Holistic approach needed to achieve global food security

February 14, 2014

A biosecurity and food security expert from Murdoch University has urged the international community to think beyond the farm to find solutions to world hunger.

Speaking at the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture in Abu Dhabi last week, Professor Shashi Sharma said that simply producing more food isn’t enough to secure food for future generations.

“Global investments in international food and agriculture research are skewed towards producing more food, but we also need to promote innovation to protect the food value chain from loss,” he said.

“Reducing waste and providing biosecure, safe and nutritious food is just as important – we need to protect what we grow and produce.”

Professor Sharma said there has been talk about the need for another ‘green revolution’ to meet the growing demand for food, but said there were many lessons to be learned from the green revolution experience in India.

While India’s green revolution of the 1970s was ‘tremendously successful’ in achieving its short-term vision of increasing food production and taking the country out of food scarcity, Professor Sharma said there were major consequences for the environment.

“Unfortunately, it lacked a long-term vision of realising food value chain sustainability that does not compromise the health of the environment and the ability of future generations to meet their food demands,” he said.

“Already there are over a billion hectares of saline land, massive land degradation and pollution due to agriculture for food production – this environmental damage continues unabated.

“Green revolution with a long-term vision of ‘food security for all forever’ would indeed be a ‘really green revolution’ and any myopic vision or compromise would result in gradual yellowing of yet another green revolution.”

While food insecurity is historically linked to poverty, Professor Sharma said developed nations, including Australia, bring challenges of their own.

“With economic growth, ‘food needs’ change to ‘food wants’, changing the way people think about food and increasing food waste,” he said.

“Consumers in these countries also tend to eat more energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods which can lead to widespread health issues.”

Globalisation is also posing a threat, with Professor Sharma stressing the need for effective biosecurity systems in each country.

“There is unprecedented increase in the movement of people and goods all over the world, which has created pathways for dispersal of organisms that are harmful to agriculture and environment,” he said.

“These organisms have new opportunities to move to different geographical regions, find new vectors, new hosts and new environments, new opportunities for some to hybridise and form new species, strains and biotypes.”

Professor Sharma leads Murdoch University’s Centre for Biosecurity and Food Security and is currently working to establish global research alliances to achieve ‘food security for all forever’.

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