Food for thought – a whip around the Crawford Conference
RAID were in attendance at the 2018 Crawford Fund conference ‘Reshaping agriculture for better nutrition – The Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, Health Nexus’, and over the coming week you will see a detailed conference report from RAID Keynote Listeners Madaline and Bec. But in the meantime, we thought, why not reflect on some of the key messages that really hit home for us.
With the green revolution we have been able to produce more, feed more and achieve some food security – with agriculture we have been able to respond to challenges very effectively. But the message from all speakers is that we cannot simply keep producing large amounts of food, we need to include nutrition in the narrative and look at how we can increase the quality of food and make sure it gets onto people’s plates. It’s a big task, but as Professor Andrew Campbell said ‘agriculture is able to respond to challenges very effectively. We have done it before, so we can do it again’ when it comes to working to solve the food, nutrition and health nexus.
- ‘The proportion of hungry people have halved since 1969. The global life expectancy has doubled since 1900. And now, 88% of countries face serious burden of either two or three forms of malnutrition – deficiency, stunting and/or obesity’, Dr Alessandro Demaio, Dr Jessica Fanzo
What we are facing is the double or even triple burden of malnutrition through nutrient poor diets. And it might be easy to think that wealth plays a large role in this issue, but both the wealthy and not so wealthy are consuming far too many nutrient poor foods, whether they be large amounts of rice or processed products, and not enough nutrient rich foods such as nuts, grain and vegetables. What is especially confronting is that the double burdens, stunting or obesity, can coexist in the same household, community and country. How can this be happening, and how does being an agriculturalist or a farmer lend itself to solving the problem? And more importantly who is responsible for the problem, cause and solution? Is it the role of the government, nutritionists, health sector or private companies that supply high processed foods? The answer is we all must have accountability for our food systems. We need government to take ownership of these food systems, drive food security and nutrition through good policy, good governance and good practices. We cannot tackle our agricultural nexus issues without the inclusivity of people – farmers, researchers and government – to provide nutritious produce, healthy foods and healthy farming systems.
- ‘There is no moral equivalence between those that make poor food choices and those that have no choice’, Dr Anna Okello quoting Dr James Smith
Many speakers indicated that the world is producing too little fruit and vegetables and too much meat, and we are not eating the right amount of either. In Australia we are all aware of this right – Meat Free Mondays, eat more veggies and less meat-based meals? But what happens when we don’t acknowledge the role of livestock in the cultural context other than meat or milk in the countries where we work? This was asked of us by Dr Anna Okello when speaking about the vital role of livestock to the health, nutrition and incomes of the world’s poor, which is often ignored or omitted from current global narratives about the impact of the livestock sector. Whilst the world’s wealthier countries have access to a diverse range of plant-based diet alternatives, animal sourced foods remain integral to the health and economies of a vast majority of the world’s rural poor, including the social and economic values that come with owning livestock. Dr Okello’s talk got us thinking, not only about the significant role that livestock plays in many people’s lives, but about how often we take our knowledge and know-how from Australia and ‘unconsciously’ apply it to our work without thinking of the cultural context? We all have the best intentions, but we need to make sure that in using our homegrown skills we are listening to the voices of farmers and communities in the work we are doing and apply it within the cultural context of the landscape.
- ‘Nutrition, along with climate change is the critical meta challenge for agriculture, and agricultural and food systems research, this century’, Professor Andrew Campbell
This narrative around health and food tells us that we can no longer look at agriculture as a stand-alone enterprise made up of farmers, agriculturalists and agricultural researchers. We need to apply a broad systems approach and include nutrition, the health sector and all those working within these fields. Professor Robyn Alders in her conference synthesis said we, as agriculturalists, cannot stand alone and wait for nutritionists to help, we cannot wait for someone else to act. We need to work together to take charge and lead the way in developing strong healthy food systems for all. And in the words of Professor Andrew Campbell agriculture is the biggest lever we can pull to develop food systems that will increase the health of the world, the people and the environment.