Food based approaches to malnutrition. Abstract.

Feeding the World
Are GM Crops fit for Purpose? If not, then what?

12th November 2008
Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster, London
www.feedingtheworldconference.org

Nutritional diversity and food-based approaches to malnutrition: Magic Bullets or Murder on the Orient Express?
Dr Jeremy Cherfas, Bioversity, Rome, Italy.

Abstract

Chronic hunger currently afflicts about 950 million people worldwide, who consistently do not have enough protein or calories. Malnutrition, most notably the lack of micronutrients such as vitamin A and iron, afflicts a further 2 billion, most of them young women and children in developing countries. The World Health Organization has also recently recognized a new constellation, which it calls the double-burden household. These are families in which obese and undernourished family members share the same house. Chronic hunger, hidden hunger and obesity place enormous costs on societies, one reason why in its most recent survey the Copenhagen Consensus identified attacking malnutrition as today’s most cost effective investment in development.

The primary causes for hidden hunger and obesity include a simplification of the diet. Most solutions, however, have been equally simple. Supplements of micronutrients cure the symptoms but do not treat the dietary lack of these essential compounds. Fortification of foodstuffs is a similar approach and does not reach those outside the cash economy. Biofortification to increase the nutrient quality of staple crops, whether by conventional breeding or genetic manipulation, has a patchy record to date and also may not reach all who need it.

In this paper I will present a different approach that is based directly on increasing dietary diversity, which has multiple and mutually reinforcing positive benefits for nutrition, health, productivity, environmental protection and incomes. While dietary diversity has much to offer in the fight to feed the world, it has not received as much attention as simpler approaches. The paper will discuss possible reasons for this and suggest ways to move forward.

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