Lynn Brown, Director of Alliances and Policy at HarvestPlus Continue reading
Higher food prices are causing people around the world, especially those in poorer nations, to change their diets, and forego quality and quantity of food.
A Globescan survey for Oxfam International has revealed that almost two-fifths of consumers surveyed over 17 countries now eats different food to what they had two years ago.
It is a mixture of health and cost reasons that have led to this change, but with a 37 percent in global food prices, cost is one of the biggest influences. Initially, respondents were asked whether they were eating the same food as two years ago. If there was a change, they were asked whether it was prompted by costs or health reasons.
Worldwide, of the people who said they had changed their diets, 39 percent said it was because of food prices, while 33 percent said it was for health reasons. From developing countries to the UK and the US, the research showed that the cost of food is a worldwide worry.
In the US, where food prices have risen 3.1 percent in the past year, 31 percent of those who had changed their diet (56% of those surveyed) cited costs as the reason, whereas almost half said they were trying to eat more healthily. In Tanzania, however, 47 percent of the respondents had changed their diets, and 49 percent of those said that cost was the reason for it, and only 21 percent cited health. In Kenya, 75 percent of people had changed their diets, and 79 percent of them cited costs as the main reason. The worry is that as the world’s poorest people are hardest hit, they are buying less food, and lower quality food also, which will lead to further health and nutrition problems and less productive nations.
Food processing is an important driver of jobs and incomes in many African countries and can also provide access to greater diversity of affordable, high quality and nutritious foods. By improving the capacity of local food processors across sub-Saharan Africa to produce and market healthy food products, while simultaneously improving smallholder farmers’ access to markets, food security for both producers and consumers can be strengthened.
The African Alliance for Improved Food Processing (AAIFP) is an innovative approach to build the capabilities of local food processors in Africa. Through knowledge and technology transfer, the aim is to build capacity to develop sustainable and competitive local processors within food sector value chains, to improve the supply of high-quality, nutritious food and to increase demand for the crops of small farmers who supply these businesses. This in turn spurs economic growth in rural areas that had little to no previous cash economy.
The Alliance is built upon a partnership with General Mills, one of the world’s leading food companies and their newly formed initiative, Partners in Food Solutions, and TechnoServe, and the initiative is funded by USAID.
Volunteer employees of General Mills, and in the future other global food companies, contribute their time and knowledge and with their support, TechnoServe provides on the ground technical and business capacity-building to food processors selling products in local and regional markets. These African processors buy raw materials from local farmers, create jobs and generate benefits for whole communities.
Since 2008, General Mills has been providing assistance to processors and two years later, in 2010, TechnoServe and General Mills joined forces to assist food processors in Tanzania. The partnership has identified potential further opportunities to extend their work to Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia and Malawi.
The results are already visible. In Tanzania, a processor’s products recently received the highest Tanzania food quality certification available. This not only increases their own profits, but also provides access to safer and more nutritious food for Tanzanians. By the end of 2012, the AAIFP hope to assist up to 35 processors to meet national food standards, and in turn help to increase the affordability of nutritious food products available to African consumers.
Iodine is an essential micronutrient to sustain human and animal health, yet it is one of the most common micronutrient deficiencies in malnutrition. Globally it is estimated that 2.2 billion people in the world are at a risk of iodine deficiency. Iodine deficiencies can cause a wide range of physiological abnormalities (Iodine Deficiency Disorders), mainly related to defective mental development and brain damage.
The content of iodine in food depends on the iodine content of the soils in which crops are grown. In the Western diet, the most common source of iodine is iodized salt however, in certain countries, iodization of salt is inefficient due to infrastructure or cultural problems. Moreover, iodized salt does not reach the root cause of iodine deficiency. People at risk from iodine deficiency are often the poorest populations living on subsistence agriculture and in an environment that is unable to provide the correct mineral balance.
In Xinjiang Province, in the North West of China, the soil is particularly poor in iodine with an associated high infant-mortality rate. In 1997, the Xinjiang Uiger Autonomous Region Health Bureau, with the support of the Thrasher Foundation, the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr Foundation, Kiwanis International and UNICEF, launched the Iodine Dripping Project (XIDP). This project aimed at supplying the water irrigation system with iodine using an iodine fertilizer dripping technique, called fertigation. With this technique, the iodine from the treated water is absorbed by the soil and progresses through plants and animals that eat the iodine-rich plants. At the top of the food chain, people eat these iodine–rich foods therefore increasing their iodine levels.
The iodine fertilizer dripping project has revealed unprecedented results. Not only did the iodine levels in women and children rose, halving the rates of infant mortality and improving children’s intelligence quotient, but also local livestock production increased by 40% in the first year. The livestock production increase contributed to raise the average family income by 5% annually.
The iodine dripping project in Xinjiang has also revealed that a single dripping can provide enough iodine for at least six years.
This experience demonstrates that micronutrient fertilizers can provide an efficient and cost-effective solution to malnutrition while improving the social and economical conditions of people in developing countries.
Selenium is an essential micronutrient to sustain human and animal health. However it is one of the most common micronutrient deficiencies in malnutrition. Low levels of selenium (Se) have been associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer in humans Selenium is mainly provided by plant foods (such as cereal), meat and dairy products. The content of selenium in food depends on the concentration of selenium in the soil where plants are grown or animals are raised.
In Finland, the soil is particularly poor in Selenium and in the past, the population in Finland has had high levels of selenium deficiency. In 1984, the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry decided to implement selenium supplementation through fertilizers to increase the very low concentration of selenium in the nation’s food chain. Since the 1970s, the National Public Health Institute has been monitoring the blood selenium levels of the Finnish adult population.
The effects of this policy have been monitored and the amount of selenium that is added to fertilizers has been adjusted twice on the basis of research results. In 1990, the program was so successful in raising the amount of selenium in plants and, consequently, the human selenium status that the higher application was removed. Today, the amount of selenium added to fertilizers is 10 milligrams per kilogram.
Since the selenium supplementation of fertilizers, the selenium levels of Finnish foods have clearly risen, which has consequently enhanced the blood selenium levels of the population. As a result, the consumption of Selenium is adequate, and a satisfactory selenium status in children and adults is appreciated.
The Finnish experience of selenium fertilization is unique in the world and demonstrates the safety, effectiveness and cost-efficiency of this practice to raise Selenium levels in a population. Such a policy could be replicated in other countries where micronutrient deficiencies in soil are targeted. For example, in New Zealand and some mountainous regions of China, the amounts of Selenium in soils have also been found to be scarce.
Micronutrient supplementation through fertilizers in Finland demonstrates the importance of fertilizers as an effective agricultural tool to improve the nutritional health of people in many parts of the world.