World Hunger Solutions
Anemia is one of the most common manifestations of undernutrition in the world today. According to the World Health Organization, it affects almost two million people worldwide- a staggering 30 percent of the world’s population.

Anemia is the deficiency of red blood cells in the body, and may be caused by a number of reasons. The consequences of anemia can range from fatigue to cognitive and physical disabilities. In developing countries, anemia is one of the biggest contributors to maternal deaths.

The most common cause of anemia is iron deficiency. Iron as a trace metal is vital in the manufacture of hemoglobin for the body. In many areas however, the intake of iron is fairly limited due to patterns of diet in the particular region.

Bio-fortification is the method of changing the nutritional value of certain plant products, either to make the nutrients higher in content or to increase their bio-availability to the body. The process can either utilize breeding plant varieties naturally, which is a longer and less effective procedure, or genetic modifications can be used in the laboratory to yield faster, better results.

In recent years, the focus of bio-technologists has been to increase the iron content of crops such as rice, wheat and beans, which are a staple food in many parts of the world. People in resource-poor countries are especially reliant on cereal based diets, which typically contain very low iron quantities.

One of the most commonly used and promising techniques used for these purposes is genetic engineering. The objective of these approaches is to increase the uptake of minerals, such as iron, from the soil by the plant. This uptake is done either directly through the soil, or through chelating agents which bind to the mineral elements and facilitate their transport within the cellular structure of the plant.

To increase this uptake and transport of minerals from the soil to the plant, the chelating agent has to be genetically over-expressed. Various studies have tested out different ways to achieve this end, which include enhancing the promoter that transcribes the gene, as well as silencing certain genes by using RNA (ribonucleic acid) interference.

The plant organism resultant of these modifications has been shown to contain higher quantities of essential nutrients, with iron content in rice samples shown to be doubled or even tripled. The agricultural yield of the crops was also not affected due to the modifications.

The advantage of using genetic modification to biologically fortify crops is that it is both cost and time effective. The cost of propagating lines of genetically modified crops is less expensive than using nutritional supplements for undernourishment. Genetically modified crops also have a much higher potential for reaching remote populations.

Another advantage of this method is its diversity of application. This process can be applied to many different minerals. As of now, researchers are experimenting on increasing zinc and selenium amounts in crops as well. The genome of the plant can accommodate man different changes, so these modifications need not be mutually exclusive. The transgenic approach is also environmentally sustainable.

The challenges facing bio-fortified crops is that their effect is somewhat uncertain. Recent studies done on beans have shown that iron fortification without reducing the chemical that inhibits its uptake can lead to reduced absorption of the nutrient. Additionally, the genetically engineered approach needs to be so that the effects are not genotype-specific, but rather perpetually and uniformly expressed in the crop.

Despite these challenges, bio-fortified crops offer a creative, sustainable and far-reaching solution to undernourishment.

– Atifah Safi

Sources: National Center for Biotechnology Information, T and F Online,World Health Oranization, Journal of Nutrition, Science Direct, Journal of Experimental Botony

Malnutrition-and-Pregnancy-Global-Poverty

Malnutrition is a significant problem in developing countries. Without substantial resources, many men, women and children go to bed hungry. Tackling malnutrition should be a priority for everyone, especially pregnant women.

A woman’s nutritional intake impacts both her health during pregnancy and the health of her baby. Without proper care, she is susceptible to illnesses and her baby’s health is at risk. Malnutrition during pregnancy can cause devastating results.

In many countries, tradition forces women to be the last to eat at meals, which may result in them receiving smaller portions. This notion severely impacts pregnant women.

A woman that is undernourished at the time of conception is at risk of serious health issues for both herself and her baby. Not only is it unlikely that her nutritional status will improve throughout the pregnancy, but her body also experiences additional demands due to the growing baby. Without enough food, she will most likely lose weight, which increases the risk of maternal mortality.

