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Week 10 (Unit 18)

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World Food Crops and Food Security

Current supply and demand for world food crops
Population growth
Climate change
Sustainability of crop production systems
Promise and controversy of biotechnology
Strategies for increasing food security

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Current Supply and Demand for World Food Crops

Source:Pinstrup-Andersen and Cohen, IFPRI

See also the section in Lecture 1 on Global Food Security.

Since 1970, the number of food-insecure people in developing countries declined by 17% to the current 800 million, despite rapid population growth. However, progress has not been evenly distributed across the continents. Major improvements occurred in East and Southeast Asia, while the number of food-insecure people increased by 18% in South Asia and more than doubled in sub-Saharan Africa.

Malnutrition is a factor in more than five million deaths of children under the age of five each year. As the figure below shows, mortality rates in this age group have declined in the last four decades, but still remain at very high levels in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Photo by Keith Weller USDA/ARS


Viewpoint: Hunger is not a myth, but myths keep us from ending hunger

The following discussion presents the viewpoints expressed in a book entitled World Hunger: 12 Myths, 2nd Edition, by Frances Moore Lappé, Joseph Collins and Peter Rosset, with Luis Esparza.

Source: http://www.foodfirst.org/pubs/backgrdrs/1998/s98v5n3.html

See also the lecture notes by R.J. Salvador that provide additional discussion on these myths: http://www.agron.iastate.edu/courses/agron342/topics342.html


  • At least 700 million people do not have enough to eat.
  • Every year hunger kills 12 million children worldwide.


Myth 1: Not Enough Food to Go Around
  • Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide.
  • The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food.
Myth 2: Nature's to Blame for Famine
  • It's easy to blame nature.
  • Food is always available for those who can afford it.
  • The real culprits are an economy that fails to offer everyone opportunities, and a society that places economic efficiency over compassion.
Myth 3: Too Many People
  • Rapid population growth results from underlying inequities that deprive people, especially poor women, of economic opportunity and security.
  • Reduced poverty and better education lower mortality rates, which generally leads to declining birth rates.
Myth 4: The Environment vs. More Food?
  • Efforts to feed the hungry are not causing the environmental crisis.
  • Large corporations are mainly responsible for deforestation-creating and profiting from developed-country consumer demand for tropical hardwoods and exotic or out-of-season food items.
  • Most pesticides used in the Third World are applied to export crops, playing little role in feeding the hungry.
Myth 5: The Green Revolution is the Answer
  • Great production increases were achieved through the green revolution.
  • Increasing production alone cannot alleviate hunger.
  • Fails to alter the distribution of economic power that determines who can buy the additional food.
Myth 6: We Need Large Farms
  • Small farmers typically achieve at least four to five times greater output per acre than large-scale farmers, in part because they work their land more intensively and use integrated, and often more sustainable, production systems.
  • Secure land tenure is needed, to give farmers incentives to invest in land improvements, to rotate crops, or to leave land fallow for the sake of long-term soil fertility.
Myth 7: The Free Market Can End Hunger
  • The market's efficiencies can only work to eliminate hunger when purchasing power is widely dispersed.
Myth 8: Free Trade is the Answer
  • In most Third World countries exports have boomed while hunger has continued unabated or actually worsened.
  • Export crop production squeezes out basic food production.
Myth 9: Too Hungry to Fight for Their Rights
  • If the poor were truly passive, few of them could survive.
  • Our responsibility is to remove the obstacles in their paths.
Myth 10: More U.S. Aid Will Help the Hungry
  • Foreign aid can only reinforce, not change, the status quo.
  • Where governments answer only to elites, our aid not only fails to reach hungry people, it shores up the very forces working against them.
Myth 11: We Benefit From Their Poverty
  • Enforced poverty in the Third World jeopardizes U.S. jobs, wages and working conditions as corporations seek cheaper labor abroad.
  • In a global economy, what American workers have achieved in employment, wage levels, and working conditions can be protected only when working people in every country are freed from economic desperation.
Myth 12: Curtail Freedom to End Hunger?
  • Around the world, there is no correlation between hunger and civil liberties.
  • Economic security for all is the guarantor of our liberty.


