Malnutrition is a crucial issue all over the world. In 2015, newborns occupied 45% of death among under five children, and moreover, 45% of deaths among under five children are caused due to poor nutrition (WHO, 2016). Annually, 3.1 million children die (Further facts are available).
But, do you really know what these numbers mean?
The introduction of this TED Talk discusses the meaning of this fact. In Ethiopia, parents name their children 1 month after the baby is born because parents are afraid that their babies will die. Stunted mothers give birth to underweight babies, therefore poor nutritional condition of mothers can be a major cause of damage to their children’s health .
These are the “facts”.
I’d like to argue that this is the extreme result of food insecurity. We need to consider the solution in a sustainable way immediately.
Especially in developing countries, micronutrient deficiencies, such as iron, iodine, vitamin A, zinc have severe consequences. For instance, Iodine deficiency impacts on intelligence and Vitamin A is known as a contributor to maternal mortality .
Médecins Sans Frontières are working on this problem by using nutritious products (RUF) to save children. However, this is a temporary solution because it is only in response to emergency and post war situations.
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Since this approach only combats the issues on a surface level, it does not provide a long term, sustainable solution to the deeper underlying causes of malnutrition, which are complex including poverty, climate, shortage of resources and lack of knowledge.
What are the food system strategies?
The preventions of micronutrient malnutrition are roughly divided into three types; agricultural strategies, food processing strategies, consumer strategies. Recently, high biotechnological strategies have been receiving attention; soil fertilization, bio-fortification, genetically-modified food and commercial food fortification.
But, the debates concerning organic foods and local foods are held actively even among daily conversation. We are frightened to eat foods, which use unidentified chemicals. These days, people prefer to choose organic foods and local foods, and this originates from the idea of transparency in food. Despite many consumers not knowing the exact meaning of what organic and local foods are, we have images that are “healthy “and “good”. This has resulted in the increasing concerns about food fortification. In addition, biotechnological approaches can be unrealistic, especially for poor small farmers due to financial burdens.
The possibility of Cropping System
The combination of well-balanced cropping system of high-yielding crops and highly nutritious food could meet human needs. The Green revolution, which began in 1960s achieved to meet sufficient calorie and protein intake by promoting worldwide production of staple food, especially cereals. However, traditional foods such as legume seeds contain more micronutrients compared with cereals (Table 1)[4, with citing data from USDA]. As many critics state, the Green revolution resulted in cereals replacing traditional crops and changed the agricultural system which led to malnutrition.
Table1: Typical concentrations of selected nutrients in major staple food
A case study was held in Ethiopia to create a hypothetical cropping system by using existing resources. The study found that by reducing barley crop land by 50% and expanding other species such as faba beans, kale, and enset, the recommended daily dietary allowance (RDA) of the WHO could be achieved satisfyingly; Energy, Protein, Zinc, Iron, calcium, Thiamine, Vitamin A (Pie1).
Land allocation in the cereal-based system (Pie1)
A notable point is that research was conducted only “by using potential resources”.
It could be said this is the most practical way to improve food security of nutrition, especially in developing countries. In these countries, major farmers are small or self-sustaining. Therefore, securing not only enough calories but also sufficient nutritious foods in small areas is ideal form. Additionally, this is ecologically sufficient and resilient because it doesn’t require transport to deliver foods, which produces massive CO2 emissions and biodiversity can mitigate any potential crop failure.
How can agricultural biodiversity be realised ?
In some developed countries, people are able to choose a self-sufficient lifestyle by growing their own crops even if their lands are the same size as small farmers in developing countries.
Although various factors result in this difference, accessibility of scientific information could create huge inequalities. If you plan to live a self-sufficient life, you could search “autarky agriculture plan” by using the Internet. Then, you can obtain evidence based information; a well-organized strategy regarding suitable crop species, annual plan, nutrition and more. While, in developing countries, often access to such information is limited due to undeveloped technological infrastructures. As a result, their lands often aren’t used in the way to maximize food productivity and nutrition-balanced food.
The intervention to facilitate cropping system with cooperating researchers and local farmers by NGO Pradan is evaluated on cognitive change. Through this intervention, local farmers have been able to shift from thinking about only “tomorrow” to an annual planning cycle. Moreover, vegetables need time to grow and it means farmers would lose their food during the transition period. Therefore, I suppose that community based interventions can support changes in the cropping system and they are necessary in developing countries as a radical solution.
Home Garden Project” is a successful intervention by NGO LI-BILD ( YouTube is available). This project aims to enhance nutritional conditions among families and livelihoods by increasing species diversity and productivity in Nepal. It resulted in improvements of food security including nutrition, income improvement and inclusion of socially vulnerable groups.
Regarding food (in)security issues, I’d like to argue that nutrition should be centred as a measurement. It is the quality of food itself and focusing on only food productivity would accelerate food waste and health problems such as obesity. Changing cropping systems is an achievable approach to supply sufficient nutrition with limited land, not depending on high bio-technology. Although it may seem out of fashion not to rely on new technology, I believe that changing cropping systems is the best sustainable.
,Fisher, M.A., Markle, W.H. and Smego, R.A., 2007. Understanding global health. McGraw-Hill Companies, Incorporated.