2016 Global Food Policy Report Highlights Weaknesses in Food System

Nearly 800 million people are left hungry, one-third of the human race is malnourished, over half of some crops never make it to the table, and the planet is left ravaged from environmentally unfriendly agricultural practices. These startling facts have been highlighted as major weaknesses in today’s global food system, according to the 2016 Global Food Policy Report that was recently released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The 2016 report, launched at the end of March, provides an in-depth look at major food policy developments and events in the past year, and examines key challenges and opportunities for the coming year.

According to the report, as the global population continues to grow exponentially, finding ways to feed more people efficiently and sustainably, while combating climate change, is going to prove challenging.

“The Sustainable Development Goals task us all with the challenge of eradicating hunger and undernutrition in 15 years or less,” said IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan, in a press release to mark the launch of the publication. “This report shows that if we are to meet these goals, we have a lot of work ahead. We must promote and support a new global food system that is efficient, inclusive, climate-smart, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven and business-friendly, in order to ensure that no one goes to sleep hungry.”

This year’s report takes a look at the latest research on opportunities and challenges the world will face in achieving multiple SDGs. The report includes chapters on climate change and smallholder farmers, sustainable diets, food loss and waste, and water management.

Climate change

There is strong evidence, states IFPRI, that climate change will continue to have negative impacts on agriculture. The report highlights that 12 million hectares of land is degraded due to drought or desertification on an annual basis. It states that the development of climate-ready crops, which can lead to more efficient water use and improved yields, is key to feeding a growing population and adapting and mitigating against climate change.

Shifting diets

Worldwide, the number of overweight people is two-and-a-half times larger than the number of undernourished people. Urbanisation, increasing incomes and greater demand for animal protein are changing diets in developing countries. The report suggests that the path toward a sustainable food future will be marked by a shift away from a Western-style diet that is high in calories, protein and animal-based foods, as it poses challenges for food security and sustainability. The report proposes three ways diet can be shifted: reduce over-consumption of calories, beef, and protein through the reduction of intake of animal-based foods.

IFPRI argues that over-consumption increases the size of the food gap, drives unnecessary agricultural impacts, and contributes to overweight and obesity. Reducing over-consumption requires strategies that relate to consumer education and package labelling. The report recognised the growing influence of global food companies on consumer choices, and the importance of engaging these companies in shifting consumers toward sustainable diets.

The report also mentions the role of food taxes in shifting diets, stating that although favoured by some economists, these taxes can be politically difficult to implement due to opposition from the public and affected industries.

Food loss and waste

The 2016 report also highlights the amount of food that is either lost or wasted. According to the Report, about 27 to 32 per cent of food produced never makes it to the table. Food loss and waste occur differently in developed and developing countries – food is mostly lost at the production level in developing countries, while in developed countries, most food is wasted at the retail and consumer level.

Issues such as gender inequality are also highlighted – touching on the fact that granting women better access to resources and removing inequalities could reduce the number of undernourished people by 150 million, and that unless significant changes are made in global water consumption, most people will live under severe water shortage conditions by 2050.

Regional profiles of the unique challenges facing Central Asia, South Asia and East Asia are also featured. The full report is available for download here.

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

IFPRI seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty. IFPRI was established in 1975 to identify and analyse alternative national and international strategies and policies for meeting the food needs of the developing world, with particular emphasis on low-income countries and on the poorer groups in those countries.

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