With billions of people either starving or obese, poor diets have become a leading cause of disease and death, prompting calls for a new approach in 2019 to how food is produced to stem rising rates of malnutrition.
Eating unhealthy food, or not having enough food, has led to rising rates of malnutrition, with one in eight adults globally now obese — while one in nine go hungry and almost two billion lack essential vitamins and minerals.
Per Pinstrup-Andersen, professor emeritus at New York’s Cornell University, said these figures were a wake-up call to change the focus on food production which for decades had aimed to boost crop yields and calories to save people from starving.
But he said it was now time to focus on nutrients.
“You can go blind from not getting enough Vitamin A,” said Pinstrup-Andersen, who used to head the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
Yet, agricultural researchers have been reluctant to shift the focus from calories to nutrients, he said, arguing they are still struggling to supply enough calories to a growing population to worry about the quality of the diet.
But the argument for change is growing.
In January, a report by Oslo-based EAT Foundation, which aims to transform the global food system, launched by The Lancet, plans to propose, for the first time, scientific targets for what constitutes a healthy diet and sustainable food system.
CGIAR, the global agricultural research network whose annual funding of more than $900 million goes mainly towards staple crops, also plans to intensify efforts to address the nutrition challenge, said chair of its management board Marco Ferroni.
Economists and scientists said another sign of change was the fact the 2018 World Food Prize, dubbed the Nobel for agriculture, went to champions of nutrition — only the third time since 1986 that nutrition-related efforts were recognised.
The prize credited Lawrence Haddad and David Nabarro with cutting the number of stunted children in the world by 10 million by lobbying governments and donors to improve nutrition.
Haddad, Executive Director of Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), said poor nutrition was now a global crisis.
Still, governments and international bodies were increasingly aware of agriculture’s role in nutrition, said Anna Lartey, who leads the nutrition division at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). — Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thin Lei Win