The more people there are in the world, the fewer resources there are to meet basic needs. Yet whilst enough food is produced to feed everyone worldwide, all 9.8 billion of us, this food and the technology to produce it does not always reach those in need. 

At present, the rates of malnutrition globally are unacceptably high with very little progress made in addressing the problem, despite it being the leading cause of ill health around the world. For example, around 45% of deaths among children under 5 years of age are linked to undernutrition and over 400 million people are chronically malnourished. In addition, a third of reproductive-age women are anaemic, while 39% of the world’s adults are overweight or obese. 

Although these issues often occur in low and middle-income countries there are examples of starvation and obesity crises happening at the same time, in the same cities, in many of the world’s most developed countries. This juxtaposition signals a major problem in global diets and a need to find solutions that help individuals living in cities particularly, access healthy and sustainable food. 

Malnutrition is a universal issue that no country in the world can afford to overlook. Having enough food is a basic need and if it cannot be met, it has far wider implications to society than the health of that individual. It leads to development stalling and economies unravelling. For example, it is estimated that malnutrition in all its forms could cost society up to $3.5 trillion per year. As a result, it is time to rethink how we produce, distribute and consume our food. As the UN explains: “a profound change of the global food and agriculture system is needed if we are to nourish the 815 million people who are hungry today and the additional 2 billion people expected to be undernourished by 2050.”

One such solution is the concept of sustainable farming. The ability to produce food sustainably can be a powerful force for change enabling farmers to make money from their crops indefinitely. For example, a study published in Environmental Science & Technology found that sustainable farming practices could increase yields in developing nations by around 80% in just four years whilst harvests of some crops improved by 100%. This is because by its very nature, sustainable agriculture helps ensure resources are available indefinitely enabling nations to feed their populations and become self-sustaining.

In addition, the startling inequality that exists across the world worsens malnutrition so, to tackle the issue, a different approach is needed. For instance, if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million. In addition, 500 million small farms provide up to 80% of food consumed in a large part of the developing world. Investing in these smallholder women and men is an important way to increase food security and nutrition for the poorest, as well as food production for local and global markets. It is also the key to economic prosperity as agriculture is the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for 40% of today’s global population. 

Emerging technologies brought about by the fourth industrial revolution are also helping to address the global food crisis. The power of connectivity and automation has the potential to foster local, national and global food security and inclusive rural development by enhancing production and productivity, lowering operating costs and facilitating access to markets, information, credit, and capacity-building. Connectivity also enables governments and development organisations to enhance food security and agricultural development by accessing better data and information that can help to shape strategies and projects. 

However, despite its potential to play a major role in accelerating the transformation of global food systems, until now, the food and agriculture sectors have been slow to harness the power of 4IR technology, attracting significantly lower levels of investment and inspiring fewer technology start-ups than other sectors. Consequently, investments in innovation and technology that support agriculture are vital to increasing the capacity for productivity and sustainable food production systems necessary to help alleviate the perils of hunger. 

It is therefore critical that globally, governments and heads of industry seek to implement sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity, help maintain ecosystems and strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change.

Given the scale of the issue, innovative ideas that facilitate access to healthy food are needed to bridge the gap between malnutrition and growing obesity. The Global Maker Challenge, a project devised by The Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity is uniting world’s leading manufacturers, start-ups and entrepreneurs, governments, UN agencies and philanthropists, academia and researchers, to form a community dedicated to spreading global prosperity through the art of ‘making’. In 2016, the initiative launched its ‘Global Maker Challenge’ an online open-innovation platform that asks ‘makers’ and innovators to connect and collaborate, to solve real-world problems affecting peoples’ lives. In September 2019, the initiative will launch its second cohort, seeking solutions to challenges such as effectively providing increasing populations of cities with access to healthy and sustainable food. 

The growing conflicting issues of malnutrition and obesity within the same societies are a stark warning of a global society gone wrong. There is a long way to go in correcting this imbalance and yet with creativity and investment, major leaps forward in food production can be made to ensure that the world’s growing population has equality in the availability of healthy and sustainable food.

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