Wheat harvest in Syria
Photo courtesy ICARDA
Wheat harvest on the Palouse
Photo courtesy USDA/ARS

Population Growth

Source: http://www.worldwatch.org/press/news/1999/04/08/

  • Current population growth rate is 73 million / year
    • 6 Billion in 2000
    • 7.5 Billion estimated by 2020
  • Urban population of the developing world could double to 3.4 billion by 2020.

The world population continues to increase, but as the beginning of the 21st century neared, there were indications that the rate of growth was declining. The United Nations reduced the world population projections for 2050 from 9.4 billion to 8.9 billion. Two thirds of the drop was attributed to falling birth rates, but one third was estimated to be due to rising death rates.

Three factors are thought to be contributing or have potential to contribute to rising death rates:

  • HIV epidemic - unless a cure is found, many African countries will lose one fifth or more of their adult population to AIDS within the next decade. With a 1% infection rate, India is home to more infected individuals than any other nation. HIV affects the death rate of young adults more than any other age group.
  • aquifer depletion - Since 40 percent of the world's food comes from irrigated land, water shortages can quickly lead to food shortages. In India, water withdrawals are now double the rate of aquifer recharge, yet the population continues to expand by 18 million per year. Cutbacks in irrigation water could reduce India's grain harvest by one fourth. This will exacerbate the existing problems of hunger and malnutrition, particularly among children.
  • shrinking cropland area per person - Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Pakistan are large countries with weak family planning programs that are likely to be hardest hit by this threat.
Maize farm in Colorado
Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA/ARS
Maize farm in northern Nigeria
Photo courtesy IITA

Climate Change

Source: Sombroek and Gommes. 1996.

It now seems likely that human activity can alter climate, which in turn can affect agricultural productivity. The relationship between climate change and plant growth is complex, involving the interaction of several systems with many variables that must be collectively considered.

In addition to water vapour, important greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), tropospheric ozone (O3) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

An overview of agricultural greenhouse gases with the trends as currently envisaged (from Sombroek and Gommes, 1996; adapted from IPCC, 1992; Houghton et al., 1995; Keeling et al., 1995). ppmv and ppbv stand for parts per 106 and parts per 109, respectively, by volume.




Atmospheric lifetime (yr)




Direct Global Warming Potential (the direct warming effect in relation to CO2 at a time horizon of 100 years)




Pre-industrial concentration

280 ppmv

0.8 ppmv

288 ppbv

Present-day levels

360 ppmv

1.72 ppmv

310 ppbv

Current annual increase (%)




Major agricultural sources


- wetland rice

- synthetic N fertilizers

- ruminants

- animal excreta

- biomass burning

- biological N fixation

Percentage of global source stemming from agriculture




Predicted change 1990-2020




The required reductions of emissions to achieve stabilization of atmospheric concentrations of current levels are believed to be >60% for CO2 15-20% for CH4 and 70-80% for N2O.

Ecological and indirect climate effects

  • the overall predictability of weather and climate would decrease, making short- and medium-term planning of farm operations more difficult. Climate variability is likely to increase under global warming.
  • loss of biodiversity from some of the most fragile environments, such as tropical forests and mangroves.
  • rise in sea-level (40 cm in the coming 100 years) would submerge some valuable coastal agricultural land.
  • the incidence of diseases and pests, especially alien ones, could increase.
  • present (agro) ecological zones could shift in some cases over distances of hundreds of kilometers, and hundreds of meters in altitude, with the danger that some plants, especially trees, and animal species cannot shift location fast enough, and that farming systems cannot adjust themselves in time.
  • higher temperatures would create longer seasons for crop growth in cool and mountainous areas, permitting increased cropping and production in some cases. In contrast, climate change can cause reduced productivity in already warm areas.
  • the current imbalance of food production between cool and temperate regions and tropical and subtropical regions could worsen.

Effects on precipitation

It is generally agreed that increased temperatures will increase evaporation, atmospheric moisture, and consequently precipitation, by an estimated 10-15%. The potential effects on rainfall intensity and the spatial distribution of precipitation are still being debated. Some researchers predict that rainfall conditions in the Sahel will be more favorable. In general, arid to semiarid regions would benefit from increased rainfall, whereas areas that are already humid would be adversely affected.