When her body is unable to obtain or store enough nutrients required to support embryo growth, the cells may not divide properly, resulting in a chance that the fetus’ development will be impaired. The placental cells, which support the fetus’ growth during pregnancy, are more likely to surround the fetus in large numbers, forcing the fetus to become smaller than it should be. This leads to the baby being born at a low birth weight, which in turn often leads to severe cognitive and developmental deficits.

A baby’s organs develop during the first five weeks of pregnancy. In order for the organs to grow properly, it is imperative for women to be healthy and have food supplies readily available.

A woman’s caloric needs increase with pregnancy. An additional 150 calories per day is needed to support the baby in the first three months of the pregnancy. In month four, the additional calories needed increase to 300 per day.

In addition, women must have the proper nutrients in their diet, such as foods with folic acid, iron calcium, protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and vitamin A. According to the World Food Programme, half of all pregnant women in developing countries are anaemic (having an iron deficiency), which causes around 110,000 deaths during childbirth per year.

Without enough nutrients, a baby is at higher risk of neural tube defects, brain damage, premature birth, underdevelopment of organs, death and more. If a child becomes malnourished in the womb, the damage can be permanent.

Improving nutrition is an investment that could save the lives of women around the world; it will also decrease the number of birth defects and disabilities seen in newborns and young children. In many developing countries, nutrition is essential to promoting a happy and healthy lifestyle where no person goes to bed hungry.

Kelsey Parrotte

Sources: Livestrong, Mother and Child Nutrition, Virtual Medical Center, World Food Programme
Photo: The Visible Embryo

malnutrition_in_ghana

Ghana is one of the most successful countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region in combating hunger and malnourishment. The proportion of undernourished people went from 23.5% in 1996 to 2.9% in 2013, allowing them to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG1) target for halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger.

In northern Ghana, 63% of the population lives in extreme poverty, and most rely on crop production. Most of the service and industrial industries are in the south, where poverty is less prevalent.

School feeding helps keep malnutrition low: every day, 368 million children around the world eat a meal at school. The World Food Programme (WFP) provides monthly rations to families who send their daughters to school, and they provide scholarships for secondary school to those who complete the program with an 85% attendance rate.

Over 1.7 million children every day are fed through the Ghana School Feeding Program. The Partnership for Child Development (PCD) is collaborating with the government to link nutrition with school meals and community training. One way the PCD is developing nutritious school meals is through the use of an online meal planner.

The web-based planner allows the user to create and add the costs from local ingredients. It links prices from local markets and displays the total cost of each meal. Only 12.3% of the population has access to the Internet, so for those who do not have access, the PCD developed an offline meal planner.

“By coupling high-tech digital resources such as the meals planner with low-tech engagement, integrated school feeding and health programs are vital if governments are to tackle the malnutrition crisis facing the next generation,” said Dr. Lesley Drake, executive director of PCD.

PCD is also combating malnutrition in Ghana through community meetings and 400 community-based champions of health and nutrition in order to convey the importance of proper nutrition and hygiene.

Feed the Future is fighting for food security in Ghana by focusing on rice, corn and soybean production to help farmers where poverty is most prevalent. The agricultural industry needs more support in order to do more research for crop-yielding and improve irrigation infrastructure.

USAID is committed to sustaining agricultural productivity by managing natural resources. Feed the Future and USAID activities support Ghana’s goals of reducing poverty and increasing food security.

Malnutrition in Ghana is declining due to programs like the online meal planner and the work of organizations like Feed the Future and USAID. Undernourishment and hunger continue to decline, but since 2007, the prevalence of underweight children under the age of five in Ghana has only dropped 0.5% after declining 11.8% between 1997 to 2007. Today, 13.9% of children under five in Ghana are underweight.

Donald Gering

Sources: HGSF, Impatient Optimist, Knoema, Social Progress Imperative, UNDP, USAID WFP 1, WFP 2
Photo: Modern Ghana

Ghana-Reduced-Hunger-and-Malnutrition
At the 39th session of the Conference of Member States of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) held in Milan, Italy this June, Ghana was given an award from the FAO for reducing the level of its malnourished population from 7 million in the early 1990s to less than 1 million today.

