What is alarming about the report is that about one billion obese persons are found in the developing world. And the numbers may rise unless urgent actions are taken to arrest the scourge.
About a billion persons go to bed hungry everyday while three times that number do not eat well (when we put together the obese, overweight and micronutrient deficient persons) according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. There are a number of reasons for the unfolding scenario.
The prescriptive hunger narrative driven by agribusiness compounds the challenge for Africa. The routine response to droughts, crop failures and/or famines of the past was to ship in food aid. That response pattern was beneficial to the farmers in the donor nations but harmful to local food production as it builds a dependency syndrome. A side effect of this dependency is an altered diet and eating pattern that negates local food preferences that were healthy and more environmentally suitable.
Part of the packaging of food aid was sometimes the surreptitious, and at times blatant, push of genetically engineered foods on the basis that a hungry African has no right to choose what to eat. The epic struggle of Zambia against genetically engineered whole grains food aid in 2002 is well documented. The new emphasis on nutrition deficiency in African diet is currently being touted as a reason to introduce genetically engineered foods allegedly having particularly high levels of missing nutrients.
What our policy makers need to recognise is that small-scale farmers will continue to have key roles in meeting the food needs of Africa and the world. And their production approach has inbuilt ability to fight malnutrition, including obesity.
Although industrial agriculture can produce higher quantities of a particular crop per unit area of farmland, this is mostly because only one crop variety is planted on that farm. With small scale farming there is a rich mixture of crops on the same parcel of land and the aggregate yield is not only better than that of monoculture farms but provide the farmers and local communities with a mix of foods that offer better nutrition all the while maintaining soil fertility and supporting the natural cycles of the earth.
Reports from a nutrition conference held in Lagos, Nigeria, late 2013, claimed that 30 percent of Nigerians are obese. They also reported that one in every three children in Abuja was obese while one in every five persons in the South South is obese.
Will things get better? Well, it depends on the direction of support given to the producers of wholesome foods in Nigeria. If we depend on industrial farms that rely on mono-cropping, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides we can be sure that small-scale farmers would be squeezed out of the sector. We can also be sure that the increasing number of shopping plazas that stock imported foods including vegetables and poorly regulated products would lead to a further erosion of the supply of wholesome local foods.
Analysts predict that food for the poor will get scarcer as the well to do demand for more foods based on animal products because the animals will require more grains to produce. If rich Africans get hooked on western foods and consume meats and animal products at their levels then we can expect tragic results in terms of resource pressures and healthcare issues that would come with the increased incidents of strokes, heart attacks and diabetes, among others.
When the poor get fatter that should send alarm signals to our governments because these are the persons who cannot afford the cost of healthcare that obesity demands. Industrial farms and market shelves piled with processed foods will not tackle the trend of eating our people eating more and more of unhealthy foods. The solution is within our grasps: support small-scale food production and return to grandma’s recipes.
Get more stuff like this
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.