Effects on soils

  • increased rainfall intensity could increase soil erosion and runoff.
  • increased temperatures may lead to more decomposition of soil organic matter.
  • increased plant growth due to the CO2 fertilization effect may cause other plant nutrients such as N and P to become in short supply; however, CO2 increase would stimulate mycorrhizal activity (making soil phosphorus more available), and also biological nitrogen fixation. Increased root growth would cause extra weathering of the substratum, releasing increased supplies of potassium and micronutrients.
  • the CO2 fertilization effect would produce more litter of higher C/N ratio, hence more organic matter for incorporation into the soil as humus; litter with high C/N decomposes slowly and this can act as a negative feedback on nutrient availability.
  • the 'CO2 anti-transpirant' effect would stimulate plant growth in dryland areas, and more soil protection against erosion and lower topsoil temperatures, leading to an 'anti-desertification effect'.

Direct effects of global warming on plant growth

Increased atmospheric CO2 levels due to deforestation, burning of fossil fuels and biomass can increase plant photosynthesis. If conditions are favorable this may result in increased growth and biomass production, particularly in C3 plants. Increased CO2 levels may also reduce numbers and size of leaf stomata, which in turn will reduce transpiration and increase water use efficiency. There is some evidence that high CO2 levels may favor root growth over shoot growth.

Increased ultraviolet radiation (UV-B, between 280 and 320 nanometres), due to depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, mainly in the Antarctic region, may negatively affect terrestrial and aquatic photosynthesis and animal health.

Tropospheric ozone originates equally from photochemical reactions involving nitrogen oxides (NOx), methane or carbon monoxide, and from downward movement of stratospheric ozone. High ozone concentrations in the troposphere have toxic effects on both plant and animal life. The problem of high O3 levels near the earth's surface is greatest near major cities and airports. It is thought that high ozone levels may be the cause of some new types of damage observed on forest trees in Europe and the USA.

Effects of increased temperature on plant growth

  • may increase dark respiration of plants, diminishing net biomass production
  • higher cold-season temperatures may lead to earlier ripening of annual crops, diminishing yield per crop
  • lengthening of the growing season might permit more crops to be grown in a year
  • reduced winter kill of pests at high latitudes might increase losses due to pests and diseases
  • will increase number of crops that can be grown at high latitudes and altitudes

Generally, increased temperatures are associated with increased radiation and water use. The net physiological and ecological effects of high temperatures would have to be determined for each specific crop and location.

Kyoto Protocol

At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted. Under this agreement, industrial and former Eastern bloc nations agreed to aim to voluntarily return their emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. However, nearly all the countries fell short of their initial Rio goals. Globally, carbon emissions grew by 10.2 percent between 1990 and 2001 (Worldwatch Institute, 2001).

The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding document that would limit emissions of greenhouse gases. As of 15 May, 2003, 84 Parties have signed and 109 Parties have ratified or acceded to the Kyoto Protocol. The USA has not endorsed the Protocol.

In June, 2003 the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a plan to set up incentives for farmers to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions: http://usinfo.state.gov/gi/Archive/2003/Jun/22-741607.html

"The USDA will provide an unspecified amount of financial incentives for farmers, as well as technical assistance and training in management practices to increase the removal of harmful carbon dioxide and other gases from the atmosphere, a process called "carbon sequestration."

"Forest, crop and grazing land conservation actions will be key to greenhouse gas reductions. Manure management, improved fertilizer use and fuel efficiencies can also help reduce the harmful gases."

"The USDA estimates that by focusing attention on the problem and making a federal investment of almost $3.9 billion in agriculture and forest conservation in fiscal 2004, a reduction of roughly 12 million tons of greenhouse gases can be achieved annually by 2012."

For a recent review of the economic aspects of the USDA's carbon sequestration incentives program: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/TB1909/

For links to additional information about climate change:

For specific figures concerning changes that have occurred in the last decade in fossil fuel use and renewable energy, carbon emissions, and the impact of climate change:

Sustainability of Crop Production Systems

Source: What is Sustainable Agriculture? SAREP, University of California

Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals--

  1. environmental health
  2. economic profitability
  3. social and economic equity.

The concept of sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Stewardship of both natural and human resources is of prime importance.

A systems perspective is needed to understand the concept of sustainability. The system is envisioned in its broadest sense, from the individual farm, to the local ecosystem, and to communities affected by this
farming system both locally and globally.