Ghana is one of the 72 countries that have managed to reduce its level of people suffering from hunger to less than 5% of the population. Ghana has also seen a significant decrease in poverty. As Feed the Future states, Ghana’s GDP growth rate has grown from 4% in 2002 to 8% in 2012, as poverty was reduced from 52% to 28%.

Ghana’s success at decreasing the level of the population in poverty has made it the first Sub-Saharan African country to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015. This decline in poverty has led to a corresponding decline in levels of hunger and malnutrition. In 1990, 27% of the Ghanaian population was malnourished. By 2005, this number fell to less than 5%. The level of malnutrition in children has also reduced — it has been halved from the 1980s to today.

Ghana was able to drastically decrease poverty and hunger by investing in its agricultural sector. Ten percent of the Ghanaian budget is devoted to its agricultural sector, which, as The Gates Foundation states, has led to a steady growth in Ghana’s agricultural productivity of almost 5% each year since 1985. Ghana has also significantly increased its production of cocoa, allowing it to increase exports.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) states that besides agricultural growth, there are also other factors which helped to drive much of the population out of poverty. For example, the government of Ghana has introduced special social intervention plans which increase spending on programs that target the poor and vulnerable.

The south of Ghana is the country’s main agricultural area, which has led to a disparity in poverty between the north and the south. The poverty rates in the north are double than those in the south. In order to help decrease this poverty gap, Ghana has established four main interventions. The first is the adoption of security measures which help to end longstanding civil conflicts and attract private investment. The government also increased the number of resources it gives to the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA), an agency which works to plan a development agenda for the northern ecological zone in Ghana. Ghana has also augmented its infrastructure, providing more access to rural areas, and worked to help social intervention programs such as the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP).

The gap between the poverty levels in the north and south of Ghana is worrisome, but the four interventions that the government established should help decrease poverty in the north and help the country overall. Ghana’s ability to decrease its level of hunger is remarkable and suggests that other countries that wish to reduce hunger and malnutrition should be prepared to invest heavily in their agricultural sector.

– Ashrita Rau

Sources: Impatient Optimists, Action Aid USA, UNDP, Feed the Future, Ghana Business News, Ministry of Food and Agriculture
Photo: World Food Programme

child_malnutritionMalnutrition is responsible for causing over half of all child mortalities within the Sub-Saharan African nation of Malawi.

The economy of Malawi is largely agriculturally based, and has resulted in over 90 percent of the national population living under $2 per day. The sustainability of the Malawian diet has proven highly volatile, as both natural phenomenon and human activities have resulted in a persistent track record of food insecurity

With two major food-scarcity crises occurring in the past decade, researchers have noted that the level of dietary energy supply within Malawi does not meet the level of demand for population dietary energy requirements. Additionally, agricultural practices within this region have contributed to a lack of dietary diversification and insufficiencies in the provisioning of micronutrient food resources.

The statistical rates of children experiencing the effects of malnutrition within Malawi have remained unaltered since 1992. With 46 percent of children under the age of 5 experiencing variations of growth stunts and 21 percent of children underweight, researchers have noted that these adverse defects are most commonly influenced by micronutrient deficiencies.

A recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Health determined that 60 percent of children under the age of 5 and 57 percent of non-pregnant women were experiencing sub-clinical Vitamin A deficiencies. Low levels of Vitamin A are responsible for significantly weakening the immune systems of developing children and to contributing to lower life expectancy rates correlated to the contraction of major illnesses.

The leading causes of malnutrition within Malawian children commonly include inadequate access to adequate pediatric care systems, dismal sanitary infrastructure and resources, an increased regional prevalence of infectious diseases, and the malnourishment of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Efforts to improve micronutrient deficiency rates through food-based strategies have proven widely ineffective and must be redesigned to offer adequate micronutrient resources to at risk population groupings such as children under 5 and pregnant women.

