Unless you look closely, you may be unable to recognise the modern face of global malnutrition.
Years ago, malnutrition was represented by an image of an underweight person who didn’t have enough food to eat.
But according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), this general understanding is changing. In the current global health circumstances, both an underweight person who doesn’t eat enough and an overweight or obese individual who may consume an unhealthy diet with an insufficient amount of nutrients can also be malnourished.
“Obesity and other forms of malnutrition affects nearly one in three people."
“A combination of unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles has sent obesity rates soaring, not only in developed countries but also in low-income countries, where hunger and obesity often coexist,” FAO says online.
The FAO estimates that 670 million adults and 120 million girls and boys aged five to 19 years old are currently obese around the world. Globally, over 40 million children under five are overweight and over 820 million people suffer from hunger.
“Obesity and other forms of malnutrition affect nearly one in three people,” FAO says online. “Projections indicate that the number will be one in two by 2025."
FAO reports that affordable solutions to end hunger and obesity exist to reduce all forms of malnutrition. However, "they require greater global commitment and action”.
Here are just a few of the solutions to battle malnutrition that are currently being employed around the world.
Sharing nutrient-rich food among city dwellers
Food sharing programs have developed in cities as a way to enable people of all cultures and backgrounds to access low-cost healthy food.
Research fellow at Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University, Dr Ferne Edwards explains that food sharing is a diverse concept that aims to tackle both obesity and hunger in cities. It includes everything from food rescue schemes like OzHarvest to community gardens, cooking clubs and urban gardening programs.
“So to get involved, you may need to look for a food sharing program near you and take the first steps to participate.”
The international database of food sharing programs, SHARECITY100, identifies that there are 4,000 examples of food sharing activities currently happening in 100 cities worldwide. Melbourne was also ranked as the third most active food-sharing city in the world, with more than 100 diverse food-sharing solutions.
“But one of the key issues with [this solution] is the fact that food-sharing programs may be hidden – people don’t realise they are available," said Dr Edwards participated in SHARECITY project.
“So to get involved, you may need to look for a food-sharing program near you and take the first steps to participate.”
The international project, Edible City Solutions (EdiCitNet), aims to link up cities around the world with food access and nutrition solutions, food-based climate change management schemes and urban farming programs to encourage two-way learning.
Dr Edwards, who is also involved in the European-based network, explains that the scheme spans 12 ‘edible cities’. “EdiCitNet helps [communities] to see what existing solutions there are in cities and promote opportunities for more solutions to exist in other places throughout the world.”
“The idea is to start making these solutions visible to everyone so that people in cities around the world can start sharing nutritious food ideas and make cities better places to live.”
Andernach, Germany started the first edible city project in 2010 when locals planted 101 tomato varieties in public green spaces at the city centre. Over the years, the project has expanded to include fruit trees, large vegetable sites, chickens and sheep. Long-term unemployed people are also involved in maintaining the edible city scheme.
Meanwhile, Carthage in Tunisia plans to create an edible city that redevelops unexploited land in the city – especially idle archaeological areas – into areas growing vegetables and fruits that are nutrient-dense.
EdiCitNet does not yet include any Australian city. However, Dr Edwards is hopeful that one day it will. “The idea is to start making these solutions visible to everyone so that people in cities around the world can start sharing nutritious food ideas and make cities better places to live.”
Drought-resilient tree planting
The charitable organisation, The Hunger Project Australia, aims to tackle poverty and global hunger with sustainable solutions. It currently operates in Africa and Asia, addressing health issues like malnutrition at a grass-roots level.
One of the solutions the charity has employed in many communities to curb hunger and provide people in remote communities with a sustainable, nutritious food source is the plantation of moringa trees. The Hunger Project Australia CEO, Melanie Noden, tells SBS these trees can grow in drought-ridden climates where other crops fail.
“The moringa tree is a tree that grows quite rapidly in areas that don’t have a lot of access to water, that has leaves and the seeds which are really high in minerals and vitamins," says Noden.
“When we add the [leaves and seeds] of the tree to the diet of people in the communities where we work, in addition to the high carbohydrate foods people are already eating, that’s usually enough to give them a reasonably nutritious diet.”
“Empowering people in communities so they can be part of the solution is really the only way to end hunger."
Creating self-reliant food communities
Noden adds that the long-term key to ending hunger in communities is not to distribute food but to teach communities the skills they need to bring about change themselves.
“In a rural community, a lot of that means providing people with the skills needed to have access to water, natural farming practices, crop rotation and land preservation,” she says. “It could also mean teaching them to use the right kind of seeds that are drought and pest resilient so that a community has a sustainable way of growing food.”
Having such skills, she says, will enable communities to generate enough food to feed everyone, as well as quantities of food that they can sell to market for an income source.
“Empowering people in communities so they can be part of the solution is really the only way to end hunger. When you make a community sustainable, you don’t just give them solutions to battle hunger for today or tomorrow. You give them skills forever."
World Food Day is Wednesday 16 October. This year’s World Food Day theme is ‘Our actions are our future. Healthy diets for a #zerohunger world’. For more information, visit the dedicated Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations page online.