Pennsylvania farm
Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA/ARS

Water quality and availability

Issues related to water quality involve salinization and contamination of ground and surface waters by pesticides, nitrates and selenium. Salinity has become a problem where water is used on shallow soils in arid regions or where the water table is near the root zone of crops. Use of salt tolerant crops and low volume irrigation are two means for reducing the salinity problem.


In sustainable agricultural systems, there is reduced reliance on non-renewable energy sources and a substitution of renewable sources or labor to the extent that is economically feasible.


Many agricultural operations affect air quality:

  • smoke from agricultural burning
  • dust from tillage, traffic and harvest
  • pesticide drift from spraying
  • nitrous oxide emissions from the use of nitrogen fertilizer.

Options to improve air quality include:

  • incorporating crop residue into the soil
  • using appropriate levels of tillage
  • planting wind breaks, cover crops or strips of native perennial grasses to reduce dust.


Options to improve soil quality include:

  • reducing or eliminating tillage
  • managing irrigation to reduce runoff
  • keeping the soil covered with plants or mulch

Sustainable plant production practices

Recommendations will be site specific, but here are a few that are general:

  • Select species and varieties that are well suited to the site and to conditions on the farm
  • Diversify crops (including livestock) and cultural practices to enhance the biological and economic stability of the farm

World Summit on Sustainable Development

In 2000 the UN General Assembly decided to host a World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 in South Africa. This summit was planned to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the UN Conference on Environment and Development, or Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro. The 2002 meeting was the first time since the Rio Conference in 1992 that heads of state and government gathered to assess progress on sustainable development.

For a more general discussion, see "What is Sustainability Anyway?" by Thomas Prugh and Erik Assadourian of the Worldwatch Institute.

Promise and Controversy of Biotechnology

In this course, we have discussed the potential for use of Bt corn, golden rice, and other genetically modified crops. Our aim is to examine the controversy surrounding GMO's from different points of view, and to provide the necessary technical background to enable you to make informed decisions about biotechnology issues. In the following sections, we present references and summaries of two diverse views on the role of biotechnology in combating hunger and malnutrition in developing countries.

Viewpoint: Biotechnology is an important tool for combating hunger in developing countries

Conway, Gordon. 2003

McGloughlin, Martina. 1999
Tripp, Robert. 2000

  • By 2050, there will be nearly 9 billion people in the world. Will need to double world food supply in two generations.
  • There are over 40,000 hunger-related deaths every day.
  • Land and water resources are decreasing. Population increases are reducing the area of quality arable land.
  • Need crops with
    • greater disease and pest resistance
    • tolerance to environmental stresses
    • higher nutritional value
      • protein
      • better oil quality
      • Vitamin A activity
      • high iron, or high in sulfur-containing amino acids that increase iron absorption
      • low in antinutrients (e.g. phytate, or with a gene for phytase)
    • capacity to fix atmospheric nitrogen (nodulin gene)
    • capacity to produce edible vaccines
    • better shelf life
  • No evidence to date of food safety risks due to transgenic crops; transgenic crops are more extensively tested for nutritional value, food safety, toxicity, and allergenicity than conventional crops (particulary those produced through mutation breeding or through wide crossing).
  • Church of England, 1999

    “Human discovery and invention can be thought of as resulting from the exercise of God-given powers of mind and reason” and “in this respect, genetic engineering does not seem very different from other forms of scientific advance.”

  • Fears that world agriculture will be controlled by private companies are unfounded. Corporations already provide inputs for farming. Agriculture stands to benefit from the competitive enterprise and the innovation that is inherent in the free market system.
  • Herbicide resistant crops enable farmers to use no-till practices that reduce erosion and increase water use efficiency.
  • Many of the poor in developing countries live in rural areas and earn a significant share of their income from agriculture.
  • GM seed is scale neutral. The development of local agriculture and increasing food production regionally across the world is key to addressing both hunger and low income.
  • Development of highly productive crops would reduce pressure on wild and forest lands, and would result in reduced use of chemicals on the farm.