Despite levels of child malnutrition remaining unacceptably high, the Malawian government has attained notable success in meeting certain child-oriented Millennium Development Goals (MDG). MDG 4 outlines the necessity for developing nations to reduce child mortality rates by two-thirds by the year 2015 and has largely focused on the development of medical and sanitary infrastructures, increasing the prevalence of field vaccination programs and the provisioning of community-based educational programs.

Realizing significant reductions in children under 5 and infant mortality rates during the past two decades, Malawi’s measurable progress in combatting malnutrition indicates the potential for the achievement of MDG 4 in the coming years. Efforts to reduce the frequency of malnutrition within Malawi have included increased sustainable immunization practices, more effective micronutrient supplementation and distribution, increased access to sanitary water resources and efforts to eradicate neonatal tetanus.

Despite the use of such development programs to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition, only 61 percent of the nation’s population exercises consistent access to enhanced sanitation methods. With an estimated 25 percent of government education institutions within Malawi lacking access to sanitary water resources, it is imperative to note the dire circumstances consistently faced by many Malawian children. The nation of Malawi will continue to face significant challenges in fully realizing MDG 4, as a climate of widespread poverty, weak institutional regulation and infrastructure, and limited resources due to human conflict and competition are responsible for adversely effecting these efforts.

With one in eight children dying each year in Malawi from preventable conditions including neonatal defects, malaria and HIV-related diseases, attention to the nutritional status of Malawian children is essential. The strengthening of short-term methodologies such as dietary supplementation coupled with investments in long-term food-based strategies will allow for continued successes in reducing national malnutrition rates.

– James Miller Thornton

Sources: FAO, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition in Samoa
Malnutrition has widespread impacts and widespread consequences. As a worldwide problem, malnutrition impacts one in five children. Within Samoa, the problem is a growing health concern, particularly for children.

Malnutrition in Samoa occurs in a variety of forms. In Samoa, the most common form of malnutrition is Protein-Energy Malnutrition, or P.E.M. Because P.E.M. is caused by an inadequate protein intake, it has its greatest impact on children, due to the low intake of protein in their diet. In 2013, Samoa also saw 72 hospital admissions for acute, severe malnutrition. Two children died of these cases.

As it does in the rest of the world, malnutrition leads to many health problems in Samoa. In 2014, four children died and 19 were hospitalized as a result of diarrhea outbreaks. A ministry of health report connected poor dietary practices, and the use of Devondale milk as a substitute for both adequate baby formula and poor nutritional practices, to pediatric ward visits during the outbreak.

A lack of proper breast-feeding is a major contributing factor to malnutrition. A study in the city of Apia found that 17 percent of bottle-fed infants were malnourished, compared to only five percent of breast fed infants. Perhaps this is why a ministry of health report, in response to the diarrhea outbreak, listed advocating for proper breast feeding as a “priority area of concern,” and listed giving pregnant mothers food supplements such as folic acid and iron tablets as an “area for vigilance.”

Diarrhea caused by malnutrition is also difficult for health professionals in that diarrhea leads malnourished patients to become further malnourished.

The impact of malnutrition on Samoa, and particularly on the children of Samoa, is shocking. The reality of facing the situation is challenging, as the issue also connects with dietary changes in the region that have occurred over the past few decades, along with urbanization. That being said, supporting education on these issues for all along with supplemental nutrition problems will be highly important in preparing for the challenges of the present, while building a better future.

— Andrew Michaels

Sources: Samoa Observer, Radio New Zealand International, Radio New Zealand International, UN University, Samoa News
Photo:Flickr

Malnutrition in Burundi
Populated with over 10 million people, Burundi is a densely packed, landlocked East African country with the worst rates of malnutrition in the world.

Burundi was rated the world’s leading nation affected by hunger, according to the 2014 Global Hunger Index (GHI), a score calculated annually by the International Food Policy Research Institute. Plagued with political turmoil and prone to natural disasters, Burundi has seen rates of malnutrition increase in recent years. Despite global strides in combating malnutrition in recent history, Burundi is one of only four nations that has seen an increase in GHI from 1990 to 2014, indicating a worsening situation in the country. With 67.3 percent of the overall population undernourished, it is one of two countries with a hunger situation labeled “extremely alarming” in the study.

