A bowl of warm rice, the steam of it rising up and floating around you. The sound of vegetables being stirred on a pan as you prepare to add them to your dish. Next to this a bubbling curry sauce releasing the aromas of ginger, coconut and other exotic spices. With all three components prepared, you add and mix the ingredients to produce one delicious meal.
Our food is exotic and amazing. Its components come from different parts of the world. They are born miles away from each other. Yet, they come together as one, blending their tastes perfectly as if they were born to be married on your plate. Your teeth clap in approval and your taste buds beg for another spoonful. It’s a fact, I love food! But then again, who doesn’t?
Yet, our days of overindulging in food, buying in bulk and wasting half of it will soon be ‘the selfish thing of the past’. With our climate changing and our biodiversity dwindling, food prices will rise, diversity will decrease and nutrition will outweigh our shallow behavior of discarding food due to cosmetic flaws. But, things aren’t ALL that bad. There is still a way to enjoy a wide array of exotic food if we do it more sparingly, and reach a balance between consuming and throwing away 1/3 of all produced food. To do that we need to act NOW, not tomorrow, or the week after. If we choose the latter, we are doomed.
Oxfam published a report analyzing the costs our greenhouse gas emissions have on our planet, and what we should expect if we don’t clean up our act. And their outcomes aren’t pretty. The report says that “net global agricultural yields [are] predicted to decrease by up to 2% per decade.” The decline will make the current problems of hunger and demand for food, as global population grows, more difficult to address.
If you are lucky to be living in a developed country and have a well paying job, continue reading. While you may not be facing hunger and it is possible that you can buy whatever you want when you go grocery shopping, it doesn’t mean you won’t feel effects of climate destruction.
Curious about what I mean? Let me explain: “Over the last six years there have been three global food price spikes in 2008, 2010 and 2012 – closely associated with supply shocks driven in part by extreme weather.” It is estimated that by 2030 our food prices will double and climate change will continue to wreck havoc on our lives. (Oxfam Report)
Even a wealthy country like the UK hasn’t managed to escape the shadow of this looming and slow approaching disaster. “The cost of food in the UK has risen by 30.5% in the past 5 years and has exacerbated other pressures such as unemployment, low wages and the removal of social protection – making it harder for people to feed themselves. This lead to a tripling of food bank usages in 2013.” (Trussell Trust)
If this is happening in wealthy and developed countries, then what is the fate of developing countries, such as my homeland Azerbaijan? Exactly a year ago I wrote about finding some shocking information. I saw that Cameroon and Azerbaijan were listed as two countries spending more than 45% of their income on food. If you visit the map today, not much has changed. Except for one fact, Azerbaijan’s neighboring country of Armenia, though not shaded in, seems to be doing much worse as its citizens are spending up to 60-70% of income on food. The country is facing droughts and is in the first place for spending most of its income on food.
But this is not an issue of politics or of neighbors. It is a global problem that affects everyone despite class, religion, natural resources and development. In fact, countries that begin to address the issue NOW, will be the real winners in the long run. So what I want most for my country? For it to start spending more money on research, and preparing its food system for climate change with proper mitigation and adaptation plans.
It is refreshing to see that the World Bank will be aiding Azerbaijan in the development of its agriculture by investing $53.25 millions into projects bettering food security. I am hopeful that such actions will be enough to address events such as loss of fruit and berry crops due to inclement weather. This year, Azerbaijan experienced a problem of sudden snowfall and strong winds in late March, after these fruit bearing crops started blooming, not a good combination for temperature sensitive food.
Stories like this demonstrate how fragile our nature is. Any slight or sudden change in temperature and weather patterns can have devastating effects. Considering that in the past 100 years our seed diversity declined by 75%, more needs to be done to mitigate our growing food problems, and to strengthen our food security nets.
That means investing more in Research and Development (R&D) in agriculture. Currently, “for every $100 of agricultural output, developed countries spend $3.07 on public agricultural R&D, whereas developing countries spend just $0.55 on average.” In 2009 Azerbaijan spent a meager 0.2% of its GDP towards R&D. According to 2013 World Bank figures, that number hasn’t changed.
Here is my take home message: whatever we do, we must start today! In the story of the rabbit and the turtle, it was the slow and steady that won the race. Our figures seem to be showing that we are slow….but we are far from steady!
If you’re sitting at home and wondering how you can help, start by trying Meatless Mondays. By watching your diet, and consuming less meat. We can have small, but meaningful impacts on the future security of global food systems by starting with ourselves.
Happy [Conscious] Eating!