Viewpoint: Biotechnology will not solve the problem of hunger and malnutrition in developing countries

Altieri, M.A. & P. Rosset, 1999a
Altieri, M.A. & P. Rosset, 1999b

  • There is enough food available to provide 4.3 pounds for every person every day. The real causes of hunger are poverty, inequality, and lack of access to food and land.
  • Most innovations in agricultural biotechnology are profit-driven rather than need-driven. The real thrust of the genetic engineering industry is not to make third world agriculture more productive, but to generate profits.

    o Example: Seed-chemical packages such as Roundup Ready soybeans

  • There is no evidence to date that engineered crops yield more than conventional crops.
  • There is a concern that crossing of GMOs with wild species can create superweeds.
  • There are many unanswered questions regarding the impact of transgenic crops on other parts of the ecosystem (e.g. Monarch butterflies).
  • Development of resistance to Bt is inevitable. The natural Bt-pesticide that organic farmers and others rely upon may be rendered useless. Bt crops violate basic integrated pest management (IPM) principles.
  • The trend to create broad international markets for single products may lead to a loss of biodiversity, greater genetic vulnerability and genetic erosion of local varieties in developing countries. Herbicide resistant crops reduce possibilities for crop diversification in time and space.
  • Safety issues have not been adequately addressed. The extent of screening for toxins or allergens and nutritional value of GMOs has been inadequate. Methods for risk assessment of transgenic crops are not well-developed and not well-funded. Biosafety regulations are lacking in many developing countries.
  • There is a potential for vector recombination to generate new virulent strains of viruses, especially in transgenic plants engineered for viral resistance with viral genes.
  • Safety regulation is often ineffective (e.g. mad cow disease scare)
  • The “precautionary principle” should be adopted:

    "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action."
    - Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, Jan. 1998

  • Because GMO products are not properly labeled, consumers cannot discriminate between genetically engineered and non-GMO food sources.
  • Agroecological approaches (crop rotations, intercropping) are not being adequately researched and promoted in developing countries due to diversion of funds for biotechnology. Emphasis should be on diversity, synergy, recycling and integration; and social processes that emphasize community participation and empowerment. These approaches, involving NGOs and farmers, have proven to be effective.

Strategies for Increasing Food Security

Rice harvesting in Texas
Photo by David Nance, USDA/ARS

Paddy Rice
Photo courtesy IRRI

Alternative Food Crops

Although there may be as many as 50,000 edible plant species in the world, about 103 species account for 90 percent of the world's food crop production. Wheat, rice, and maize account for over 50% of the calories from plants in the human diet.

To increase the biodiversity of our food production systems, organizations such as FAO are promoting adoption of local crops that have the potential to contribute to the global food supply. Many of these crops have unique features that might fill a niche in a particular production environment or satisfy a special dietary need.

In this section we mention just a few of the crops that are thought to have the greatest market potential. See the Purdue NewCrop website for more information about alternative food crops.

Chenopodium quinoa
Family: Chenopodiaceae

Link to image:
News Release from BYU

Quinoa is native to the high altitudes in the Andes, where it has traditionally been an important staple food crop of the Incas. It is an annual crop that is primarily self-pollinating, growing one to two meters in height. The grain has been called a cereal, although it does not belong to the grass family. In fact, the grain is more nutritious than the true cereals in many respects:

  • It has a good quality protein that is high in the amino acids lysine and tryptophan
  • It has relatively high protein content (12-18%)
  • It is high in calcium, phosphorous, and iron
  • The leaves can also be eaten

Many landrace varieties contain saponins, which are antinutritional factors that must be removed before the grains are consumed. Saponins can be removed by alkaline water treatment or through mechanical means. Quinoa grain can be cooked like rice, or ground to a flour that can be mixed with wheat flour to make bread.

Johnson and Ward, 1993
Lost Crops of the Incas, 1989

Amaranth (Kiwicha)
Amaranthus spp.
Family: Amaranthaceae
Link to image:
Lost Crops of the Incas, 1989

The genus Amaranthus includes at least 60 species. Some are weeds, such as the familiar pigweed. The grain Amaranths were important staple food crops of the Aztecs prior to arrival of the Europeans. In rituals it was mixed with blood and shaped into idols, which were eaten ceremoniously. This practice appalled the Spanish Conquistadors, who forbade the use of the crop. Grain Amaranth was ignored for centuries, but today is grown in diverse parts of the world including India, Pakistan, China, and Siberia. It is well-adapted to the southwestern USA.

