World Hunger: Climate Change, Food Waste and Elegant Solutions


We may be facing unprecedented world hunger caused by environmental degradation.

According to recent report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) prices may increase by 30-50 per cent within decades causing those living in extreme poverty to spend up to 90 per cent of their income on food.

Climate change – its impact on water supply, encouragement of invasive insects and plants and fueling of epidemics diseases – is the key reason that worldwide agricultural yields will fall.

The report talks about the need to change the way crops are grown, subsidized, and distributed but it also points to two surprising and elegant solutions.

Surprising, because they haven’t been talked about much before. Elegant, because both cannot only help feed a growing population, but also help slow global warming.

Solution 1: Addressing food waste

Over half the food produced today is wasted or discarded. In the US these losses are as high as 40-50 percent, with up to one quarter of all fresh fruits and vegetables in the US lost before they ever get to your refrigerator. In Australia, it is estimated that food waste makes up half of that country’s landfill. Almost one-third of all food purchased in the United Kingdom every year is not eaten.

Not only is this a tragedy for the world’s hungry, but it must be stopped because food decaying in landfills emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

In addition, 30 million tons of fish are discarded at sea every year. Over one-third of the world’s cereals are being used as animal feed. (This is expected to rise to 50 per cent by 2050.) And we are growing grains to feed our autos instead of our bellies. The report suggests that salvaging the discarded fish alone could support a 50 percent increase in aquaculture.

The research also draws out the possibility of producing biofuels from discards like straw and nutshells instead of growing crops to produce them.

Solution 2: Increasing organic crop production in developing countries

Spin from agribusiness continues to promote the idea that genetically modified organisms and large doses of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are the only ways to feed a growing population.

But a survey of 114 small-scale farms in 24 African countries found that yields more than doubled where organic, or near-organic practices were used, with the in-yield jumping to 128 per cent in east Africa. Organic practices outperformed both traditional methods and chemical-intensive conventional farming. Organic methods improved soil fertility and helped the soil retain water and resist drought more effectively.

Since conventional farming methods also contribute more to global warming than organic methods, due to their reliance on petroleum inputs, and growing research suggests that organic farming can feed the world, we need global cooperation and financial investment in promoting organic farming worldwide.

And of course we need to deal with food waste. There have been many suggestions here at EcoSalon, but it can’t only be left up to individuals.

Image: iChaz

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.