World Food Day

Today is World Food Day, which commemorates the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. It also seeks to bring attention to global hunger and malnutrition, both of which have thankfully been markedly reduced over the years, but which remain intractable problems in a large part of the world.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), one of America’s most effective environmental charities, offers a helpful reminder that, even with the world’s population sent to grow by another 2 billion in the coming decades, there are viable solutions in sight — if we can muster the political and public will to take action. 

1. A new way of farming

About 40 percent of the Earth’s non-ice, land surface is devoted to agriculture, and that’s how we use most freshwater, too. For many years, excess crop fertilizers have run off into streams and rivers, polluting drinking water and causing dead zones in lakes and oceans in the United States and elsewhere, which affects marine life.

As our footprint from food production continues to grow, there is a surprising new breakthrough making me feel optimistic. Major producers are changing how they grow and supply food, and they’re working with farmers to apply the best technologies to the problem.

In the past year, Campbell’s Soup joined Walmart, Smithfield Foods, General Mills and United Suppliers in a collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund to make fertilizer efficiency and soil health the norm in U.S. grain production. Our goal is to enroll 45 million acres in the program by 2020, and we’re already halfway there.

Farming techniques such as no-till and planting cover crops, meanwhile, increase a farm’s resiliency, which can boost yields and food production in the long-run.

This year, some of the world’s largest, international food companies also agreed to rid many of their brands of artificial colors and flavors, and we expect more companies to follow suit in coming years.

2. Fisheries that thrive

Just as pressure through the marketplace is helping agriculture deliver better food from the land, we are seeing an amazing shift in how we get food from the oceans.

Overfishing has pushed nearly a third of the world’s fisheries into deep trouble, but we’re also seeing fisheries turn around, with rebounding fish populations as a result.

In nations such as Australia, Belize, Chile, Denmark, Mexico, Namibia and the U.S., a new system of fishing rights has transformed struggling fisheries. This approach gives each fisherman the right to a portion of a scientifically determined annual catch. If they stick to that limit, the fish population rebounds and revenues rise, making fishermen stewards of the resource.

In the Gulf of Mexico, as a result, there are now three times as many red snapper in the ocean since that fishery was reformed eight years ago.

In California, a fishery declared a federal disaster in 2000 made a remarkable comeback thanks to a fishing management program that implemented fishing quotas and new practices for local fishermen. Result: By 2014, virtually all fish caught in the West Coast groundfish system had become a sustainable option for consumers.

And in Belize, the government plans to implement a nationwide system of fishing rights after illegal fishing dropped and fishermen participating in a pilot program reported that their catches increased.

If sustainable fishing became the norm in 12 governments that account for 62 percent of the global catch, we can have 50 percent more fish in the oceans by 2020. That means we can also feed many more people.

There is no reason why a world with tremendous agricultural potential and resource should nonetheless have hundreds of millions of people mired in starvation and malnutrition (and many times that number being at risk of such a fate). There is plenty of capital, both financial and technological, available, and overall the globe even produces enough food to meet the nutritional needs of every human — and then some.

But as always, mustering the will to take action, and coordinating the multitude of actors and institutions involved in this vast and complex food production system, is a daunting task, even on a national, much less global, scale. But it gets less and less difficult by the day.

Learn more about this effort here.

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