The plants may grow to a height of 2.5 m and the inflorescence may be various colors of purple, red and gold. It is relatively tolerant to heat, drought, and low soil fertility.

A single plant may have up to 50,000 small seeds per head. Both the grain and the leaves are edible. The grain may be toasted, boiled, popped, or ground into flour. The raw grain cannot be digested, but once cooked it is easy to digest. It is often used as an alternative grain by people who have allergies to wheat and other cereals. It is also a traditional food for people who are recovering from an illness. It is gaining increasing popularity as a health food crop, because it has relatively high protein content (12-17%) and is high in the amino acid lysine.

Kauffman and Weber, 1990
Article by Karen Railey, 2004

Lupinus mutabilis Sweet
Family: Fabaceae
Link to image:

Tarwi, also known as Andean Lupin, is a South American legume that was a staple crop of the Incas. The protein (46%) and oil (20%) content of tarwi are comparable to soybeans. Although it was domesticated in the highlands, it also grows well in temperate regions. It is tolerant to frost and drought. Its capacity to fix nitrogen makes it useful as a green manure crop. The grain has a high alkaloid content that must be removed by processing before it is consumed.

Mujica, A. (1994) Andean Grains and Legumes

Oxalis tuberosa
Family: Oxalidaceae
Link to image:
Paul Gepts, pb143, UC Davis
Oca is an Andean tuber crop with white flesh and skin color that varies from white to red. It can be eaten fresh, like a carrot, or cooked. Some varieties have a slightly tart taste due to the presence of oxalic acid, which is an antinutritional factor also found in spinach. Oca has become a popular crop in Mexico and New Zealand, where it is called "New Zealand yam". It can also be grown in Oregon!

Lost Crops of the Incas, 1989

Achieving food security for all by 2020 - IFPRI's Strategy

power point presentation
brochure (pdf)

There are 800 million hungry people and in the world, and 170 million children under age five who are malnourished. In 1993 IFPRI and its partners launched an initiative called the 2020 Vision for Food, Agriculture and the Environment, that seeks to develop and promote a shared vision for how to meet the world’s food needs while reducing poverty and protecting the environment. The highlights of their action plan are presented here.

At the World Food Summit (WFS) of 1996 the global community agreed to take steps to halve the number of hungry people in the world by 2015. While some progress has been made, the reduction in poverty has fallen far short of the mark. IFPRI projections for the year 2020 show that in the most likely scenario, the number of malnourished preschool children could decline by about 20 percent, but as many as 130 million children will still be afflicted by malnutrition.

Nine Critical Driving Forces

1) Accelerating globalization and further trade liberalization - policymakers must ensure that globalization benefits poor people.

2) Sweeping technological changes - Technological advances in molecular biology, energy, and information and communications have the potential to help achieve food security and make natural resource management more sustainable, but policymakers and researchers must target their efforts to reach poor people.

3) Degradation of natural resources and increasing water scarcity - environmental degradation contributes to poverty, but also often results from it. Food security solutions must effectively address natural resource issues to be sustainable.

4) Health and nutrition crises - Malaria, tuberculosis, micronutrient deficiencies, HIV/AIDS, and chronic diseases are all compromising food and nutrition security in many developing countries.

5) Rapid urbanization - current policies must continue to focus on the countryside, where the majority of poor and food-insecure people still live, but future policy actions must pay increasing attention to growing poverty, food insecurity, and malnutrition in urban areas.

6) The changing face of farming - the farm population is aging, labor shortages are exacerbated by HIV/AIDS, and more women are farming. Traditional, small-scale family farms are threatened.

7) Continued conflict - Achieving sustainable food security for all will not be possible in the midst of conflict.

8) Climate Change - Agricultural policies must focus on finding ways to keep agriculture productive as climate change continues.

9) Changing roles and responsibilities of key actors - Local governments, business and industry, NGOs, and other parts of civil society are undertaking many activities previously performed by national governments. At the global level, transnational corporations and broad NGO coalitions are becoming increasingly prominent in policy debates. National governments must continue to uphold the rule of law and to develop nationwide infrastructure.