As the vast majority of Burundi’s population relies on agriculture, many of the country’s inhabitants combat food insecurity and malnutrition due to climate hazards, limited land access and limited crop diversity. Despite a constantly growing population, food production has stagnated at pre-1993 levels, according to the World Food Programme. Additionally, due to rising costs of food — the price of beans increased by nearly 50 percent in recent years — the average household now spends over 70 percent of its income on food. While the nation’s government has programs in place to assist in the fight against malnutrition, it is growing increasingly costly for the country to deal with the worsening problem.

Common cases of malnutrition in the country include kwashiorkor and marasmus, both of which can stunt development and can be life-threatening if not treated. Although women and young children are most at risk for diseases caused by malnutrition, many men are also affected.

Additionally, many children and women suffer from a lack of micronutrients in their diets. In the first two years of life, it is especially crucial for children to get sufficient amounts of micronutrients such as iron, Vitamin A, iodine and zinc. Such nutrients are critical for physical growth and intellectual development.

Anemia is one of the biggest deficiency problems currently faced in Burundi, with 56 percent of children under the age of 5, and 47 percent of pregnant women anemic, according to the World Bank. Additionally, nearly half of the population as a whole is at risk for insufficient zinc intake, and a quarter of the country’s children under 5 and 12 percent of women are Vitamin A deficient. Although the effects of these deficiencies are less dire in the short term, they contribute to life-threatening illnesses and issues.

In order to address the problems of malnutrition in Burundi, the World Bank recommends extensive vitamin A supplementation and deworming in children under 5-years-old and increased iron supplementation for pregnant women. While about 96 percent of households are already consuming iodized salt, the World Bank recommends “universal salt iodization” in order to control iodine deficiency and avoid IQ loss in young children. Working to increase market and infrastructure development to promote dietary diversity can also combat issues with malnourishment.

Education and counseling services can also serve to improve feeding habits for children under five years old. While Burundi sees a lack of gender equality in most sects of life, women are still seen to have a strong maternal role in the family. UNICEF found that children of mothers with at least a primary level of education have 94 percent of less risks of growth stunting from malnutrition than children of mothers with no education. The study showed that mothers with some level of education had been proactive in managing malnutrition than other mothers, recognizing the importance of good breastfeeding habits, clean living and staggering pregnancies.

Since 2005, the Ministry of Health has emphasized building community-based infrastructure to screen for and treat acute malnutrition. Many organizations are also working with the Burundi government to increase education programs for mothers in order to deal with the country’s chronic malnutrition. In 2012, Burundi signed on to the Scaling up Nutrition initiative, which works with the United Nations, civil society, donors, businesses and researchers to work with communities on this issue. The initiative involves an interdisciplinary approach to combating malnutrition. Burundi’s approach, as established through the initiative, involves working to protect maternity leave, create legislation on the marketing of breast milk substitute, establish national directives on food, diversify and increase its food production, and increase nutrition education. The established goal in 2012 was to reduce malnutrition rates by 10 percent by 2016. No information has been released by Scaling up Nutrition or by the Burundian government on the progress of this goal.

– Arin Kerstein

Sources: International Food Policy Research Institute, International Food Policy Research Institute, Iwacu-Burundi, Scaling Up Nutrition, World Bank, Wolrd Food Programme, UNICEF
Photo: The Guardian

Malnutrition-in-Swaziland
For a Swazi, the most difficult time of survival is the first five years after birth. Malnutrition in Swaziland is responsible for 8 percent of child mortality. Because of an unorganized health system, 69 percent of child malnutrition cases go untreated.

Malnutrition is classified into two stages: chronic and acute. According to World Vision International, “chronic malnutrition results in stunting, or reduced growth in height, and means that a child has persistently not received adequate nutrition. Stunting affects one-third of all children in developing countries.”

