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In the coming decades world population growth will be the predominant cause of increased global food demand. Not only are more people being born in the world but the demographic profile of the world population is constantly changing. The trends in parts of sub-Saharan Africa are of particular concern.
Planners who design food and agriculture policy ignore demographic trends at their peril. Proven strategies exist, however, that can reduce the extent of future population growth, especially in the long run.
That was the core message that came out of an Expert Group Meeting on Food Production and Population Growth, sponsored by FAO and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), held at FAO headquarters from 3 to 5 July.
In order to ensure that the population factor is given due consideration in shaping food and agriculture policy the group proposed a series of amendments and additions to the Policy Statement and Plan of Action, the key documents that will be approved by world leaders at the World Food Summit , to be held at FAO from 13 to 17 November. The documents are supposed to serve as a battle plan for a concerted campaign against world hunger.
"We have tried to inject population issues into the debate given the critical role that population growth and migrations have played in food security over the last 25 years and will play in the next 25 years", said the meeting's chairman, Professor Aderanti Adepoju, Director of the African Institute for Economic Development and Planning. "We must keep doing this, especially with regard to Africa where food trends are worrying and the transition to low population growth rates is slow".
Food security -- a situation where everyone has access at all times to the food needed for an active and healthy life -- is frequently considered to be largely a problem that can be solved by producing more food. Yet the world produces more than enough food to provide an adequate diet for everybody. It is mainly lack of access to food that condemns 800 million people to chronic undernutrition, most often because poverty prevents them from purchasing food at a price that would increase effective demand in the marketplace.
"The group felt that the Summit texts mostly concentrate on the supply side, that is, production", Professor Adepoju said. "From our viewpoint, the demand side is as important: where the people live or move to; the impact population movements have on food production itself; and what causes poverty".
To redress this perceived imbalance, the Expert Group suggested that the Summit texts add or enlarge on commitments in areas such as primary health care, reproductive health, basic social services and education (particularly for women), all considered key elements of population policy that would also contribute to the achievement of food security.
The Expert Group discussed the technical paper, Food Requirements and Population Growth , released by the World Food Summit Secretariat. The paper notes, for example, that demographic changes in developing countries bring about changes in average equirements for food energy. The aging of the population and the increase in body height as a consequence of better nutrition contribute to greater energy requirements, whereas declining fertility and increasing urbanization would tend to reduce per caput energy requirements.
When all factors are taken into account, experts project that by 2050, energy requirements could double in developing countries as a whole and triple in inter-tropical Africa. Public policy will have to take account of this new reality.
The group was composed of experts from different disciplines, brought together to facilitate a "bold cross-fertilization of views", in the words of Henri Carsalade, FAO's Assistant Director-General, Sustainable Development Department. "Policies and programmes have tended until recently to be handled from a sectoral perspective. Now, one has to link issues", he said in an opening address.
Mr. Carsalade summed up as follows:
"How can population policies and programmes contribute to alleviating the pressures on food security? This is not limited to reducing rates of population growth, but concerns also migration, health, labour force and so on. Secondly, how can agricultural policies and programmes contribute to solving population issues? Ensuring food security can affect the demand for children, modify mortality levels and patterns. Agricultural policies can have a major impact on migration flows".