Seven Pro-poor Action Areas

1. Investing in human resources
  • universal access to primary and preventive health care
  • contain the HIV/AIDS pandemic
  • improved nutrition
    • food fortification and supplementation with needed micronutrients
    • nutrition education to promote healthy diets
    • development of staple crops rich in iron and vitamin A
  • policies and institutions that improve sanitary conditions, storage, transport, processing, and conservation of food
  • improve education, literacy and numeracy, especially for girls
2. Improving access to productive resources and remunerative employment
  • 75 percent of the poor still living in rural areas. Small-scale, nonagricultural rural enterprises are needed to provide livelihoods for rural people.
  • increase agricultural productivity
    • access to credit and savings institutions
    • high-yielding crop varieties
    • improved livestock
    • appropriate tools, fertilizer
    • appropriate pest management technology
    • secure access to land
  • promote associations of farmers and small-scale traders
  • ensure that increased assets go to women as well as men
3. Improving markets, infrastructure, and institutions
  • development of private competitive markets, especially in rural areas
  • competent public administration and investment in public goods
4. Expanding appropriate research, knowledge, and technology
  • publicly funded research and development is essential to achieving sustainable yield increases on existing land
  • farmers must be able to choose agricultural practices and technologies from the full range of approaches available — agroecological methods, conventional research methods, and molecular biology research methods. Moreover, researchers must link these approaches more closely with indigenous knowledge.
  • new information and communications technologies can also be used to serve farmers, rural entrepreneurs, and health care workers
5. Improving Natural Resource Management
  • the world holds enough water to meet demand for the foreseeable future, but water is
    poorly distributed across countries, within countries, between seasons, and
    among multiple uses. Improved water use efficiency is needed.
  • policies should encourage farmers to make appropriate use of organic and inorganic fertilizers and improved soil management
  • secure farmers' rights to land and other resources. Farmers must act collectively for some technologies to be effective.
  • farmers should adopt practices to alleviate global warming, such as reducing the burning of
    crop residues, and planting trees and avoiding deforestation
6. Good Governance
  • support the rule of law, transparency, the elimination of corruption, sound public administration, and respect and protection for human rights
    • independent judiciary
    • free and independent media
7. Pro-poor National and International Trade and Macroeconomic Policies
  • developing countries must have better access to industrialized countries’ markets
  • industrialized countries must reduce and eventually end trade-distorting agricultural
  • donor governments must fulfill pledge to devote 0.7 percent of gross national product to
    development assistance
  • aid should be targeted on the basis of need, so that the least-developed countries, particularly those of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, receive a higher share of assistance
  • developed-country governments and international financial institutions must do more to lift the burden of debt from highly indebted poor countries.

Agencies involved in combating world hunger

America's Second Harvest America's Second Harvest is the nation's largest hunger-relief organization, distributing
surplus food to more than 23 million hungry Americans each year.
Bread for the World, BFW
Bread for the World Institute
BFW is a nationwide Christian citizens movement seeking justice for the world's hungry people by lobbying our nation's decision makers.
BFW Institute seeks justice for hungry people by engaging in research and education on policies related to hunger and development.
CARE CARE's mission is to serve individuals and families in the poorest communities in the world.
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, CGIAR The CGIAR's mission is to achieve sustainable food security and reduce poverty in developing countries through scientific research and research-related activities in the fields of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, policy, and environment.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO FAO's mission is to alleviate poverty and hunger by promoting agricultural development, improved nutrition and the pursuit of food security
Institute for Food and Development Policy, Food First The purpose of the Institute for Food and Development Policy - Food First - is to eliminate the injustices that cause hunger. They implement their strategy through research, analysis and education for action to inspire and mobilize people and their organizations to transform systems and institutions that perpetuate those injustices.
International Food Policy Research Institute, IFPRI IFPRI's mission is to identify and analyze policies for sustainably meeting the food needs of the developing world.
Mercy Corps Mercy Corps aims to alleviate suffering, poverty, and oppression by helping people build secure, productive, and just communities. Their headquarters are in Portland, Oregon.
Oxfam Oxfam GB is a development, relief, and campaigning organisation that works with others to find lasting solutions to poverty and suffering around the world.
The Rockefeller Foundation

African Food Security Initiative
The Food Security program of the Rockefeller Foundation aims to improve the food security of the rural poor through the generation of agricultural technologies, institutions and policies that will provide sustainable livelihoods in areas of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia bypassed by the Green Revolution.
United Nations Children's fund, UNICEF UNICEF advocates for the protection of children's rights and to help meet their basic needs.
United Nations Development Program, UNDP UNDP is the UN's global development network, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life.
World Health Organization, WHO The objective of The World Health Organization, the United Nations specialized agency for health, is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. Health is defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
World Hunger Education Service, WHES One of the objectives of WHES is to inform the community of people interested in issues of hunger and poverty, the public, and policymakers, about the causes, extent, and efforts to end hunger and poverty in the United States and the world.
World Vision, International, WVI World Vision International is a Christian relief and development organisation working for the well being of all people, especially children.

