Knowledge for Development

Feature articles

Towards a globalized diet: more food, less diversity, more associated risks

This comprehensive study by Colin Khoury of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and co-authors from related research institutes provides evidence of change in the relative importance of different crop plants in national food supplies worldwide over the past 50 years. This study of the global food supply thoroughly documents and confirms for the first time what experts have long suspected: over the last five decades, human diets around the world have grown ever more similar – by a global average of 36 % – and the trend shows no signs of slowing, with major consequences for human nutrition and global food security. The study suggests that growing reliance on a few food crops may also accelerate the worldwide rise in obesity, heart disease and diabetes, which are strongly affected by dietary change and have become major health problems. Many crops of considerable regional importance – including cereals like sorghum, millets and rye, as well as root crops such as sweet potato, cassava and yam – have lost ground. Many other locally significant grain and vegetable crops – for which globally comparable data are not available – have suffered the same fate. Another danger of a more homogeneous global food basket is that it makes agriculture more vulnerable to major threats like drought, insect pests and diseases, which are likely to become worse in many parts of the world as a result of climate change.   Editor’s note – Can the research and policy communities afford not to consider the globalization of diets and the reliance on fewer crops in more depth? The implications for the future of food and nutrition security are far reaching, both for the economies and natural environment. Similar research effort should be extended to livestock – see for example Patterson’s article. A few weeks ago I read that Chinese researchers have begun to consider the implications for food and farming of the loss of indigenous genetic resources which are more resilient.  Other relevant information on this subject: Press release,  CIAT News, Round-up and an article in CrossMark Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security.(CIAT, 29/01/2014)


Food fortification: New findings and implications

Johanna T Dwyer of Tufts Medical School, Boston, USA and colleagues from various research institutes review in this article current food fortification in the United States. They discus and evaluate the value of fortification, the success of current fortification efforts, and the future role of fortification in preventing or reversing nutrient inadequacies. Fortification of the food supply with vitamins and minerals is a public health strategy to enhance nutrient intakes of the population without increasing caloric intake. Many individuals in the United States would not achieve recommended micronutrient intakes without food fortification. The achievement and maintenance of a desirable level of nutritional quality in the nation's food supply therefore is an important public health objective. The authors argue that, while the addition of nutrients to foods can help maintain and improve the overall nutritional quality of diets, indiscriminate fortification of foods could result in over- and under-fortification and nutrient imbalances in the diets of individuals. Any changes in food fortification policy must be considered within the context of the impact they will have on all segments of the population and of food technology and safety applications and their limitations.    (Nutrition Reviews, 21/01/2014)


Improving nutrition through agriculture: priorities and approaches

In this new lead article, Kimberley Keeton and John McDermott describe the complex interplay of malnutrition determinants and stress the need for multi-sectoral policy and programme responses where agriculture has a critical role in providing healthy diets. Government and research should embrace nutrition through three areas: knowledge and evidence, politics and governance, and capacity and resources. Keeton and McDermott describe several known agricultural strategies to boost more nutritious food systems. One approach is to improve household productivity of nutritious foods by targeting small farms where utilising seasonal crop production of traditional and local foods must be encouraged. Another possible cost-effective strategy for reducing micronutrient deficiency is through bio-fortification of commonly-consumed staple foods (breeding crops with enhanced levels of bioavailable nutrients). Yet another approach is to enhance post-harvest and food safety knowledge, process design and efficiency are translated into improved nutritious and safe foods at the 'fork' level. 


Making nutrition a national priority: a few policy process examples

Tackling malnutrition effectively requires sustained action across sectors, strong leadership, coalitions and high levels of both institutional and operational capacity. When these needs are met, countries may find themselves positioned to scale up nutrition interventions and meet the challenges of food and nutrition insecurity, high food prices and other shocks. Unfortunately, many governments lack the capacity to implement commitments to achieve these goals. In these countries, nutrition is stuck in a “low-priority cycle”.


Nutrition trends and changing dietary patterns in the Caribbean

The rise in chronic non-communicable nutrition related diseases in the Caribbean accompanied by spiraling health care costs has occurred parallel with changing dietary patterns. For example, the total direct and indirect costs of treating obesity related diseases in five countries in 2003 was estimated to be US$1,000 million.Coming from an era of protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) when food choices favoured energy density (high fat, sugar and protein), coupled with many external influences, Caribbean people have become conditioned to a diet not considered to be healthy.  We are now faced with the double burden of under-nutrition (pockets of PEM and iron deficiency anaemia persist) and over-nutrition (cancers, diabetes, hypertension) which threatens to erode all efforts at achieving food and nutrition security. To achieve food and nutrition security requires more insight into the causes of the problem through further research, and more collaborative multi-sectoral efforts.  Only by working together will the various sectors (agriculture, health and nutrition, trade, education, science and innovation) achieve the collective objective of improved agricultural and nutrition outcomes.