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Nutrition security vital

Dr Sushil K Sharma
Monday, January 29, 2018

THE Fijian parliamentary delegation to the 26th annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF-26) January 18-21 raised the issue of the importance of nations to think beyond food security and sustainable agriculture.

A member-delegate requested the forum to go much deeper into the subject and consider the importance of nutrition security.

Speaking to the 350 delegates from the 27-member countries in Hanoi, Vietnam, Assistant Minister for Health and Medical Services Alexander O'Connor said leaders should not address food security and hunger through sustainable agriculture alone but they also needed to look at characteristics of "nutrition-sensitive agriculture".

"We need to produce and market more healthier foods," said Mr O'Connor, who was part of the 10-member Fiji delegation.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), nutrition-sensitive agriculture is an approach that seeks to maximise agriculture's contribution to nutrition.

Nutrition security means access by all people at all times to the adequate utilisation and absorption of nutrients in food, in order to be able to live a healthy and active life.

It is sad to note that despite this submission by the Fiji delegation, none of these points were evident, noted or in the final 14-point Hanoi Declaration, which was signed and agreed to by all the 27-member nations.

The communique was very general and abstract indeed and not assertive and focused enough to deliver tangible results.

Neither was the issue of widespread chemicals and pesticides use and its contamination of fruits, vegetable and soil in developing countries in the communique, ever raised. It is a pity that the delegates did not talk about the need to grow food without chemicals and pesticides.

Neither did they mention the effects of successive use of pesticides and chemicals; which contaminate our soils leaving behind toxic chemical residues, which are then absorbed by crops accumulating harmful chemical residual constituents.

The effect on human health becomes worse as farmers do not follow instructions for pesticide use particularly its "withholding period" neither do many of them follow crop rotation, leaving land fallow to allow for the dissipation of chemical residues.

Some of the increase in the overall "cancer" cases among our Fijian population, and the death of 5 per cent (5 in 100) of the population to the disease annually may also be related to the consumption of fruits and vegetables treated with these toxic chemicals and pesticides.

These issues ought to be at the forefront of discussions, allowing for some tangible benefits for humanity. There needs to be traction in the talks and some conclusive workable resolutions, which can be checked against some timeline in future, bearing concrete results.

Talk-fests by delegates living in luxury in hotels, living like tourists and pampered at the taxpayers expenses, with hardly any final workable solutions, will never advance the many shortcomings and agendas for humanity.

At least our Fijian delegate, Mr O'Connor, contributed and mentioned the need for "healthier foods".

I wish he had gone further and talked about chemical and pesticide-free nutrition sensitive agriculture, making this his platform for discussions.

This to the extent that something tangible was written in the final communique, as part of combating the outbreak of widespread cancer in our community.

Delegates, 350 in all, should not only "talk" but also ensure that they are able to achieve some "hard-wired" provisions for tangible benefits, measurable in a quantitative manner via some compliance mechanism in a real timeline basis.

Most of the United Nation umbrella organisations, in my opinion, are very good at making "the mother of all" visionary statements, with masses of reports and statements, which later sit either in the UN or many other nations' office shelves collecting dust.

In this way, humanity will not get anywhere. It is time for action and less "talk-fests" like these where one hardly finds any specialists, experts or scientists, except politicians and parliamentary administrative staff members with very basic knowledge.

And of course politicians are forever speech-making in abstract forms without any tangible results to be seen for humanity in the long run. One of the sustainable goals of the FAO is to "end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture".

The FAO states there is more than enough food produced today to feed everyone, yet about 815 million people are chronically undernourished and malnutrition affects around one in three people.

A mother of all statements, it was a momentary mistake that stuck with the former PM of Australia, Bob Hawke and became, when all was said and done, one of his most memorable lines.

"By 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty," the then prime minister said at the Labour's election campaign launch on June 23, 1987.

It has been nearly 30 years since Mr Hawke made the pledge that no Australian child would live in poverty by 1990. A new report reveals just how far off the target the politician was with his grand statement.

It was a bold and unattainable declaration and, indeed, an error. Exactly 30 years on, it is a goal that still eludes humanity.

According to the most recent report by the Australian Council of Social Services, 17.4 per cent (174 in 1000) of children are living in poverty, that is, 731,000 children.

In the 10 years to 2014, the child poverty rate increased by 2 percentage points in a period that included both the Howard and Rudd-Gillard governments.

Circumstances are much worse today in single parent families in Australia alone, where 40 per cent of children (400 in 1000) live in relative poverty — up from 36.8 per cent (368 in 1000) in 2012.

This example of a developed nation like Australia clearly shows "how out of sync" today's politicians are in this world, and how many of them have set the wrong priorities both in social and economic terms.

The great challenge that our planet faces now is to ascertain how we can ensure that a growing global population, projected to rise to around 10 billion by 2050, has enough quality food to meet their nutritional needs for a healthy life.

The FAO estimates that agricultural production will have to increase by an estimated 50 per cent by 2050 to meet the needs of a growing population — that is 10 billion people. This is a tall order and practically an unachievable goal.

The need for twice the amount of food in 2050 that we use today in 2018, a short 32 years period, means advanced ways, means, methods and techniques to increase crop production. And do not forget that if this increased food has to be nutrient rich, and without pesticide and chemical residue, it would mean a further handicap — meaning a totally impossible dream, beyond the reach of idealists and human expectation.

Already we note vast use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers to realise agricultural production increase, with some very sad and startling news of the infiltration of cancer among our population globally.

In my opinion, politicians from the 27 nations wasted valuable resources and time at the APPF-26 by their mediocre performance and achievements and it appears that the characters elected by the people are unable to either deliver the goods for the well-being of humanity nor chart a concerted effort towards that goal.

We note their mediocre and lack-lustre rhetoric and performance or none at all which often does not achieve long-term solutions for humanity.

This is where elective democracy has failed our people, who have elected politicians by voting, to ensure that their hopes, wishes and aspirations are taken care.

However, in some instances this has not always been the case. When it comes to delivery, some politicians are forever bickering and politicking among themselves.

In my opinion, innocent people continue to be victims of party and gridlock politics all.

* Dr Sushil K Sharma is a WMO class 1 accredited professional meteorologist and an associate professor of meteorology at FNU. Views expressed are his and not of this newspaper and or FNU.








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