1. Food, agriculture and food security: developments since the World Food Conference and prospects

This technical paper is a brief review of developments in world food and agriculture and food security from the early 1960s to the present, with particular reference to developments since the World Food Conference of 1974. It also presents the possible evolution over the period to 2010, as depicted in the 1995 FAO study World agriculture: towards 2010 (WAT2010).

The main, generally available indicator for monitoring developments in world food security is per caput food consumption, measured at the national level by the average dietary energy supply (DES) in Calories on the basis of national food balance sheets (FBS) and population data. This makes it possible to follow, through space and time, the evolution of food supplies as national averages. On that basis, the evolution of world food security in the period beginning after the World Food Conference up to the study’s projections to 2010 can be envisaged as shown in Table 1.

There are no internationally comparable comprehensive data for tracking the evolution of access to food for individuals or population groups within countries. Remaining at the level of national averages, the population of developing countries can be regrouped as shown in Table 2.

To interpret these data, the following concepts are useful to derive inferences on the extent of undernutrition within countries. A threshold is defined as corresponding to the average (given gender, age distribution and average body weights) DES that represents a minimum level of energy requirements for individuals, allowing for only light activity. This level ranges from 1 720 to 1 960 Calories/day/person, depending on the country. Indirect evidence from household food consumption or expenditure surveys is used to estimate the extent of inequality of distribution of available food supplies within countries. This makes it possible to draw inferences about the approximate proportions of the population with access to food below the given nutritional threshold. It results that, for countries where the average DES is close to the threshold, the majority of individuals are undernourished, while experience shows that for countries with DES about a level of, say, 2 700 Calories, the proportion of undernourished individuals becomes small, except under extreme inequalities. Accordingly, and this is the information closest to the concept of access to food, the population in developing countries below the respective threshold has been estimated as shown in Table 3.

For several developing countries, the 1970s was a decade of improvement faster than that of the 1960s. Rapid progress continued up to about the mid-1980s, and at a slower pace afterwards. But several countries and whole regions failed to make progress and experienced outright reversals, foremost among them many African countries, while South Asia made only meagre progress in the 1970s but more substantial gains in the 1980s.


Table 1


Countries 1969-1971 1990-1992 2010


World 2 440 2 720 2 900
Developed countries 3 190 3 350 3 390
Developing countries 2 140 2 520 2 770


Table 2


Country group
(average DES/caput)
1969-1971 1990-1992 2010


< 2 100 Calories 1 747 411 286
2 100 to 2 500 644 1 537 736
2 500 to 2 700 76 338 1 933
> 2 700 Calories 145 1 821 2 738


Table 3


Population with access
below the nutrition threshold
1969-1971 1990-1992 2010
920 840 680
Percentage of total 35 20 12


The dependence of the developing countries on food imports from the developed countries grew strongly in the 1970s and their self-sufficiency fell. This trend was much attenuated in the subsequent decade. Together, the developed Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries readily increased cereals production to supply the growing import demand of the developing countries as well as that of the former centrally planned economies (CPEs) of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). However, world production of cereals levelled off in the first half of the 1990s, the demand-supply balance in world markets became tighter, prices rose and stocks diminished. These recent developments reflected the temporary declines in the former CPEs during the economic transition, weather shocks and policy reforms in the main developed exporting countries towards a reduction of structural surpluses and publicly held stocks.

World agricultural growth is likely to be slower in the future compared with that of earlier decades, although not as slow as that observed in the first half of the 1990s. This slow-down is imputable to a slower world food demand growth, which reflects both positive and negative developments in the world food and agriculture scene. The positive ones include the slow-down in world population growth and the fact that, in many countries with fairly high levels of per caput food consumption, the scope for further increases in this variable is smaller than in the past. Negative developments include the totally inadequate growth in per caput incomes and the continued prevalence of severe poverty in many countries with very low levels of nutrition.

The implication is that, in many developing countries, per caput food supplies may remain stubbornly inadequate to allow for significant nutritional progress, even though for these countries as a whole the average may increase further to nearly 2 800 Calories per day by the year 2010. Under the circumstances, and given population growth, the numbers of undernourished in these conditions may decline only insufficiently from the current 840 million to possibly 680 million, although this would represent a significant decline in the share of the total population.

The dependence of the developing countries on food imports will most likely continue to increase with net imports of cereals growing to over 160 million tonnes by 2010. The main developed exporting countries will probably not face major constraints in generating this level of net exports. A contribution to this possible outcome may be forthcoming from the former CPEs, initially by their transition to being much smaller net importers and eventually to their emergence as net exporters. But while the global capacity to increase food production to match the growth of effective demand may not give cause for excessive concern, production growth constraints facing individual countries will continue to be a major factor conditioning the prospects for progress in food security. This is particularly the case of low-income countries heavily dependent on their own agriculture for food supplies, income and employment and with limited potential to import food. And, of course, the well-known constraints to increasing output of capture fisheries is another example of how the prospects for improved food security could be affected by limitations on the side of production.

In considering the role of production prospects as a key factor in the food security problem, the issue of sustainability assumes particular importance. The historical experience is that the expansion and intensification of agriculture has often been associated with the buildup of pressures that have led to resource degradation and adverse impacts on the wider environment. Such pressures will continue to increase in the future and a major issue will be how to minimize the negative effects on the resources, the environment and the sustainability of agriculture. This is particularly important for those low-income countries where the exploitation of agricultural resources is the mainstay of their economies and the deterioration of their resources threatens both their food security and overall economic well-being. At the same time, it is in these very countries that continued poverty and further increases in the population dependent on agriculture intensify pressures that contribute to degradation and unsustainability.

