‘Are we eating right?’ Experts tackle food production and nutrition

Rendell Sanchez
Advocates emphasize the importance of making sure that quality – not just quantity – of food is addressed to fight malnutrition

SUFFICIENT AND SAFE. During the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Food Security Forum, keynote speaker Marco Ferroni discusses the significance of food safety, quality, and nutrition. Photo by Rendell Sanchez/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – According to the 2015 Global Nutrition Report, one in 3 people in the world is malnourished – undernourished, stunted, or obese. This is evident in the Philippines where 17.5 million Filipinos suffer from undernourishment.

To provide possible solutions to these problems, experts in agricultural research and food production gathered at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Food Security Forum at the ADB Headquarters in Manila from June 22 to 24.

The main question during the forum was, “Are we eating right?”

While boosting food production to ensure food security is crucial,Marco Ferroni,  Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) executive director, said it is just as important to ensure that the food provided for the population is nutritious.

“All [dietary nutritional shortcomings] lead to a high human, health, and economic cost. People fail to reach their full potential over their lifetime,” the keynote speaker said.

Ferroni added that these costs come in the form of lost productivity and higher health care expenses. These, he said, can be prevented through smarter dietary choices.

Sustainable food production

Eating right also does not just entail consuming food with sufficient nutrients. It also involves considering sustainability as massive food production can harm the environment. Land clearing, wasteful agronomic processes, and nitrogen oxide emissions were mentioned as processes that contribute to environmental degradation.

Thus, panelists at the forum highlighted the importance of integrating high-level technology,  and research and development to sustainable farming. This is in line with the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on food security which aims to end hunger by 2030.

Members of the panel suggested implementing resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production as well as help maintain ecosystems.

The goals of sustainable food production also involve strengthening capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters, and improving land and soil quality. 

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Asia-Pacific director Najat Mokhtar cited ideal practices, which include maintaining genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants, farmed and domesticated animals, and their related wild species.

The use of genetic modification was also mentioned as a solution to developing crops which are more nutritious and more resistant to pests, diseases, and extreme temperatures.

Dietary shift

Keynote speaker Ferroni brought up another solution – an Oxford study which proposes a dietary shift.

This shift involves “transitioning to more plant-based diets in line with standard dietary guidelines to reduce food related greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time looting important health benefits from the less consumption of red meat.”

By eating less meat and more fruit and vegetables, the world could prevent several million deaths per year by 2050, cut planet-warming emissions substantially, and save billions of dollars annually in health care costs and climate damage, the research suggests.

World Vegetable Center director general Marco Wopereis strongly supported Ferroni’s suggestion and proposed that citizens, especially in rural areas, practice backyard farming. By growing vegetables themselves, families would have a healthy diet and could earn more by selling their produce.

For Pakistan’s Food Security and Climate Change Commission member Mubarik Ali, safe and nutritious food can be achieved if the government provides more support for small-scale farmers, or smallholders.

“The public sector’s responsibility is to improve the capacity of smallholders… by providing information, providing resources, and providing technologies,” Ali said. – Rappler.com

Rendell Sanchez, a student of the Ateneo de Manila University, is a Rappler intern.