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FAO demands an end to malnutrition that affects 3.5bn people

By Shane Starling , 04-Jun-2013

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has issued a compelling demand for an end to the malnutrition that continues to affect more than half of the world’s population.

Improved food production, agricultural practices and micronutrient fortification were among recommended actions.

12.5% of the world’s population or 868m people suffer from hunger while 2bn people suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies. Another 900m are overweight and 500m obese.

Among children under five, 26% are stunted and 31% are vitamin A deficient. 

Aside from the human cost, FAO said the associated health problems could account for productivity losses that could account for 5% of global gross domestic product (GDP) – equivalent to $3.5 trillion, or $500 per person.

Speaking at the launch of its ‘The State of Food and Agriculture’ annual report, FAO director general, José Graziano da Silva, urged dietary and agricultural action to end global malnutrition.

"FAO's message is that we must strive for nothing less than the eradication of hunger and malnutrition," da Silva said. 

The FAO report can be found here .

Improved food production

FAO called for a major overhaul of global food production systems as, improved food systems can make food more affordable, diverse and nutritious.” 
Specific actions included: 
• Use appropriate agricultural policies, investment and research to increase productivity, not only of staple grains like maize, rice and wheat, but also of legumes, meat, milk, vegetables and fruit, which are all rich in nutrients. 
• Cut food losses and waste, which currently amount to one third of the food produced for human consumption every year. That could help make food more available and affordable as well as reduce pressure on land and other resources. 
• Improve the nutritional performance of supply chains, enhancing the availability and accessibility of a wide diversity of foods. Properly organised food systems are key to more diversified and healthy diets. 
• Help consumers make good dietary choices for better nutrition through education, information and other actions. 
• Improve the nutritional quality of foods through fortification and reformulation. 
• Make food systems more responsive to the needs of mothers and young children. Malnutrition during the critical ‘first 1000 days' from conception can cause lasting damage to women's health and life-long physical and cognitive impairment in children. 
Further recommendations 
Other calls for change included implementing policies to give women greater control over resources and incomes and labour-saving farming technologies and rural infrastructure.

“Making food systems enhance nutrition is a complex task requiring strong political commitment and leadership at the highest levels, broad-based partnerships and coordinated approaches with other important sectors such as health and education,” the report said. 

Some successful nutrition-raising projects included breeding staple crops such as sweet potatoes to raise their micronutrient content and public-private partnerships to enrich products like yoghurt or cooking oil with nutrients.