- Land used for biofuels
The need for renewable energy as a sustainable alternative to non-renewable energy can lead to an increase in the use of food crops for biofuels. This is the case in the USA where large tracts of land are used to cultivate maize to generate ethanol/biofuel. This process might lead to land grabs in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan, which are prone to famine for the cultivation of crops for export to feed animals or for the production of ethanol.
- Population growth
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.
- Length of drought
Drought per se, might not always lead to famine if it is just for short period. However, if the drought prolongs to the end of the cropping season and extends to the following year or two, the severity of the famine will increase.
One case study of the issues affecting a famine-stricken country or area
Case study of famine Ethiopia to be presented by Ethiopian Students in DP2 Geography Class. Further reading: Page 318-319 of Geography Course Companion by Garrett Nagle.
1. Explain two economic causes of food deficiency.
The economic causes of food deficiency include
- price increases in staple food items (regardless of why or how they arise, whether from local changes or changes in other regions or countries);
- transition from food-based agriculture to non-food commercial or export agriculture;
- inadequate transport infrastructure for food (including food aid) to be supplied and/or distributed efficiently;
- failure to invest in irrigation projects meaning that the area is unable to cope in times of low rainfall or drought.
2. To what extent were human factors responsible for a recent famine?
You are expected to consider a range of human factors and other factors (such as physical/environmental, economic and political) in their responses. Answers should clarify how each factor affected the occurrence, severity and outcome of a particular famine.
3. Examine the factors which have led to more food becoming available in some areas in recent years. [10 marks]
Numerous factors can result in more food becoming available. The first major group of factors is those related to the improved productivity and/or total production of food-related agriculture. These factors include:
- increased area under cultivation as a result of land clearance and/or irrigation;
- higher yields due to better technology (e.g. drip irrigation instead of flood irrigation), mechanization, and improved varieties (including GM crops and livestock).
Distribution and storage are also important. More food may become available because
- less is lost or damaged in transit as a result of improvements in the distribution network (highways, rail, planes) or in the vehicles used (e.g. refrigeration).
- Improved packing methods may also be important.
- Subsidies to local farmers for food crops, and reductions in food exports may also raise the amount of food available locally.
- Equally, a rise in income may also increase the availability of food within some sectors of society.
- Increased food imports also play a part, and this means that increased availability of food may depend on the success of harvests a long way away from their eventual destination.
- Changes in climate may bear some responsibility for increased food availability in some areas, but this will normally be restricted to those areas which were previously suffering from a prolonged condition such as an extreme
Consider a variety of factors, and support their ideas with accurate examples, if you want to score high marks.
4. Examine the variety of causes responsible for a recent famine
Possible human factors include
- age and education of the agricultural workforce;- they are not physically strong to carry out heavy duties that machinery could have performed.
- extent to which the population is concentrated in a few large cities, or dispersed or across a wide area; migration flows. This means that a lot of people are migrating from one place to another.
- increasing population size that has led to a decrease in the amount of land available for farming. Large population sizes also led to an increase in the demand for food which is below the supply.
Economic factors include:
- ability to purchase food supplies from outside the area or country;
- deficiencies in the transport system reducing the effectiveness of food distribution;
- lack of capital to replant or restock farms.
Political factors might include:
- war and refugee movements;
- refusal to accept international food aid.
Possible physical/environmental factors include:
- soil degradation due to over-cultivation of the land.
- climate change;
- natural hazard events such as hurricanes, drought and earthquakes.
Case study: Famine in Ethiopia.pptx
To what extent were physical factors responsible for one recent famine? 
A famine may be defined as a widespread shortage of food in a region that leads to malnutrition and hunger and results in increased mortality rates.
Famine may be caused by a variety of physical and human factors.
Physical factors might include:
- severe drought, caused by climatic factors
- soil exhaustion, caused by poor farming practices
- crop pests and diseases
- natural hazards, such as major earthquake
- climate change/global warming.
Human factors might include:
- civil war/conflict/refugees
- government policies/corruption
- poor infrastructure
- widespread poverty / high food prices
- rapid population growth/population pressure
- failure of response by outside agencies.
Examine the relative importance of the human and physical factors that led to a recent named famine