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Plant-Based Diets and Sustainable Agriculture

Plant-based Diets
Around 820 million people face hunger today due to droughts, high food prices, wars and insufficient access to healthy foods. Many vulnerable communities around the globe do not have access to healthy or affordable meats. For some communities, meat is not a cultural staple and is otherwise unattainable. In these cases, some impoverished individuals can focus on plant-based diets as a sustainable agriculture alternative.

7 Quick Global Hunger Facts

  1. According to the World Health Organization, over 820 million people worldwide are currently hungry.
  2. Hunger is defined as having “short-term physical discomfort as a result of chronic food shortage, or in severe cases, a life-threatening lack of food,” according to the National Research Council.
  3. Food insecurity leads to hunger when an individual faces inadequate access to appropriate quantities and qualities of food in the long-term. About 18% of the total global population is food insecure, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
  4. The most food insecure populations are in Africa and Asia, while the least food insecure populations are in North America and Europe, suggesting the most vulnerable communities to food insecurity reside in the poorest countries.
  5. Consistent food insecurity often leads to health conditions like micronutrient deficiency and malnutrition because of unbalanced diets.
  6. Despite huge progress since the announcement of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals in 2000, hunger has started rising again. This results largely from the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, as rising hunger numbers have paralleled economic turndowns in countries across the globe.
  7. There are three staple micronutrients that are key for a healthy diet in all bodies, according to the World Health Education Service: iron, vitamin A and iodine. Fifty-four countries have iodine deficiency problems; approximately 250 million children have a vitamin A deficiency around the world; and Anemia (which is caused by iron deficiency) leads to about 20% of all maternal deaths.

Nutritional Facts of Meat and Plant-Based Diets

“Food insecurity is not just about insufficient food production, availability, and intake, it is also about the poor quality or nutritional value of the food,” Former Assistant Director-General of UNESCO Paris, Albert Sasson, said in his 2012 research publication, “Food security for Africa: an urgent global challenge.”

There is no scientific evidence of whether incorporating meats into one’s diet is overall more or less beneficial to one’s nutritional health than consuming only plant-based diets. Many cultures cut out some or all meats, such as Jewish and Muslim communities, while others encourage mainly meat consumption, like the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic. Professor of Nutrition at Texas A&M University and Associate Department Head of Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension Service Jenna Anding, Ph.D., said in an interview with The Borgen Project that both types of diets have benefits. However, for communities where healthy and affordable meat is unattainable, there are sustainable and healthy alternatives found in plant-based foods. These foods help increase food security.

“Both plant- and animal-derived foods are important to the diets of vulnerable populations,” Anding said. “Plants can provide a source of energy (calories), fiber, and essential nutrients. Foods derived from animals also provide energy, but also protein as well as essential nutrients … such as vitamin B12, selenium and iron needed for growth and development.”

Sustainable Agricultural Practices for Vulnerable Communities

The Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture Office of International Training is a leading U.S.-based agricultural training program that works with developing and middle-income countries. The program provides education and resources on sustainable agriculture to scientists and researchers. Those individuals are then able to share these practices with their home countries and communities.

In 2015, the Borlaug Institute successfully completed the Food, Agribusiness and Rural Markets II project, which helped share sustainable agricultural practices with 36 payams in South Sudan. Borlaug scientists focused on growing maize, cassava, groundnuts and beans. These crops are the most sustainable, affordable, accessible and culturally accepted foods available for those communities. Thus, a plant-based diet is the most food-secure option in that particularly vulnerable community.

The African Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) is a global nonprofit corporation that seeks to empower African farmers to choose sustainable agriculture. ASAP works directly with farmers across the continent to educate them on best practices that will increase their profit yields. The best practices will also provide safe and affordable food for the communities.

Through their Zamura Farms Quality Protein project, ASAP has reached approximately 4,000 preschool-aged children in Rwanda by providing one egg per day. They also employ 20 Rwandan women in their Musanze hen farm. This provides them with a steady income in the formal economic sector.

Meats are not always available in vulnerable communities. However, plant-based diets can provide an alternative source of necessary nutrients for food-insecure populations. Some communities will increase food security by focusing on growing only foods for plant-based diets. However, others may find the best option is to raise animals for consumption. It is important for scientists and researchers to continue expanding sustainable agricultural practices across the world. The practices should be tailored to each specific physical and socioeconomic climate in order to achieve zero hunger by 2030.

Myranda Campanella
Photo: Flickr