Acute malnutrition is more expedited, resulting “in wasting, or rapid weight loss, and means that a child has experienced a relatively sudden drop in food intake. This is usually due to a severe food shortage or period of illness. Ten to 13 percent of children under five suffer from acute malnutrition.”

A study released by the World Food Programme (WFP) reveals that Swaziland relies on international donors to keep famine at bay. But in reality, this only conceals the fact that there are food shortages and malnutrition affecting the Swazis.

The Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) survey was initiated by Swaziland’s National Children’s Coordinating Unit and the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, the first survey of its kind in Swaziland.

This survey found that the effects of malnutrition in Swaziland have stunted about 40 percent of adults. Because the effects of malnutrition can be seen throughout the lifetime of a Swazi, this creates a domino effect in the country.

Economic Planning Minister Prince Hlangusempi Dlamini noted “The saddest thing is that this cycle [of malnutrition] is not limited to the life cycle of each individual, but affects that person’s children, who will pass it on to yet another generation.”

Recommendations following the report suggest Swaziland spending massive amounts on a nutritional intervention, but Swaziland is unable to provide such financing. What can be done to bridge the gap between the much needed funding?

The Power of Nutrition, a new fund created by UNICEF and the World Bank Group in April, will help millions of children affected by malnutrition. And as a way to combat malnutrition in the years to come, The Power of Nutrition will also help countries build healthy and prosperous communities. Aid is the first step in helping, but developing communities will ensure that malnutrition will not affect future generations.

One of the goals of The Power of Nutrition includes trying to break the cycle of undernourished girls, who become undernourished mothers and give birth to undernourished babies. This is similar to the cycle of malnutrition found in Swaziland being passed form generation to generation.

With a fund like The Power of Nutrition, which hopes to raise $1 billion to tackle children’s nutrition, Swaziland would be able to receive the funding essential for the nutritional overhaul. The funding would end the vicious cycle of malnutrition carrying over to the next generation.

– Kerri Szulak

Sources: All Africa, Food Business News, UNICEF, World Vision International, Photo
Photo: Sustainable Conversations

Malnutrition-in-Taiwan
Since the end of the Second World War, the face of malnutrition in Taiwan has changed dramatically. Once among the ranks of third world nations, Taiwan has enjoyed meteoric economic growth over the past seventy years. This growth has raised living standards, reduced poverty and eliminated undernutrition as a development issue. But despite this newfound prosperity, Taiwan continues to face malnutrition in the form of obesity and poor diets.

Between 1895 and 1945, Japan ruled over Taiwan as an imperial master. Over these five decades, Japan structured the island as a satellite granary. Taiwan’s principal crops became sugar and rice, and by the 1930s, Taiwan exported more than half of its agricultural output to the Japanese home islands. In fact, according to researcher Samuel Ho, the amount of rice available for consumption in Taiwan had fallen 24 percent by the 1940s. Although Japanese administrators modernized Taiwanese agriculture and invested in transportation infrastructure, they did little to improve the lot of the poorest Taiwanese: real wages remained low and malnutrition prevalent.

Soon after the end of Japanese rule, Taiwan found itself in a position to tackle malnutrition. No longer Japan’s offshore breadbasket, Taiwanese farmers saw export markets for their crops collapse. They thus began putting significantly less of their rice crop on the market and retaining more for home consumption. In addition, the Taiwanese government implemented land reforms that broke up large agricultural estates and turned tenant farmers into landowners. Combined with other “pro-farmer” policies and a growing industrial export sector, Taiwan had effectively eliminated malnutrition by the early 1970s.

But with the development of an advanced economy in Taiwan, malnutrition has resurfaced as a public health concern. According to University of Washington sources, dietary risks are the second-greatest contributor to Taiwan’s disease burden. Whereas most Taiwanese were once unable to afford a varied, nutritious diet, many now eschew healthy eating electively. To add to this concern, contemporary Taiwanese suffer from increasing rates of obesity: 31 percent of females and 41 percent of males were overweight in 2013, and obesity in people under 20 has increased by more than 50 percent since 1980. This “double burden” of malnutrition — undernutrition paired with obesity — among Taiwan’s youth may foretell the resurgence of malnutrition in Taiwan as a public health issue.