The overall conclusion is that, without deliberate changes from the normal course of events, many of the food security problems of today will persist and some will become worse. This need not be so, however, if action is taken now to promote poverty-reducing growth and agricultural development as well as to put agriculture on to a more sustainable path.


2. Success stories in food security

This paper provides a sample of country experiences in improving food security. Each example summarizes the major food security issues specific to the case and analyses briefly the various approaches adopted through time to tackle them. Most of the countries presented have realized significant and sustained betterment in the national level of food availability and household food security since the early 1960s. A few others provide an occasion to illustrate achievements in certain aspects of food security, although not exhibiting a general improvement in average food availability or household food security. Finally, an example of a successful international effort to prevent a major food security crisis in southern Africa illustrates the nature of actions that can avert widespread famine following a natural disaster.

FAO’s Committee on World Food Security defined its objective as ensuring “that all people at all times have both the physical and economic access to the basic food they need”. To this end, it was recognized that three conditions need to be met: ensuring adequacy of food supply or availability, ensuring stability of supply and ensuring access to food at the household level, particularly by the poor. The International Conference on Nutrition in 1992 added a nutrition dimension in expressing the objective that “all people at all times have access to safe and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”.

If it were possible to differentiate the effects of sanitation, health and care from those of food security, indicators of nutritional status would provide the most direct way of assessing the status of food security at the individual level. However, given the severe restrictions on data related to the phenomenon, per caput food availability (known as the average daily energy supply, or DES) and measures based on FAO estimates of proportions of the population who are chronically undernourished are used as the main indicators of food (in)security in this paper.

Burkina Faso fully realized its vulnerability in the wake of the drought spell that hit the Sahelian zone from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. Since then, a mix of policy measures, including macroeconomic policies (the restructuring of public finance), soil conservation and water harvesting, new land settlement, household-level income generating and transfer measures, have been successful in curbing food insecurity and promoting human welfare. Indeed, despite the extensive variability over the years in both DES and food production, since the early 1990s the household food security situation in the country has improved significantly.

China is highly acclaimed for its ability to feed over one-fifth of the global population with only one-fifteenth of the world’s arable land. Starting from a level of 1 500 Calories at the beginning of the 1960s, China had increased average DES to over 2700 Calories by the early 1990s, achieving this almost exclusively through increases in domestic production. The Chinese experience, especially the post-1978 reforms, demonstrates the importance of incentives and of a conducive institutional framework in maximizing the effects of agricultural infrastructure, as well as of research on new technologies and their successful dissemination.

Costa Rica has steadily improved its food security over the past 30 years. Part of the reason for this has been the strong policy emphasis on anti-poverty. Although macroeconomic problems led to policy adjustments that reduced the production of some traditional crops, the shift in emphasis to export-driven growth allowed financing of food imports which facilitated progress in improving average DES, currently close to 3 000 Calories.

In Ecuador, where the main indicators of food security show substantial improvement over the last three decades, per caput food production and availability have developed along a cyclical path similar to that of macroeconomic indicators and policies. The impact of changing macroeconomic and sectoral policies was especially strong on per caput food supply, which declined under increasing macro imbalances prior to the 1980s and has significantly improved with the implementation of stabilization and structural policies since then.

India is considered a low-income country with a per caput gross national product (GNP) of approximately US$300. It has had an economic growth of around 5.2 percent per annum since the early 1980s, three points above the average annual population growth for the same period. Despite rather wide variability in food availability since the 1960s, India has maintained a determined effort to develop domestic food production, reduce aid dependency and improve household food security throughout this period. DES currently stands at only 2 400 Calories and the prevalence of poverty is still high, but extensive use of targeted anti-poverty measures has reduced vulnerability to famines and preserved a minimum status of food security even in poorer areas of the country.

Indonesia, where economic growth has been strong in the past two decades, has pursued a successful policy of self-sufficiency in rice, the major food staple of the country, since the late 1960s. This has been successful in achieving food security, as DES increased from just under 2 000 Calories by that time to around 2 700 by the early 1990s, and the status of household food security improved significantly. Part of the success can be attributed to the holistic approach to agricultural policy adopted by the government so that marketing interventions were complemented by research, dissemination and provision of high-yielding varieties of rice and requisite modern input packages.

Mozambique, after nearly a decade of economic liberalization, and only four years after the country’s devastating civil war, remains among the poorest countries in the world. Hunger is a stark fact of life for large numbers of households. Yet this should not hide the promising progress made in recent years towards sustainable food security, which can be seen in increased DES despite rapid dramatic reductions in food aid; lower and more stable prices for the principal domestically produced staple, white maize; and a food system that now provides consumers with a broader range of low-cost staples from which to choose.

Thailand’s use of macroeconomic stability, an outward-looking development strategy and universal primary education, among other ingredients, allowed its economy to grow at about 7 percent per annum over three decades. While food production growth paralleled overall economic development, neither DES nor household food security improved to the same extent. In fact DES hovered above 2 000 Calories until the late 1980s, but had not yet reached 2 500 Calories by the early 1990s. The increased production has been made possible by extensive land expansion without a substantial improvement at the intensive margin. Increasing intensity, tackling environmental threats, improving diversity and addressing rural poverty remain important policy objectives towards sustainable food security.