Websites about Hunger

The Hunger Site
Your click on the "Give Free Food" button funds food for the hungry, paid for by site sponsors whose ads appear after you click. The food is provided to people in need around the world through the efforts of Mercy Corps and America's Second Harvest. You can click on the "Give Free Food" button once a day.
HungerWeb is for researchers, educators, policy influencers, operations personnel, other professionals and students using the Internet to help find solutions to hunger at the global, national, community and household level—or for anyone who is interested in learning more about the subject.
National Hunger Awareness Day

On June 7th, 2005 communities across the country will unite to focus attention on the persistent problem of domestic hunger.



The purpose of this lecture is to discuss issues related to the world food situation and to provide you with resources to learn more. You will not be expected to remember all of the details in this lecture on an exam. Consequently, there will be no optional quiz, but Study questions on this lecture are available to help you review for the final.

Optional, extra credit assignments

(Each assignment is worth five points. You may choose only one)

  1. Go to the discussion board on Blackboard and post one question that comes to your mind as you review the material for this lecture (your question may be factual or philosophical). Respond to a question posted by one of your classmates.
  2. Identify a minor or alternative food crop that has not been discussed in this course. Go to the discussion board and explain why you think this crop has the potential to contribute to a more diverse food system and/or food security. Include your sources of information.


Altieri, M.A. & P. Rosset. 1999. Ten reasons why biotechnology will not ensure food security, protect the environment and reduce poverty in the developing world. AgBioForum Volume 2, Number 3 & 4: 155-162. http://www.agbioforum.org

Fischer, G., K. Frohberg, M.L. Parry, C. Rosenzweig. 1996. The potential effects of climate change on world food production and security. In Bazzaz, F., and W. Sombroek (eds.) Global climate change and agricultural production: Direct and indirect effects of changing hydrological, pedological and plant physiological processes. FAO, Rome.

IFDP. 1998. 12 Myths About Hunger. Based on World Hunger: 12 Myths, 2nd Edition, by Frances Moore Lappé, Joseph Collins and Peter Rosset, with Luis Esparza.

IFPRI. 2003. IFPRI's Strategy Toward Food and Nutrition Security, 2003.

International Food Policy Research Institute. 2002. Achieving sustainable food security for all by 2020: priorities and responsibilities.

Levetin, E. and K. McMahon. 2005. Feeding a hungry world. Chapter 15 in Plants and Society, 4th edition. McGraw-Hill, New York, NY. Additional on-line notes and references:

McGloughlin, Martina. 1999. Ten reasons why biotechnology will be important to the developing world. AgBioForum – Volume 2, Numbers 3 & 4: 163-174. http://www.agbioforum.org

Mujica, A. 1994. Andean grains and legumes. In J.E. Hernándo Bermejo and J. León (eds.). Plant Production and Protection Series No. 26. FAO, Rome, Italy. p. 131–148.

National Research Council. 1989. Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation. National Academy Press.

Pinstrup-Andersen, P. and M.J. Cohen. 2003. Overview of the world food situation and outlook.

Sombroek, W.G., and R. Gommes. 1996. The climate change - Agriculture conundrum. In Bazzaz, F., and W. Sombroek (eds.) Global climate change and agricultural production. Direct and indirect effects of changing hydrological, pedological and plant physiological processes. FAO, Rome.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. 1997. What is Sustainable Agriculture? University of California.

Tripp, Robert. 2000. GMOs and NGOs: Biotechnology, the policy process, and the presentation of evidence. Natural Resource Perspectives No. 60.

Worldwatch Institute. 2003. Climate Change.

Worldwatch Institute. 2001. The hard numbers on climate change.

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