Food insecurity in an urban future
As people stream to the world's growing cities, the map of hunger is changing
According to SOFI 2004, profound demographic and economic changes are rapidly transforming food systems and the nature of nutritional challenges around the world, particularly in developing countries.
Populations are becoming increasingly urban. Average incomes and calorie intake are rising. Commodity and food prices are falling. An increasingly integrated world trade environment and improved transportation facilities are spurring concentration of ownership in the food industry and a convergence of dietary patterns and preferences around the world.
Hunger in the city
According to the latest UN estimates, almost all of the world's population growth between 2000 and 2030 will be concentrated in urban areas in developing countries. Around 2017, their urban population will equal their rural population. By 2030, almost 60% of the people in developing countries will live in cities.
As economic development fuels this urban growth it is also driving per capita incomes higher, says FAO. Projections by the World Bank show income per person in the developing countries growing at an annual rate of 3.4% for the period 2006-2015.
As a consequence, the average daily caloric intake in developing countries is expected to increase by nearly 200 kilocalories over the same period. Still, FAO notes, this will not be enough to meet the World Food Summit goal.
While rising incomes and falling levels of hunger and malnutrition in the developing world have generally been associated with the rapid growth of cities, and though the proportion of people who go hungry usually remains lower in cities, the overall numbers of poor and hungry city dwellers are climbing rapidly along with the total urban population.
Access to food in slums a problem
Worryingly, more than 40% of all urban residents in developing countries live in slums, FAO adds. That means around 950 million people lack one or more of such basic services as access to sufficient living space, clean water and adequate sanitation facilities.
Many do not have access to adequate food -- even though the urban poor in many developing countries spend 60% or more of their total expenditures on food.
Changing lifestyles, changing diets
Urbanization and the globalization of food systems are not only redrawing the map of hunger and malnutrition but their profile as well.
As total caloric intake has increased, so has the proportion of those calories derived from vegetable oils, meat, sugar and wheat. FAO observes that net imports of these commodities by developing countries have increased by a factor of 13 over the past 40 years, and are expected to grow by another 345% by the year 2030.
These changes are fuelling two distinct trends, says FAO: dietary convergence and dietary adaptation.
Dietary convergence refers to the increasing similarity in diets worldwide. It is characterized by a greater reliance on a narrow base of staple grains -- in particular, wheat and rice -- as well as increased consumption of meat, dairy products, edible oil, salt and sugar and lower intake of dietary fibre.
In China, for example, the proportion of urban adults consuming high-fat diets, in which more than 30% of calories come from fat, shot up from 33 to 61% between 1991 and 1997. For the developing world as a whole, per capita consumption of vegetable oils and of animal source foods such as meat, dairy, eggs and fish doubled between 1961 and 2000.
Dietary adaptation, on the other hand, reflects the rapid pace and time pressures of urban lifestyles, which often lead consumers to eat more meals outside the home and to purchase more processed foods.
A double challenge
As people consume more oils, meat and dairy products and less dietary fibre, more fast foods and fewer home-cooked meals, many developing countries now face a double challenge - widespread hunger on the one hand and rapid increases in diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other diet-related noncommunicable diseases on the other.
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