Tunisia has undergone rapid food security improvement since the beginning of the 1960s, thanks to a sound underlying economic and social process significantly influenced by public action. DES increases, from about 2 000 Calories at that time to nearly 3 500 today, were achieved essentially through food imports because of severe natural constraints affecting agricultural production. With extensive social safety nets at the household level, it has been possible to translate increased food availability into improved food security for much of the population.

Turkey is one country in this paper that has maintained a relatively high level of food availability and security throughout the period reviewed. Most of the achievements in this respect took place prior to the 1960s, with extensive government intervention in all aspects of the most important agricultural markets. Currently, food security problems relate to achieving a nutritionally balanced diet rather than to energy availabilities. Despite increased efforts to liberalize agricultural markets, reducing public intervention continues to be difficult, placing considerable strain on government budget and general price levels.

Zimbabwe did not witness significant improvements in average food availability and household food security over the past three decades, which placed the country among those still vulnerable. Productivity in the food sector has been on the decline since the early 1970s, and especially in the 1980s as a result of changing agricultural policies. More recently, structural changes in the marketing of maize, the principal food crop, removed some of the constraints on the markets, resulting in substantial betterment for the food security of the most vulnerable population groups through reduction in the prices of the staple food crop.

Southern Africa has periodically been wrecked by droughts, most recently in 1991/92 and 1994/95. The 1991/92 drought, in particular, which devastated the subregion’s agricultural production and induced unprecedented import requirements, will probably be remembered as the worst for several decades. During this disaster, the subregion experienced a reduction of aggregate food crop production of up to 50 percent less than the normal output. The cereal deficit of the subregion more than doubled and some 18 million people were facing the spectre of starvation. Efficient early warning, rapid regional coordination and adequate international support resulted in a successful relief effort, avoiding widespread food shortages and famine.

These case-studies illustrate the importance of the policy environment in shaping the economic and social processes that ultimately determine the food security status of the people in any country. Where implemented, direct measures aimed at the vulnerable have proved their worth, but the multiplicity of policy objectives pursued within any setting must be politically, socially and economically feasible in order to succeed. For most of the countries reviewed, the 1980s was an era when financial and economic constraints were most binding. In countries that reduced protection to the agricultural and food sector, the transition has been painful during the initial phases, with food insecurity increasing. Whatever the appropriate policy, however, establishing safety nets for the vulnerable, and preserving them in times of economic hardship, continues to be an indispensable component for alleviating food insecurity.


3. Socio-political and economic environment for food security

Much that affects food security has changed in the two decades since the World Food Conference of 1974. Perhaps the most important event has been the advent of the global economy. Similarly influential in reshaping history have been the breakup of centrally planned institutions in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the resultant transition towards a liberal economy; the effort to disarm and not proliferate weapons; the end of apartheid in South Africa; the rapid economic growth in China and in other countries of East Asia; and the conclusion of civil wars in such countries as Angola, Mozambique, Cambodia, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

The last several years have also seen the appearance of more ethnic conflict, sometimes coupled with long-hidden nationalism, as has occurred in Chechnya, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Somalia. Indeed, most current conflicts are within and not between countries, but they compromise food security just the same. Drug consumption and the criminal and corruptive activities of drug trafficking emerge as another major problem for contemporary societies that hurts food security at individual and collective levels.

Some ideas that were put forth at the 1974 conference continue to be important, and issues such as population growth, health, urbanization and poverty still need to be adequately addressed. In addition, more emphasis is now being given to environmental problems, such as deforestation, water and air quality, climate change and overfishing, and their relation to food security.

The reality of global interdependence was called to the attention of policy-makers by the oil crises of 1973 and 1979 and the debt crises of the 1980s.The debt problem, not yet resolved despite numerous debt relief and reduction initiatives, has deleterious implications for food security. Debt-servicing obligations reduce the ability to import food, as well as other items that could increase domestic food production and consumption, and constrain resources for development and social welfare. The most recommended cure consisted of macroeconomic stabilization, enacting structural reforms (liberalization and privatization) and an increasing emphasis on international trade. A combination of policies, inter alia, reforming exchange rates, privatizing state-owned enterprises, reducing the public payroll and public spending generally, dampening inflation and cutting subsidies, was employed.

In the process of adjustment, the inward-oriented industrialization strategies of the 1960s and 1970s were replaced by more outward-looking ones. A market-oriented approach has replaced development strategies emphasizing direct government participation in commercial and economic affairs, and targeted subsidies have replaced generalized subsidies. Prices for agricultural products tend to rise with these structural changes, but this development benefits commercial producers and peasants who have clear access to land, not rural and urban wage-earners who are usually net buyers of farm products. Market liberalization and macroeconomic adjustment can create in the initial phase sectoral unemployment and poverty, unless effective social safety nets are put in place simultaneously.

At the same time, a new institutional structure for trade was being constructed. The Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations, dedicated to reducing protection according to a predefined schedule, was concluded and the World Trade Organization (WTO) was founded. Regional trading organizations have also been emerging. Financial markets have become almost completely integrated and globalized. These developments have resulted in the limiting of the ability of countries to manage their own monetary and fiscal policies. It is too early to assess fully the importance of this more liberal and integrated economic environment for food security but, given time, it is likely to be substantial.

