Nutrition for a Better Life
Peter Brabeck-Letmathe is chairman of the board of directors at Nestlé in Vevey, Switzerland, as well as vice chairman of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum.
Nutrition for a Better Life
Less than twenty years ago, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) defined the right to food. It is the "right of every individual alone or in community with others, to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, adequate and culturally acceptable food that is produced and consumed sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations". Availability, accessibility, adequacy and sustainability: a rather ambitious definition. And just when we, humans, define the right to food, scientists (notably the then chief UK scientist J. Beddington) predict that by 2030, the demand for food will increase by 50%, for energy by 50%, and for water by 30%, thus creating a ' perfect storm ' of global events. Today (2015) 793 million people still go hungry-down from 927 in 2007. We will need innovation, policy, and behavioral changes to fight this storm. Science and technology, universities and businesses must make a significant contribution.
Can the world population of 2030-that's 8.5 billion people-be fed equitably, healthily and sustainably? The good news is that hunger in its most extreme form has decreased globally from over 1 billion in 1990-1992, representing 18.9 percent of the world's population, to 842 million in 2011-2013, or 12 percent of the population. To meet future food demand, agricultural productivity must increase everywhere, particularly among poor farmers. Meeting this challenge requires continued innovation in food processing and packaging to deliver safe, nutritious, and affordable food. It requires reduction of waste and losses, improved crops tolerant to stress, pollution by smarter use of water, fertilizers and new pesticides. We must do it all. The question is not whether productivity should be raised to address hunger and malnutrition. The question is how to achieve this. Increasing yields alone will not suffice.
We need a "greener" Green Revolution. The first Green Revolution technological package had a hefty environmental load. Now, a new vista focused on resilience and sustainability, and also wellbeing, is replacing-or adding to-the productivist paradigm. Solving this new equation requires integrative science, appropriate technology, farmers' knowledge and participation, a performing industry and informed consumers.
Today the world produces enough food for all to go without hunger. Yet hungry many are. On one hand, the source of hunger, is poverty: hungry families do not have the means to buy food. On the other, the culprit is the food system: today, one-third of produced food is eaten by pests or rots away. We need to make agriculture more efficient.
Medicine is moving towards the "4Ps", becoming a predictive, personalized, preventive, participatory medicine. Should farming not benefit from the same approach? Smart farming that integrates local knowledge, cutting edge science, appropriate technology, big data, farmers, smartphones, and businesses. Precision farming that leads to better yields through genotype improvement, exact fertilizer input, proper nutrient ratios, adequate irrigation schedules, geospatial techniques of soil identification, and appropriate mitigation of pests and diseases. Precision farming has the potential to reduce the use of external inputs and thus maximize resource efficiency.
Different forms of farming can and must coexist, our current awe for local organic farming notwithstanding. Strengthening local food systems needs appropriate investments in infrastructure, packaging and processing facilities, and distribution channels, keeping in mind that two out of three humans will live in cities by 2050. Two important strands of agriculture-genetic engineering and organic farming-will also have to be judiciously incorporated to help feed the growing population in an ecologically balanced manne