Gabrielle J Persley

In global terms, increases in world food production have more than kept pace with the increases in the global population to date. Although the world agricultural growth rate has decreased from 3% in the 1960s to 2% in the past decade, the aggregated projections show that, given reasonable initial assumptions, world food supply will continue to outpace world population growth, at least to 2020. Worldwide, per capita availability of food is projected to increase around 7% between 1993 and 2020 (IFPRI, 199 7). Therein lies a paradox.

The first aspect of the paradox is that despite the increasing availability of food, approximately 800 million people out of the global population of 6 billion are food insecure. They dwell among the 4.5 billion inhabitants of Asia (48%), Africa (35%) and Latin America (17%). Of these 800 million people, a quarter are malnourished children (IFPRI, 1997).

Children and women are most vulnerable to dietary deficiencies. Dietary micronutritional deficiencies accompany malnutrition. Vitamin A deficiency is prevalent in the developing countries and it is estimated that over 14 million children under 5 years of age suffer eye damage as a result. Up to 4% of severely affected children will die within months of going blind and even mild deficiencies can significantly increase mortality rates in children. Iron deficiency affects 1 billion people in the developing world, particularly women and children and its effects are compounded by common tropical diseases.

The second aspect of the paradox is that food insecurity is so prevalent at a time when global food prices are generally in decline. Over the period 1960-1990, world cereal production doubled, per capita food production increased 37%, calories supplied increased 35% and real food prices fell by almost 50% (McCalla, 1998).

The basic cause of the paradox is the intrinsic linkage between poverty and food security. Simply put, people's access to food depends on income.

┬ęCAB International 2002. Agricultural Biotechnology: Country Case Studies (eds G.J. Persley and L.R. MacIntyre)

Poverty is both a rural and an urban phenomenon. Over 1.3 billion people in developing countries are absolutely poor, with incomes of US$1 per day or less per person, while another 2 billion people live on less than US$2 per day (World Bank, 1997). Most live in the low-potential, rain-fed rural areas of the world. With increasing urbanization, a higher proportion will be living in the cities of the developing countries by the mid-21st century. Ensuring their access to sufficient nutritious food at affordable prices is also an important component of global food-security strategies. Agricultural research needs to respond to both of these challenges, so as to improve the livelihood of families who live in rural areas and ensure the increased availability of nutritious food at affordable prices for the urban dwellers.

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