External assistance flows have been declining in recent years, and agriculture was hit more than propotionally by the reduction. As a result, total commitments to agriculture in 1994 were 23 percent below those of 1990. External private capital flows into the developing countries increased dramatically from 1990 to 1993, then stabilized subsequent to the Mexican crisis. However, since they mainly accrue to a limited number of countries, these inputs cannot be expected to compensate for the reduced official aid to low-income countries. Futher, experience underlined the potential risk of excessive foreign liability in the face of volatile financial markets.

The accentuation of demographic and economic imbalances between countries caused by political events, most notably in the early 1990s, has strongly affected international labour mobility and migration patterns. Apart from refugees, over 80 million people are living outside their own country at present, and transboundary migrations have reached unprecedented levels for economic and political reasons, while rural-urban migration within borders is of great concern in many countries. Migrations have direct implications for food security in both originating and recipient areas and for migrants. The extensive resources devoted to controlling migrations and combating their consequences could be reduced if more efforts were aimed at enhancing the living conditions and employment opportunities for people where they are.

A socio-political and economic environment most conducive to eliminating food insecurity and undernutrition, or, in other words, to ensuring food for all, would include:

In the final analysis, food security in any country must be under the responsibility and the authority of the national government in conjunction with local authorities and working with concerned groups and individuals in the society. International coordination and liaison is necessary. The global community and international organizations can be helpful, but they cannot substitute the actions and political will to achieve food security within the country itself.


4. Food requirements and population growth

The world will inherit a very diversified food situation at the end of the second millennium. This paper highlights the regional contrasts and specificities within the global situation and trends. Its long-term analysis is based on the concept of food requirements, thereby taking a normative perspective to the extent that actual and projected food consumption and demand do not meet, or at times exceed, requirements.

Emerging from an acute food deficit in 1962, Asia has continually improved the proportion of its population’s energy requirements met by available food supplies, and is catching up with the situation of Latin America where, after a period of increases in the requirement/supplies ratio, stabilization has been observed. In contrast, Africa did not manage to improve the average food situation, and some countries, namely those mainly consuming cassava, yams or taro, have experienced a severe decline in this respect.

In the decades leading to 2050, by which time most of the increase before stabilization will have taken place, world population growth will dominate over other demographic factors as the primary cause of increasing global food demand. Food production is expected to increase broadly in line with this rise in demand, but not without further stress on agricultural, economic and environmental resources. The situation in parts of Africa is of particular concern. However, strategies do exist to slow down future population growth – especially in the longer term. They include programmes to raise levels of education (particularly of women) and improving access to methods of contraception, which also facilitate the achievement of food security and food production objectives.

It is useful to illustrate the challenge of demographic factors as given by the United Nations population projections to the year 2050 by evaluating the associated food energy requirements and plausible dietary patterns. The scenarios presented need be considered more as food for thought than as projections. The focus is placed on the demographic challenges at the regional level and for certain classes of countries identified by their dietary patterns which, for countries dependent on agriculture, correspond roughly to agrometeorological zones.

The increase in food energy requirements, expressed in terms of the total plant-derived energy incorporated into human food, of developing countries until 2050 results from the growth of population numbers and, to a lesser degree, the changing age structure of the population. The ageing of the population and the increase in physical height as a consequence of better nutrition are factors that increase energy requirements, whereas declining fertility and increasing urbanization are factors reducing energy requirements. As a result, by 2050, energy requirements will be double what they are today in developing countries as a group (and more than triple current requirements in sub-Saharan Africa).

Many developing countries will have to graduate to more nutritious average diets in order to eliminate chronic undernutrition. Partly because of uneven food availabilities among the population inside countries, this process could require a 30 percent increase in food energy availabilities in Africa (but 40 percent south of the Sahara), 15 percent in Asia and less than 10 percent in Latin America.

In order to reach a well-balanced diet, people will have to diversify their food intake. Adopting for the year 2050 a level of diversification similar to that projected by FAO for the world in 2010, Africa would have to improve its plant-derived energy by another 25 percent (46 percent for countries consuming mainly roots and tubers) and Asia by 21 percent.

As a result of the combined effects of the preceding three factors, developing countries would have to increase their plant-derived energy by 174 percent. This means that, while the countries of Latin America and Asia would roughly have to double their plant-derived energy, Africa would have to multiply it by five (multiplying it by seven for the root- and tuber-consuming countries).

For Asia or Latin America, such a perspective requires further productivity growth, but at a rate lower than that seen in the last 15 years. In contrast, Africa would have to accelerate drastically the growth of its productivity. The demographic transition in Africa would facilitate the process of achieving food security: the annual growth rate in available plant-derived energy would be 2.6 percent in the low variant instead of 3.3 percent in the high variant of the United Nations’ population projections.

Where land and water become scarce, increases in yields will be achieved mostly through an increase in productivity sustained by the development of human capacities. In light of the level of education already achieved, many countries in Asia seem well prepared for the change in the nature of development. On the other hand, Africa’s lower level of development of economic infrastructures and of human resources will constitute a serious handicap for this region. By overcoming the challenge of simultaneously improving its human resources and infrastructure while facing a very difficult food situation, Africa would provide the groundwork for solving its food security problem in the long term.

The reduction of poverty and eradication of undernutrition, principally present in rural areas among food producers, will lead to an increase in food demand, a large part of which can be met through imports, notably cereals, particularly in Asia. Meeting this demand and the associated requirements for inputs and infrastructure will generate an increase of output in the global economy that must take place under sustainable conditions.


