Assem Abu Hatab
The 2050 food security challenge is straightforward: by 2050, the global food system must feed nine billion people, out of which around eight billions would be in developing countries. Feeding this population sustainably and more fairly requires addressing several substantial hurdles. For instance, natural resources in developing countries are dwindling at an alarming rate: growing scarcity and degradation of land and water resources are likely to make developing countries more vulnerable to food insecurity and malnutrition.
In tandem with this, climate change will bring harsher conditions for agricultural production to many regions in developing countries across the globe. Moreover, developing countries will undergo substantial urban transformation that will concentrate fully two-thirds of the global population in urban areas. Urban lifestyles and income growth in developing countries will go hand in hand with increased demand for more energy-intensive foods, especially meat and dairy products, which will put additional pressures on the capacity of food systems to meet food security and nutrition needs of the growing population.
As big as these challenges, increasing food availability is not sufficient because food needs to be produced in ways that allow for its sustained supply, do not degrade our ability to produce food in the future and do not seriously compromise critically important ecosystem services. In this context, our research results argue that achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal 2 (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture) in developing countries would greatly depend on the ability of these countries to build sustainable and resilient food systems that adapt to environmental and socioeconomic changes and foster food security and nutrition.
Within a sustainability framing, the task of understanding and strengthening food systems' sustainability and resilience is therefore arguably most urgent for developing countries, where vulnerability to the above-mentioned challenges is higher and food and nutritional security is already tenuous. A ‘sustainable’ food system that developing countries need to build is a food system that delivers food and nutrition security for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations are not compromised. Such food system should also be resilient, which implies not only responding to challenges and retaining the same controls on function and structure but also maintaining the option to develop.
When there is a stress or disturbance, a resilient food system is characterized by its ability to self-organize, its capacity to learn and capacity to absorb change. The transformative processes – deliberate or inadvertent – and system adjustments, then determine the outcome, which is, adaptedness of the system. That is, the outcome of these transformative processes is how ‘adapted’ the food systems is, and can be reflected by the ability to respond to food security and nutrition challenges.
In my lecture, I will draw on studies that my colleagues and I have conducted during the past ten years in Egypt, China, India and Sub-Saharan countries to understand food systems in developing countries. First, I will highlight the major challenges facing food systems in developing countries and emphasize the need for a transformation in these systems to meet food security and sustainable development objectives.
Second, I will present examples of how my research contributed to filling some knowledge gaps in relation to food systems and sustainable development in developing countries. These examples will cover topics ranging from international trade (e.g. the role of food safety and quality standards, trade agreements), population dynamics and urban sustainability (e.g. internal migration; the perception of urban sprawl), climate change (e.g. agricultural production and NO2 emissions), and the political economy of food and agriculture (e.g. food prices and social unrest). The roles of various actors within food chains (e.g. small producers; small-sized export firms; urban consumers and households) will be highlighted.
Moreover, various dimensions of food security will be addressed (e.g. availability, accessibility, and stability). Lastly, I end my talk with identifying a number of knowledge gaps and outlining my future research agenda for improved understanding of food systems in developing countries to meet the 2050 food security challenge!