Scientific American blogger David Wogan made a point this week that really struck me: “For nearly every overweight person on the planet, there exists another person that is undernourished.” He’s almost right – I looked up his sources and did the math myself. Currently, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates (per a report in 2012) show that there are 870 million chronically undernourished people in the world. The World Health Organization estimates (per a report in 2008, more recent than the one cited in the blog post) 1.4 billion adults are overweight, and nearly 500 million of those are considered obese.
Essentially, these figures mean there are about 8 people who are overweight for every 5 people who are starving. This highlights a need in global food systems: how do we improve access to food where there is the most need? The UN’s FAO targeted this issue with a Millennial goal of halving undernourishment in the developing world by 2015 – but, while we are well on our way to this goal, progress has slowed considerably since 2007-08.
The FAO lists agricultural growth by “smallholders,” or family-owned farms that provide both food and a crop to sell, as being one of the most effective ways to reduce hunger in developing nations. In addition to providing food for themselves and their community, smallholders are also more likely to spend their money locally, which in turn increases economic opportunities for the entire community. They do point out that growth in agriculture develops over time, and that supporting smallholders does not reduce the need for short-term social protection and support so that these systems can flourish.
What can you do to help? The FAO has a donation site where you can target your dollars to specific initiatives in specific locations, or you can donate to TeleFood Global, a group of projects “designed to provide families and communities the tools necessary to increase the quantity and variety of their food production.”
If you’re trying to lose weight, why don’t you calculate the dollar amount you will save in food purchases and challenge yourself to donate your savings?