5. Food security and nutrition

Improving nutrition is an issue of supreme importance to many millions of people throughout the world who are suffering from persistent hunger and malnutrition and to others who are at risk of doing so in the future. There is general consensus today that a complex set of factors determines hunger and malnutrition. Important causes are related not only to food and agriculture, but also to people’s knowledge and behaviour. Policies have a strong influence on all causes. The aim of this paper is to examine the relationships among food security, agriculture and nutrition and to outline nutrition-improvement policies that offer the promise of bringing about rapid and sustained improvement.

Malnutrition may be viewed from three different perspectives: as the lack of a basic human right, as a symptom of broader poverty and underdevelopment problems or as a cause of these poverty and underdevelopment problems. There are powerful arguments for all three perspectives and, in terms of considering specific actions, the three are certainly complementary.

In order to design effective policies, it is necessary to gain a clear understanding of the linkages among food security, agriculture and nutrition as well as all determinants of nutritional well-being.

• Food and the security of its supply are preconditions for nutritional well-being. Poverty is a major determinant of food insecurity and poor health; the poor lack adequate means to obtain food in the quantities and qualities needed for a healthy life. In addition, food insecurity and hunger in a number of countries are caused primarily by armed conflicts or are actually used as instruments to conduct such conflicts.

• The significance of agriculture in improving nutrition is due, first, to its principal role, i.e. the production of food of the desired quality and quantity, and, second, to its direct and indirect role in providing employment and income to the poor throughout the economy, particularly in low-income countries.

• Health, sanitation and the care given to vulnerable members of society have a strong influence on nutrition. Malnutrition leads to substantial losses in productivity and the misallocation of scarce resources as a result of decreased work performance and diminished cognitive ability and school performance.

Exactly how many households and individuals are affected by malnutrition is unknown because of difficulties of definition and measurement and inadequate data. Any overview of best estimates of major nutritional problems must emphasize the following:

• An estimated 841 million people are hungry (food-energy deficient), i.e. 20 percent of the developing countries’ total population. This figure does not include the hungry in industrialized countries and in economies in transition.

• Some 190 million children are underweight, 230 million children are stunted and 50 million children are wasted. The last figure may understate the actual magnitude of the problem because it captures only current acute problems which may worsen in certain seasons or circumstances. Nutritional problems resulting in low body weight are also prevalent among adults and adolescents in developing countries.

• Vitamin A deficiency is a public-health problem in at least 60 countries; some 40 million children are suffering from this deficiency . About 29 percent of the world’s population is at risk of iodine deficiency. Worldwide, about 2 billion people are affected by iron deficiency, a condition to which women and preschool children are particularly prone.

• The problem of undernutrition is paralleled by extensive and growing public-health problems with obesity, not only in the richest and the poorest countries, but also in low- and middle-income countries, and especially in urban areas.

It is necessary to fulfil a number of preconditions before it is possible to conduct sustained actions to improve nutrition, and the specific actions needed to tackle a given country’s nutritional problems vary according to its situation. These often unfulfilled preconditions include:

• appropriate macroeconomic policies and development strategies (with related trade, storage and food-aid policies, where applicable), which are a precondition for a functioning economy capable of employment-intensive growth;

• policies and programmes for increasing agricultural production and raising productivity in low-income countries, which are a precondition for future security of adequate nutrition – a precondition in which effective national and international agricultural research systems play a key role of sustainable nutritional improvement.

The range of specific actions to be taken varies from one country to another and may include:

• programmes for reducing poverty (including employment and infrastructure-improvement programmes);

• sustainable food- and nutrition-related transfer programmes (such as food subsidies and food stamps), which address the immediate causes of malnutrition of the poor as much as possible;

• direct nutrition and health interventions (e.g. targeted feeding, micronutrient programmes, nutrition education, integrated nutrition programmes, sanitation and health actions and relief programmes), which address both the short- and long-term symptoms and causes of nutritional problems, including those of higher-income groups, by focusing on changing behaviour.

Building on past international commitments and ongoing initiatives for nutritional improvement, the paper concludes with a set of priority areas of attention and actions addressing:

• the malnutrition/mortality cycle, with clearly defined targets for measurably reducing malnutrition;

• human-resource development for nutrition, including attention to actions facilitating reduced population growth;

• the promotion of employment-intensive growth, especially through agricultural growth promotion and employment programmes for the poor;

• famine prevention, including mechanisms for preventing famines related to armed conflicts;

• the facilitation of community and household self-help through education and empowerment, especially for women.

Any consideration of the costs of nutritional improvement must also take into account the benefits that would be forfeited through non-action. Focusing on (fiscal) spending and ignoring the resultant benefits is misleading. The guiding principle in considering the cost aspects of improving nutrition must be to achieve the defined nutritional goals rapidly and sustainably through the use of a portfolio of the most cost-effective policy instruments.

Only if the urgency and significance of the food security and nutritional situation are readily apparent will appropriate action be taken and the international support for such action be sustained. The availability of organizational capacity is a prerequisite for monitoring changes in the nutritional situation and for evaluating the effects of nutrition policies and programmes.

