Food insecurity is a major concern for many countries, and as we have seen in particular countries with lower incomes such as those found in Asia and parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Food insecurity has major impacts on people personally and on the ability of a country to lift itself out of poverty. Some of the impacts of food insecurity include famine, undernutrition, soil erosion, rising prices, and social unrest.
Famine and undernutrition
Undernutrition occurs when people do not eat enough calories or get enough nutrients to cover their needs for energy and growth, or to maintain a healthy immune system. This is a direct result of food insecurity in many countries and regions. Hunger is chronic or severe undernourishment. The hungry of the world have enough food to survive, but not enough food for good health, on a continuing basis. The FAO describes hunger in this way:
“People who are chronically hungry are undernourished. They don’t eat enough to get the energy they need to lead active lives. Their undernourishment makes it hard to study, work or otherwise perform physical activities. Undernourishment is particularly harmful for women and children. Undernourished children do not grow as quickly as healthy children. Mentally, they may develop more slowly. Constant hunger weakens the immune system and makes them more vulnerable to diseases and infections. Mothers living with constant hunger often give birth to underweight and weak babies, and are themselves facing increased risk of death. Every day, millions of people around the world eat only the bare minimum of food to keep themselves alive.”
Famine is a different problem. People affected by famine do not have enough food to survive. Famine is a widespread, serious, shortage of food. In the worst cases it can lead to starvation and even death.
Figure 26 The difference between over nourishment and famine
Soil erosion is the removal of topsoil faster than the soil forming processes can replace it, due to natural, animal, and human activity. Often it is a complex mix of all 3 activities. During times of food insecurity farmers can cause soil erosion by breeding and rearing too many cattle or by trying to grow too many crops.
There are 3 common human causes of soil erosion;
1. Overgrazing – keeping animal stocks at numbers higher than the environment can support can cause soil erosion. The animals not only eat the vegetation which allows more soil to be washed away by rain or blown away by the wind, but they also compact the soil limiting new plant growth.
2. Deforestation or removal of natural vegetation – trees and shrubs act as a protective layer against falling rain or the wind. Taking this protective layer away allows the soil to get washed away.
3. Over cultivation – Trying to grow too many plants, and never letting the soil rest removes vital nutrients from the soil. This means less plants grow, so more soil is exposed and is more likely to get eroded away.
Rising Food Prices
The price of food like many commodities is controlled by the laws of supply and demand. If there is a lot of demand for a product that is in short supply the cost goes up. If there is more than enough supply of the food item compared to the demand the price goes down. The chart below shows that food prices have gone up globally. This has major consequences for poorer countries that may already be food insecure as they cannot afford these higher prices.
Figure 28 - Graph about food prices
In 2012 food prices went up because of a number of reasons such as rising demand from developing China and India, poor harvests of vegetables in Russia, Australia and South America and even the impact of the Japanese tsunami of that year on fish stocks!
When food is in short supply it can result in social unrest both regionally and internationally. During 2007-2008, a rise in global food prices led to riots in various countries. Prices of food went up because of the use of farmland for biofuel, increased petrol/fuel prices, unfair global competition, increasing population and failed harvests of some food stuffs. In Burkina Faso on 22 February rioting broke out in the country's second and third largest cities over soaring food prices (up to a 65 percent increase). Over 100 people were arrested in one of the towns. The capital, Ouagadougou, was saved because of a high number of soldiers on the streets. The government promised to lower taxes on food and to release food stocks but food riots returned in 2014. Social unrest could continue into the future because of food security as climate change, increased population and more competition for food supplies put pressure on resources and increase prices.