Recent research also suggests that cultural norms may perpetuate patterns of malnutrition in Taiwan. Researchers Lin and Tsai find that girls born to “marital immigrant” parents (in which one spouse — usually the wife — hails from abroad, typically Southeast Asia in the case of Taiwan) are significantly shorter and lighter than Han Chinese girls. Lin and Tsai note that Taiwanese men who marry immigrant women are disproportionately disadvantaged economically and physically. These men face immense pressure to preserve the family line, leading them to spoil their sons at the expense of their daughters. Given such ongoing changes in Taiwanese society, malnutrition in Taiwan may prove more intractable than previously thought.

– Leo Zucker

Sources: Malnutrition in Taiwan, Nutrilite Economic History Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation Nutritional Research
Photo: World Vision International

Impact-of-Malnutrition-in-Guinea-Bissau
According to the World Food Programme, almost 15,000 children living in Guinea-Bissau are plagued by acute malnutrition. As of 2013, a mere seven percent of the country’s population is food-secure. Rural communities suffer especially—as many as 93 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s rural population is living with food insecurity and the consequential threat of malnutrition.

So, what is malnutrition, and what impact does it actually have? According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition is “a deficiency of nutrition” caused by factors related to poor diet and disease. Malnutrition hinders physical development, leading to stunted growth and underweight children.

Malnutrition also negatively impacts brain anatomy, physiology and biochemistry, potentially leading to irreversible brain damage. Additionally, an analysis of child mortality data from 10 countries, including Guinea-Bissau, found that due to “the vicious cycle between malnutrition and infection,” children who suffer growth restriction due to malnutrition are more likely to become ill and have a higher rate of severe illness, leading in turn, to further developmental stunting.

The World Factbook, a publication by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, identifies Guinea-Bissau as having the fifth greatest death rate out of 225 countries. Life expectancy at birth, a mere 49.87 years, is also the third shortest, ranking above only South Africa and Chad.

With 18 percent of children less than five years of age underweight and the high risk of disease, Guinea-Bissau is certainly impacted by that “vicious cycle” of malnutrition and illness.

The same analysis that notes this cycle also observes the importance of the “context of poverty” that malnutrition and its ill effects occur within. This poverty, the authors assert, “leads to diminished access to health care, exposure to contaminated environments, poor child care practices, and food insecurity that ultimately affects patterns of intake and illness.”

Poverty rates in Guinea-Bissau have increased notably over the past few years. Now, 75 percent of the country’s population experiences poverty.

Several contributing factors, including socio-political fluctuations and the declining market value of cashews, the country’s primary cash crop, have caused the increased poverty and subsequent malnutrition in Guinea-Bissau. The country’s economy is predominately supported by agriculture with more than 80 percent of the labor force employed in farming. This portion of the population is also the most vulnerable when it comes to food-insecurity.

Experts estimate that in order to end world hunger, alleviating food-insecurity in places like Guinea-Bissau, $30 billion per year is needed over the course of a decade. While it seems like a staggering sum, when compared to U.S. military spending, $30 billion is a drop in the foreign policy bucket.

The U.S. Department of Defense base budget for 2015 is $495.6 billion, nearly 17 times the $30 billion needed to alleviate world hunger. However, the U.S. spends less than one percent of its foreign policy budget on international aid.

An increased contribution to the fight against global poverty and hunger need not be drastic. In fact, by fulfilling their 1970 promise to give 0.7 percent of gross national income as official international development aid, the U.S. and other wealthy member countries of The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development could end global poverty.

This foreign aid investment would help people struggling with food insecurity in places like Guinea-Bissau, preventing malnutrition and all its ill effects.

– Emma-Claire LaSaine

Sources: World Food Programme, MDGIF, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, CIA, Nutrition Reviews, WHO, Los Angeles Times, U.S. Department of Defense, OECD
Photo: World Food Progamme