It is imperative that the governmental organizations, particularly ministries, as well as non-governmental interests involved in nutrition improvement activities be well coordinated at the national level. Such coordination can be stimulated by international organizations, but it often lacks a well-established framework. It is necessary to develop national strategies involving all food and agricultural interests in order to ensure that actions aimed at food-security and nutritional improvement are sustained and consistent. Progress in implementing the strategy will be enhanced when all nutrition improvement efforts are coordinated by a problem-oriented, lean management structure that recognizes that improving and maintaining adequate nutrition for all at all times strongly depends upon the relevant actors in the non-governmental arena, especially food producers.

Past international initiatives regarding food security and nutrition have stimulated actions for improvement. Drawing on new insights, new global circumstances and new forms of cooperation, the World Food Summit offers an opportunity to build on past initiatives. The creation of a transparent and reliable international reporting system for measuring national progress in achieving nutritional well-being (e.g. reduction in the proportion and number of underweight children and other relevant indicators, presented in map and other forms) will be instrumental in creating the proper political understanding for implementing the needed actions. National food-for-all campaign committees will be one of the most appropriate instruments to monitor the food and nutrition situation at national and subnational levels and to promote actions that will alleviate problems of hunger and malnutrition. The follow-ups to previous international commitments, i.e. the World Summit for Children and the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN), have gone in the right direction, and this approach should be reinforced.


6. Lessons from the green revolution: towards a new green revolution

The green revolution, which began in the 1960s, is widely seen as a global technological achievement, the effects of which are still being felt today. The introduction of improved varieties, irrigation, pesticides and mineral fertilizers for key commodity crops, accompanied by investment in institutional infrastructure and ongoing research programmes, raised food production and productivity on a wide scale. While the productivity gains in rice and wheat in Asia have been especially significant, many farmers growing crops in other regions have also achieved productivity increases during the last three decades. However, in the light of constant population growth and a diminishing land area to produce food, the challenge to continue to increase productivity and to introduce in the poorer, food-insecure countries the necessary tools for doing so remains.

At the time of the green revolution and up to the present day, science and technology have occupied a position of paramount importance in providing tools for increasing food production. Today, as part of a continuing and ongoing learning process, it is also possible to address a range of social, economic and environmental factors that affect the food production process. Experience and knowledge accumulated during the last 30 years confirm the strong influence that market forces, government policy and prevailing social and cultural forces have on technological packages. These must be addressed if progress is to be sustained.

In fact, the research focus has already begun to be broadened to more varied crops and animals (including cropping systems), increased emphasis on integrated pest management and plant nutrition, and adoption of ecoregional approaches to research to reflect prevailing biological and physical constraints.

In Africa and Latin America increased food production has partly been based on expanding the cropping area, often into marginal areas with lower sustainable yield potential. Incentives for farmers to increase their productivity have been minimal as a result of low labour productivity, dysfunctional markets and limited access to mechanization and energy sources.

Research institutions can still achieve sizeable yield increases with conventional research tools, although new tools are becoming available; many more crops and animal breeds can still be improved. One important objective is to narrow the gap between the yields achieved in research programmes and those realized by the farmers in their fields. This can be achieved by concentrating on new ways of communicating with farmers, rejuvenating extension systems, conducting more participatory research and constant training.

The role of biotechnology is still the subject of intense international debate concerning ethics, safety and intellectual property rights. Experience suggests it may be a further ten to 20 years before the full benefits are realized by farmers in developing countries.

The following characteristics will be central to the continuing evolution of the green revolution:

An important and still debated strategic question is how best to assist people who live in areas where sufficient food production is not possible. There are few successful models to follow, but the needs are great. Economic and environmental factors argue for investing in land with the best potential for sustainable production increases. However, strategies must also allow for improving human living conditions and well-being in the poorly endowed areas.

Strategies include greater emphasis on education and job-related training, diversification from agriculture to other sectors, investment in agricultural processing and marketing capacity to add value to feasible products, and special government support programmes. Improved national and regional transport infrastructure could be part of strategies to assist lower-potential areas by facilitating the movement of food to markets in exchange for goods or services produced in those areas. Although most options are politically and culturally sensitive and are difficult to implement, new and innovative approaches must be tried and solutions found.

Experience has shown that science and technology are essential but cannot by themselves solve the food security problems of developing countries. Appropriate social, economic and institutional factors must also be present in order to maintain what has been accomplished so far.


7. Food production: the critical role of water

The supply of easily accessible freshwater resources is globally limited. Taking into account that not all water can be abstracted but a part of surface waters must be left in the rivers to safeguard the environment, over one-half of accessible runoff is already committed. In arid and semi-arid regions, in densely populated countries and in most of the industrialized world, competition for scarce water resources has set in. In major food-producing regions, scarcity of irrigation water is spreading. In the light of demographic and economic projections, the freshwater resources not yet committed are a strategic asset for development, food security, the health of the aquatic environment and, in some cases, national security.

Water cannot be substituted for many of its functions: as drinking-water for human beings and animals; for hygiene, washing, sanitation and municipal use; for industrial processes; and for fish, aquatic life and the environment. Production of biomass, including food, is dependent on the availability of adequate moisture in the soil. The intensive agronomic technology that has allowed steady increases in world food production, based on high-yielding varieties, coupled with the application of fertilizers and effective means of pest control, is largely dependent on irrigation to secure and control soil moisture in the face of insufficient and unreliable rainfall. Yet irrigated agriculture is a highly water-intensive activity. It claims nearly 70 percent of world water abstraction: over 90 percent in agricultural economies in the arid and semi-arid tropics, but less than 40 percent in industrial economies in the humid temperate regions.

