Agriculture Can Produce Plenty of Food – But It Can’t Always Get It Where It Needs to Go

By Chris Adams

In an age of abundance and plenty, people still go hungry. Maybe it doesn’t have to be so.

That was the message from Arlene Mitchell, executive director of the Global Child Nutrition Foundation, which works on hunger issues worldwide. In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Mitchell laid out the promises and pitfalls in attempts to get food from farm to table. (See her 2015 testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry here.)

And it’s led by the central concern that food insecurity remains a problem, in the U.S. and worldwide. In the United States, 41 million people live in “food-insecure households,” defined as being uncertain of having, or being unable to acquire, at some time during the year enough food to need the needs of all their families. That represents 12.3 percent of U.S. households (2016 numbers).

Those figures are lower than during the recession of 2007-2009 – but they’re still not as low as before the recession; black and Hispanic households are the most food insecure.

“There is hunger in the U.S. – and serious hunger,” Mitchell said.

Outside the U.S., world hunger is on the rise, and in 2016 hit 815 million people. Stunting still affects 155 million children worldwide under the age of 5.

What to do about it? There’s good news and bad news aplenty.

On the positive side: technologies such as the blockchain could affect the food supply, waste and safety issues; foods from the Southern Hemisphere could be introduced in the North; people are getting smarter about nutrition; Africa is investing again in agriculture.

On the negative side: agriculture companies are consolidating, farmers are old and getting older, natural disasters are on the upswing, and water accessibility issues are immense.

Finally, there’s this: “Maize, wheat rice; maize, wheat, rice; maize wheat rice and … soy,” Mitchell said. The ag palette is pretty limited. Scientists need to develop, and farmers need to grow, new kinds of foods.

This program is funded by Bayer. NPF is solely responsible for the content.

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