Global food and nutrition security must be a top priority for our world. But is this goal compatible with the move towards a more sustainable, greener economy?

It has certainly become more difficult to achieve thanks to growing natural resource constraints, rising energy costs, continued population growth, rapid urbanization, a fragmented sectoral approach, and weak capacity to design and develop policies in developing countries.

Yet the problem remains acute. Over 900 million people worldwide are hungry, according to estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. And IFPRI’s 2011 Global Hunger Index finds that 26 countries still have “alarming” or “extremely alarming” levels of hunger.

Billions of people also suffer from deficiencies in micronutrients, such as vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc. This “hidden hunger” contributes to morbidity and mortality, especially among women and children.

So what can we do about it? Significant successes around the world show that large improvements to food and nutrition security have been made possible through investments in science and technology, infrastructure and market support. The Green Revolution in Asia, which improved the livelihoods of close to two billion people, is a key example.

In China, the introduction of hybrid rice technology led to a 44% increase in production and about a 68% increase in yields, enabling China to feed an additional 60 million people a year.

Brazil’s Zero Hunger programme has achieved a 61% reduction in child malnutrition and helped about 45 million poor people, roughly a quarter of the total population.

And bio-fortification of food crops has had a tremendous impact on nutrition, particularly in Mozambique, where a pilot project to promote vitamin A bio-fortified orange sweet potato resulted in vitamin A intakes nearly doubling for women, and increasing by two-thirds for children.

[For more detailed explanations of these successful initiatives, click through to a longer version of this article here.]

But we need to scale up these successes. How? Food and nutrition security must be woven into all sustainable development strategies. The silo approach is no longer acceptable. And we need to continue supporting technological innovation and agricultural practices that offer multiple benefits, such as higher productivity, higher farmer incomes and sustainability.

Brazil’s ABC Low Carbon Agriculture programme, for example, is already being implemented in different parts of the developing and developed world.

We also need to consider the full costs and benefits of natural resource use in food production, and we need new measures to track, monitor and evaluate impacts across sectors.

Countries need help designing policies for agricultural development and food and nutrition security. This means providing them with greater technical and financial support to develop institutions that can design, implement and monitor such policies.

We need to engage new actors and also develop new public-private partnerships, such as the PepsiCo and World Food Programme partnership to transform nutrition in Ethiopia, while supporting sustainable growth.

In short, we believe that the goal of improving food and nutrition security, while protecting the natural resource base, can be achieved, but we need to be more innovative, cost-effective and focused.

Author:  Dr Shenggen Fan is Director-General, International Food Policy Research Institute; Member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Food Security.

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