Irrigated agriculture, which is much more productive than rain-fed agriculture, contributes nearly 40 percent of world food production on 17 percent of cultivated land. Increased production to satisfy the food demand of the future must essentially come from intensification, not from expansion of agriculture. Both rain-fed and irrigated agriculture will need to be intensified, but the intensification potential of irrigated agriculture is much higher. Some authors indicate that 80 percent of additional food production will come from irrigated agriculture.

However, as food needs rise, it is becoming increasingly difficult to supply more water to farmers. Taking industrial and municipal use, water losses and instream flow requirements into account, overall water requirements by the year 2025 appear to overcommit all accessible runoff by some 5 percent. The figures underlying this analysis – the respective contributions of irrigated and rain-fed agriculture, the amount of water required to produce the food needed for human diets and instream flow requirements – may be subject to different interpretations. However, it is clear that human demands are about to collide with the ability of the hydrological cycle to supply water. Water is becoming globally scarce. The fundamental resource constraint will have an effect on the cost of food.

A worldwide overview of water supply and projected demand flags specific concern of the regions. Virtually all countries with a mainly arid territory, such as those in the Near East and North Africa, are already net food importers. The priority for water use in these countries will be to secure adequate water for cities and for a healthy economy in the industrial and services sectors, in order to earn the income required for food imports. Because of the scarcity value of water, these regions will not be able to harbour water-intensive industries. The agricultural sector in water-scarce arid countries is bound to rely more and more on waste water freed by cities and to specialize in producing crops that yield the highest revenue, such as fresh vegetables and fruits. Food security in these countries will be closely tied to the solidity of the trading position anchored in a context of regional stability and collective security.

The amount of fresh water currently available per person per year in major Asian countries (e.g. China, 2 300 m3; India, 2 000 m3) is fairly close to the amount of water needed to produce the food requirement per person per year (2 000 m3 for a balanced diet with meat). As population and the diversity of the Asian diet increase and the scope for irrigation expansion and water development narrows and intersectoral competition increases, some major irrigation-using countries in Asia may even become net food importers. Given that 60 percent of the world population lives in Asia, this evolution has the potential to stress global food markets in a serious way. The economic strength of a number of countries in Asia is widely recognized, but it should not be overlooked that large poverty pockets remain, particularly in South Asia.

Africa, with the exception of the central Congo-Zaire basin, is the driest continent (apart from Australia) and suffers from the most unstable rainfall regime. Each year more people are at risk from the effects of inevitable droughts of greater or lesser severity. Furthermore, Africa’s water resources are relatively less developed than those of other regions. Agricultural productivity per caput in sub-Saharan Africa has not kept pace with population increase, and the region is now in a worse position nutritionally than it was 30 years ago: food production has achieved a growth of about 2.5 percent per year, while population has risen at the rate of over 3 percent per year. Moreover, Africa’s ability to earn from exports in order to buy food has not improved. In the past, additional food in Africa came from increases in the area cultivated, but as good land becomes less available, the region will be forced to intensify production systems to increase yields. Water development in its various forms, from water harvesting to modern piped irrigation, is destined to make a major contribution to transforming the efficiency and security of the African food supply.

As a continent, Latin America is well endowed with water, although there are substantial intraregional differences. Water problems in Latin America are mainly related to low water-use efficiency, resource management, environmental degradation and pollution control.

Intensified demand for water will stimulate efforts to develop new water supplies and to use existing supplies in a more efficient way. Increasing water supply is technically feasible but expensive – the most attractive projects have already been done. It is believed that the next generation of storage reservoirs and water conveyance infrastructure, with a closer management of the “externalities” of the past such as equitable treatment of people, accounting of environmental damage and full recovery of investment, will cost several times more than the past generation of water development structures. The technology for desalting sea water has made tremendous advances, but wheat produced with desalinated water will still cost five times as much as the average world market prices. Various proven methods for rainwater harvesting are available and have promise for expanding supplies at low cost. Rehabilitation and protection of upper catchments, necessary for many reasons, also yield a more balanced hydrological regime and fewer sediments trapped in reservoirs.

Existing water supplies can be used more effectively by suppressing unproductive evaporation and preventing water pollution and salinization. A number of measures are available and are expected to yield increased food production with unchanged, or even diminished, water available for agriculture. At the level of the river basin, integrated (conjunctive) water management, both structural and non-structural, can reduce water losses from evaporation, pollution and salinization. At the irrigation scheme and farm level, irrigation efficiency, sometimes as low as 30 percent, can be substantially increased.

Population growth, migration and urbanization will continue to have a significant impact on all aspects of development. These changes will lead to improved infrastructure and marketing systems reaching out to underdeveloped rural areas. Enlarged and more reliable local food production, generated close to where it is consumed, is more than an insurance against the risk of rising prices. An increasingly efficient agriculture contributes to overall development. Ways must be found to overcome the evident opportunity costs and hardship generated by a growing gap between food needs and local production.

