ACHIEVING SUSTAINABLE FOOD AND NUTRITION SECURITY: THE FINAL MILESTONE
From the Roman Philosopher Seneca, who said, a hungry person listens neither to religion nor reason, to Mahatma Gandhi, who pointed out that to a hungry person, God is a piece of bread, the need to achieve a hunger-free world has been stressed repeatedly by great thinkers and humanists.
The various World Food Conferences held during the last 60 years have also stressed that, at present, there is no technological, financial or political excuse for the persistence of under- and malnutrition. FAOs World Food Summit held in Rome in 1996 resolved that, by the year 2015, there should be a reduction of the number of persons going to bed hungry by half. Recent estimates however reveal that progress in achieving even this modest goal is, on the whole, not satisfactory. Why are we faced with such a situation?
There is now greater clarity in understanding the multiple dimensions of hunger:
· There is endemic hunger arising from overall food deficits, as well as poverty.With the onset of the information age and with the spread of democratic systems of governance, there are uncommon opportunities for realising the goal of sustainable food and nutrition security. Civil society organizations, with appropriate national and international support, can launch integrated nutrition security programmes in their respective areas that can comprise the following action points:
· There is hidden hunger caused by the deficiency of micronutrients in the diet.
· There is transient hunger caused by natural or manmade calamities.
· There is hunger during different periods in the life of a person, often resulting in serious consequences, as in the case of maternal and foetal malnutrition. Such maternal malnutrition results in the birth of babies of low birth weight (LBW). LBW children suffer from many handicaps in later life including inability to realise the childs given genetic potential for mental and physical development. In South Asia, every third child born is LBW. This is the cruelest form of inequity in this age of knowledge.
· Ensuring adequate availability of food at the right time and place; (this is a function of production).In addition to paying attention to availability, access and assimilation, steps will have to be taken to prevent seasonal hunger through the promotion of Community Grain Banks that can serve the needs of both food for work and food for nutrition. The food for nutrition programmes should be tailored to serve the needs of the old and infirm, of pregnant and nursing mothers and of infants.
· Ensuring economic access to a balanced diet by making multiple livelihood opportunities accessible; (this is a function of distribution).
· Making clean drinking water, environmental sanitation, primary health care and primary education available to assure an optimal assimilation of food by the body.
The nutrition security strategy should be adapted to specific agro-ecological, socio-cultural and socioeconomic conditions. For example, hidden hunger can be overcome through appropriate horticultural practices that provide the food with the nutrients needed to reverse local deficiencies-provided water is available for irrigation. Where the production of the desired range of vegetables an d fruits is difficult, direct intervention methods like iodised and iron-fortified salt, oral dose of vitamin A or other forms of food fortification will have to be adopted. Also, there is need for widening the food basket through the revitalization of the cultivation of locally adapted and drought-tolerant strains of millets, tubers, grains and legumes.
Ensuring opportunities for a productive and healthy life for every individual in our planet should be the goal of human communities in every village, town and city. We can achieve the goal of a hunger-free world by 2015 provided decentralized and community managed nutrition strategies are supported by national and international organizations.
Professor M. S. Swaminathan
ACC/SCN Distinguished Nutrition Advocate