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Ensuring everyone gets fed

World Hunger Day

27 September 2019

Having enough to eat is a basic human right, but there are many challenges to seeing that this happens.

Muriel Cozier

Hunger remains a huge global problem which is being tackled not only by local communities, but by the global research community. As we approach Freedom From Hunger day, 28 September 2019, we look at some of the work being done to address the problems.

A healthy sustainable future

Increasing environmental challenges, coupled with the need to ensure the supply of sustainably produced, nutritionally adequate food, is part of the discussion surrounding food supply and health globally. An international conference ‘Planting Seeds for the Future of Food’, held in July 2017, debated the pressing issues from the perspective of three major stakeholders; farming/agriculture, the food industry and consumers. The outcomes from the conference were published in SCI’s Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

Many complex issues which have implications for the stakeholders were debated. These included the challenges for the current food and agriculture system if the United Nations second sustainability and development goal to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition while promoting sustainable agriculture were to be met.  Plant science is one tool for delivering nutrition and promoting sustainability along with soil quality and technologies for monitoring crop growth and tracking disease risk.  

It was also highlighted that the food industry; from manufacturers through to retailers and food outlets had a role to play in influencing consumer behaviour and ultimately health. Micronutrient deficiencies and protein-energy malnutrition is a problem affecting millions of people. It was noted that around half the world’s maternal and child population is deficient in iron, iodine, vitamin A and zinc.

Less used food sources

Africa is abundant with vegetables and wild food that are nutritionally significant but not well known.  
Commercial leafy greens such as cabbage, lettuce, spinach and kale are popular in urban centres where the relatively affluent population can afford them. However, in poorer rural communities, such as those in Africa, indigenous fruits and vegetables gathered from the wild are important components of diet. These plants thrive without the need for pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers. Many of these vegetables are also resistant to pests and disease.

Thriving in harsh conditions, many are rich in micronutrients and are often the cheapest sources of many essential vitamins and minerals. In addition, they may be beneficial in treating ailments such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Traditional leafy vegetables that are cultivated and consumed throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa include okra leaves, Celosia, Brassica, Hibiscus and Cucurbita. There are also many that are very localised, only associated with some regions or parts of Africa.

The paper, published in SCI’s Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, concludes that there is a need to develop improved management practices and use of these crops.

DOI: 10.1002/jsfa.8953
DOI: 10.1002/jsfa.8902

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