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Food security: the world is thirsty for a solution

Food security may have been thrust more into the spotlight recently following issues related to COVID-19, rising inflation, extreme weather events and regionalized conflicts – but it has been in the spotlight for decades. United Nations agenda.

According to the definition of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security, food security is achieved when all people have, at all times, physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their food preferences. and their dietary needs.

Unfortunately, even in 2022, these standards have not been met.

UNSW food security expert Professor Johannes le Coutre from the School of Chemical Engineering says that for the world to achieve food security, there must be a balance between the health of the population, the economy and the environment.

“The cornerstone of food security is that everyone has access to enough safe and nutritious food,” he says.

“However, global issues such as climate change, geopolitical conflicts and pandemics have truly reversed years of progress in eradicating this pressing problem.

“We must act now if we are to tackle the emerging food crisis we find ourselves in.”

Ukraine, often referred to as the “breadbasket” of Europe, exports more than $4 billion worth of wheat, but there has been a dramatic drop since the start of the war with Russia. Image: Shutterstock

Globalization and food supply chains

Globalization has made the world more connected than ever, bringing together the interdependence of cultures and economies.

The war in Ukraine not only showed us how conflict in one country can have a ripple effect across the world, but also revealed how vulnerable global supply chains can be.

Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s largest producers of agricultural raw materials. Long known as the “breadbasket of Europe”, Ukraine’s share of world wheat exports is around 10%. But export volumes have fallen by around 50% since the start of the war.

Professor le Coutre says the conflict in Ukraine has put pressure on world wheat prices and Australian consumers will feel the effects soon, if not already.

“Ukraine is a huge producer of wheat and sunflower oil. Although companies can still source wheat from local suppliers, the price they pay is still heavily influenced by the global market,” he says.

“The war-triggered food shortages have affected food prices everywhere else and we will start to see prices for these items slowly increase as supply tightens.

“Many African countries such as Somalia and Egypt, but also Turkey or Bangladesh are big importers of Ukrainian wheat, so the instability of the war will affect the supply of these importing countries.

“Sometimes geopolitical issues can quickly escalate, showing a downside to being more connected.”

Read more: Many more Meatless Mondays needed to sustain world population of 9 billion

Don’t let food go to waste

Supply chain issues are a problem, but how often do we see perfectly good meals go to waste when they’re only half finished?

About 30% of the world’s food production is wasted, or 1.3 billion tons of food, costing the global economy about $940 billion each year.

It is believed that solving the problem of food waste could end world hunger, but Professor le Coutre says that is not entirely true.

“Food is wasted at all levels: by the agricultural producer, the retailer, institutions and consumers,” he says.

“Of course, if we reduce food waste, there may be enough food in the world to feed everyone. But that doesn’t mean that every person has the purchasing power to buy that food.

“What we have to do is also create wealth. If we have food and wealth available, only then will we have a real chance of solving the global problem of food security.

Read more: Tonight I’ll have cultured meat with a little salad

The lucky country: Australia’s food security

Australia is not called “the lucky country” for nothing.

An analysis by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry concluded that Australia does not have a food security problem.

In fact, Australia produces far more food than it consumes and is considered one of the most food-safe nations in the world. Only 11% of our food is imported and this is mainly due to the diversity of tastes and preferences.

Although we may see short spikes in food prices from time to time, these disruptions are usually only temporary. Professor le Coutre says Australia is in a much better position compared to the rest of the world.

“The Australian food landscape is in relatively good shape. We have extremely high-end livestock and the quality of our fruits and vegetables reflects our strong agricultural industry,” he says.

“Although we don’t have an imminent food security problem, our global economy is still heavily dependent on exports.”

In 2020-21, Australia’s agriculture sector was worth around $71 billion, according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. With nearly 70% of our produce shipped overseas, this makes Australia vulnerable to global supply chain disruptions or natural disasters that can impact harvest seasons, says Professor le Coutre.

“We have already seen how conflicts in countries on the other side of the world can impact food prices locally,” he says.

“It is therefore important that we also focus on developing the domestic food manufacturing and processing market.”

Health is wealth

For many years the belief was that providing people with enough calories would mean they lived longer – but modern health economics tells a different story, says Professor le Coutre.

“At the turn of the century, we started noticing a plethora of health issues, such as diabetes and obesity, which were starting to become more common in the community. And then people started to realize that what they ate had a huge impact on their health,” he says.

“If we provide people with inadequate food, it will only create more health problems for them.

“People need to have access to healthy, high-quality food – and at affordable prices too. With rising food prices and global food shortages, it is more difficult for people from lower socio-economic groups to have access to good food.

“A healthy population means that it can contribute to a healthy economy which, in turn, can contribute to providing better nutrition – this is the cycle of economic health.”

sustainable development goals

Established in 2015, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are set by the United Nations and respond to the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. Image: Shutterstock

Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a blueprint designed to end poverty and improve health and education. From zero hunger to providing decent work and economic growth, each SDG has its own targets, indicators and progress reports.

While only a handful of SDGs specifically set targets around food, the general themes of the 17 goals can be linked to food and agriculture.

Professor le Coutre asserts that all the SDGs are interconnected and that achieving them will end the global problem of food security.

“Food security is a multifaceted and multidimensional problem, and the solution must go hand in hand with strategies that improve people’s livelihoods beyond the provision of food,” he says.

“For example, the application of sustainable agricultural policies can help alleviate problems of water scarcity, directly linked to SDG number six “Clean water and sanitation”.

“But it has to be done on a global scale and all stakeholders have to commit to the targets – you can’t have some of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world operating on the same scale 10 years from now. , it just won’t work.

“Just as the impact of these problems are linked, so are the solutions. We all have a key role to play in ensuring that these goals are achieved.