Despite its advancing age, our planet is still generous. The Earth is home to innumerable species and creatures and provides them housing and food. All it asks in return for the natural balance it provides is respect. And that’s one thing we humans have failed to give.
Improvements in our quality of life and advances in technological developments have increased the pressure on nature’s resources and disrupted the ecological balance. Mechanization over the last two centuries has made production easier. But it has also led to excessive resource use. Our sustainable use of resources has led to environmental problems such as global warming, climate change, air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, etc. These problems have a global impact. As our population increases, food demand and the number of people living in hunger also increase.
One of the world’s most severe global issues today is food safety. We must use the Earth’s resources to maintain our health and well-being. But so far, this use has taken place very unfairly, with us constantly taking from the Earth without giving back. Our resources’ use is also unfair because not everyone has equal access to resources and food. One-half of the world lives in hunger, poverty, and misery, while the other half rolls in wealth, luxury, and waste resources. We must implement urgent measures to ensure that no one stays hungry and everyone has equal access to nutrition and food resources. We must work towards achieving zero waste to zero hunger.
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Lives Doomed to Starvation
Improved living conditions and increased food diversity fuelled increases in global consumption patterns. The doubling of food production in the last three decades shows that per capita consumption has increased. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 828 million people are affected by hunger yearly. This number will only increase in the future. Around 3 million people worldwide do not have access to healthy, nutritious food. Experts expect another 2 billion people to join this figure by 2050.
However, the problem is not a lack of food. The world is producing enough food to feed everyone. The problem is a waste of it. We have wealthier nations wasting more food than they consume. This leaves poorer parts of the world with less food. Additionally, even wars, conflicts, economic crises, political instability, and poverty trigger and increase hunger.
According to the World Bank, 800 million people around the world live below the international poverty line. The international poverty line is 1.9 dollars a day. In fact, hunger can also lead to poverty. Hunger means a person cannot provide nutrition to their body. This reduces strength and does not allow the person to engage in physical labor, leading to a loss of income.
Another reason for hunger is wars and conflicts. According to the World Food Programme, around 490 million people living in hunger are in war-torn countries such as Yemen, Syria, Sudan, and Myanmar.
Even climate change causes hunger. Increased rainfall, droughts, and storms have led to food insecurity in many areas. The World Food Programme expects climate change to push 189 million people into hunger.
If we could achieve a fair distribution of 4 to 5 billion tons of food produced yearly, we could feed the 9.7 billion people on the Earth by 2050. However, in our current world of 7.5 billion people, 1 in every nine is struggling with hunger. This is because we waste 30-40% of food produced. In other words, we waste around 1.3-1.6 billion tons of food every year.
Keeping in mind current food waste trends, feeding every person on the planet will require increasing current production rates by 60-120%. We need to produce an additional 3 billion tons of food.
Food waste happens throughout the food chain, from production, storage, and processing to transportation, marketing, and consumption. During the production stage, food losses may occur due to early harvests, pests and diseases, and improper harvest methods. Food waste at the processing stage may occur due to packaging and labeling problems. At the consumption stage, we may waste food by not paying attention to expiration dates, etc.
According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), we waste one-third of food produced globally from the moment it leaves a farm to when we place it on our plates. Wealthy and industrialized nations like North America, China, Japan, Europe, and South Korea waste 61% of globally produced food.
Going by the sheer numbers of food wasted, we could end world hunger if we could reduce our consumption. It is abundantly clear that food waste causes hunger. That means if we can save food from being wasted, we can achieve zero waste to zero hunger. We must be mindful that there are people around the world struggling to gain access to adequate nutrition. Most of the food items we buy from malls and superstores are products we don’t even need. Think about that the next time you go grocery shopping. Buy only what you need, not what you want. Don’t let your wants trump your bodily needs.
Undoubtedly, producing food on such a large scale has environmental impacts. Intensive agriculture causes land and water degradation, biodiversity, air pollution, etc.
We use 9.6 million square kilometers of land to produce food that is wasted every year. The amount of water we use to produce food that we ultimately waste equals the volume of water flowing in the Volga, Europe’s longest river. In addition, economic losses linked to biodiversity loss due to food production stands at 319 million dollars.
We need technological advances to curb food losses at every stage, from harvesting to transportation and consumption. If we can completely eliminate food wastage, we could reduce pressure on the environment and feed every person on the planet. The important thing here is to remember that for a just world, we must ensure that everyone has equal access to resources, and that includes food. Reducing and reassessing your food consumption means that someone somewhere will not go hungry. Zero waste to zero hunger is achievable; all it needs is global, collective efforts.
Dr. Emily Greenfield is a highly accomplished environmentalist with over 30 years of experience in writing, reviewing, and publishing content on various environmental topics. Hailing from the United States, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.