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“We currently rely on only three crops (wheat, maize and rice) to provide nearly 50 per cent of the global dietary energy supply. This needs to change,” said FAO Country Director in India Tomio Shichiri.

There is an urgent need to make healthy and sustainable diets affordable and accessible to everyone, said the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations in a booklet released on the occasion of World Food Day on October 16.

For decades, the world has focused its energies on combating malnutrition. But today, providing food security isn’t restricted only to quantity. It’s also about quality. Shifting to a healthier diet with adequate seasonal plant-based and fibre-rich dishes and reducing intake of excessive meat and fast-food will help achieve zero-hunger target as enshrined by the UN-mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), said the document.

Indianexpress.com speaks with FAO Country Director in India Tomio Shichiri  (七里富雄 ) to understand what’s at stake here to achieve a zero hunger world.

Q. On World Food Day, what are some of the challenges and opportunities when it comes to promoting sustainable food systems to mitigate and adapt to climate change and food insecurity?

A. Our way of producing, supplying and consuming food has to change. From the farm to the plate, our food systems currently favour the production of high-yielding staple crops. In addition to the impact on our diets, intensified food production combined with climate change is causing a rapid loss of biodiversity. Today, only nine plant species account for 66 per cent of total crop production despite the fact that throughout history, more than 6,000 species have been cultivated for food. We currently rely on only three crops (wheat, maize and rice) to provide nearly 50 per cent of the global dietary energy supply. This needs to change. A diverse variety of foods is crucial for providing healthy diets and safeguarding the environment.

Q. Voices of women and less privileged groups are often left out of decision-making, especially in areas that affect their living conditions. How important is it to promote the participation of rural populations with respect to providing food security?

A. Extremely important, actually. The participation of rural populations, especially women can further the advocacy and lend their support to health programs and health education campaigns. Individual citizens take more active roles in legislative and political processes and advocate for making healthy diets a priority on the public agenda.

Q. It is projected by some studies that the global population may reach 11 billion by 2100. Is the world prepared to meet this demand while using fewer resources?

A. As much as the quantity of yield is important, it’s equally important to ensure the access of a diverse variety of foods to provide good quality healthy diets and safeguarding the environment. Men and women in agriculture, fisheries and forestry are our primary sources for nutritious foods. They also play vital roles in managing natural resources. A farmer or other food producer, can influence the sustainability and variety of food supplies through the following means: First, Adopt nutrition-sensitive, food production practices that focus less on high-yielding staple crops and more on diversity and nutritional quality; second, plant a wider variety of nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts; Third, where possible, turn to local, small scale fishery production as a source of income and affordable, vitamin-rich foods for local communities. Fish provides protein, minerals, and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (which are generally not found in staple crops); fourth, manage natural resources sustainably and efficiently and adapt methods climate change. Produce more food with the same amount of land and water; and lastly, reduce food loss and waste from harvest to distribution. Take advantage of processing and storage methods to conserve products where possible.

Q. We are also seeing extreme weather conditions across the world: famine, drought and floods more frequently. What are some strategies to cope with this?

A. It’s important to monitor and reinforce the need for agrobiodiversity. It is crucial not only for dietary health but also to protect biodiversity and natural resources. Improve productivity and income and increase the resilience of farmers to challenges such as climate change and drought. It is difficult to predict and prepare for natural disasters. But the focus should always be on building climate-resilient agriculture. Early warning systems are very important to minimise losses on the ground.

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