How can the necessary water development take place in the face of the general perception that water investments, particularly those of irrigation, are ineffective, inefficient and a threat to the environment? Such views are ill-informed. Prospects for water harvesting and for small- and large-scale irrigation need fresh appraisal. Many important lessons have been learned, and the mistakes of the past need not be repeated. In fact, small- and large-scale irrigation investments (avoiding the costly approaches of the last 25 years) can yield returns that are higher than those of other agricultural projects and close to those of non-agricultural investments. Existing infrastructure can be rehabilitated and modernized, and water management improved. The positive linkages to the economy can be greater in the case of water development than for other projects; indeed, irrigation generates employment and in doing so attracts settlers from the more fragile hilly and arid areas that are prone to environmental degradation. Where appropriate, farmers should be assisted in assuming ownership rights and management responsibilities for assets developed by the public sector. Without such developments there will be much reduced scope for farmers (and consumers) to benefit from the array of existing agricultural technologies.

The world is currently undergoing an era of rapid change. Irrigation requires an equitable macroeconomic environment, and there has been considerable progress in this regard. Water policy that led to past misallocation and wastage has been reviewed and its implementation supported by an enabling environment, with adequate and properly enforced laws. The importance of including the intended beneficiaries in the design and implementation of new projects is now recognized, as is the need for realistic, uncomplicated project designs. The institutional capacity of governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector to work together is rapidly improving. A wide array of water development technologies is now available, but private and public investment funds are needed for their implementation. The major challenge, however, is to build capacity at all levels in order to achieve the efficient, highly productive management of water needed to secure sustainable, sufficient and low-priced food for the projected population.

An insufficient and unstable food supply has a high social and financial cost to society, accumulated year after year. An adequate and stable food supply for food security depends on a number of complementary measures. Among these, water control enables realization of the production benefits deriving from high-yielding varieties and improved cultural practices. Water control also tends to shield agricultural production from the vagaries of climate, ensuring a more stable food supply. Water development for food production thus constitutes an important element for increasing food security.


8. Food for consumers: marketing, processing and distribution

This paper focuses on the marketing, processing and distribution of food. It stresses the importance of these functions, briefly reviews some of the ways in which they can be made more efficient and concludes with a discussion of priority areas for further improvement, covering topics such as policy reform, research and technology and infrastructure development. The whole range of activities within the post-harvest sector is considered, from household-level food processing to large-scale infrastructure development.

Food marketing, processing and distribution activities account for a significant proportion of the consumer price and make a major contribution to national employment and incomes. An efficient post-harvest and marketing chain promotes production and distribution in accordance with consumer needs and ensures that the costs of transfer from producer to consumer are kept to a minimum. Effective marketing guarantees food availability and facilitates access to inexpensive, but safe, food. A sustainable post-harvest and marketing system is thus a precondition for food security.

Much of the food that is produced is never consumed. This results both from production being carried out without reference to consumer demand and from losses that occur in the post-harvest chain. Government subsidies continue to have the effect, in some cases, of stimulating excessive production of some products and too little of others. Moreover, many farmers still lack adequate information on demand, and this also leads to overproduction and, hence, a misallocation of productive resources such as water and inputs.

Improvements in handling, storage and distribution can do much to reduce post-harvest losses, thus lowering costs to the buyer and improving returns to participants in the food chain. However, care must be taken to ensure that such improvements are economically viable and fit in with the way the marketing system functions. Many post-harvest innovations, both those aimed at small-scale farmers and those at large-scale facilities, have been neither economically nor socially viable.

While many governments in the past saw their role as one of direct intervention in the marketing system, the majority are now reorienting their functions to facilitate marketing, storage and distribution by the private sector. The paper identifies a number of areas where support is required, including the development of an appropriate legal environment in which the private sector can function, the provision of marketing information services to enable farmers and traders to make informed decisions about what to produce and where to sell, and the construction of infrastructure such as rural markets. The development of post-harvest and marketing knowledge within the agricultural extension services is also considered.

Urban populations are growing by some 60 million people a year. This growth will continue to present enormous challenges for the suppliers and distributors of food. On the one hand, incomes of some urban dwellers are rising rapidly, leading to increasing demand for more expensive foods as well as for processed products. On the other hand, many urban dwellers in developing countries remain highly disadvantaged, having only very limited purchasing power. For these people, guaranteeing the efficient distribution of low-cost but nutritious food will be one of the major food security issues in the coming decades. The paper discusses ways of improving rural/urban food distribution linkages and briefly considers experiences with low-cost food supply programmes. The important role of street food vending is also examined.

The paper reviews the role of food processing, from preservation by individual households to provide food when other sources are scarce, to the level of large-scale agro-industrial processing. The sector is a major employer of both rural and urban dwellers, especially women, and an important vehicle for growth in many countries. All processing operations, whether small-scale or large ventures employing thousands of people, must be based on the existence of a demand for the processed product, a demand that can be satisfied profitably. Unfortunately, agroprocessing in many developing countries has tended to be promoted as a way of disposing of surplus production, without reference to the demands of the market, thus leading to the existence of numerous “white elephants”.

Governments can provide an appropriate environment in which the post-harvest sector is able to function profitably. Policies should stress the crucial role of this sector in ensuring an adequate, affordable and safe supply of food to consumers and in maximizing the efficiency of the production system. Governments can also make certain that policies, laws and regulations are consistent with the need to encourage the efficient functioning of the private sector in marketing and processing. Where it does not yet exist, the creation of an adequate body of contract law, to provide security for those carrying out commercial transactions, is essential.

The paper highlights a number of priorities for action in the sector. These cover the areas of policy and legislative development; research into the post-harvest system; technology development and infrastructure improvement; promotion of improved post-harvest and marketing knowledge through the extension services; and, finally, the provision of the necessary support services for the private sector.