malnutrition in new caledonia
New Caledonia is a French territory off the east coast of Australia. Like many Pacific Island nations, its main food staples include fish, fruit and coconut. While food insecurity is not a prevalent issue in the territory as a whole, food deserts are certainly. Rising food prices drive the poorest citizens — most often, those of the Kanak community (New Caledonia’s indigenous Melanesian population) — to scrounge for their needed caloric intake. Cheap food products sacrifice nutrition for convenience and the prevalence of these food deserts in New Caledonia has prevented the entire population from enjoying the sustenance the island has to offer. These are the factors that are contributing to the problem of malnutrition in New Caledonia.

Growth in Both Prosperity and Food Prices?

Growth stunting and hunger levels are generally low in New Caledonia. However, as food prices rise, it becomes difficult for rural and tribal communities (which have been most affected by the country’s spike in poverty rates) to maintain healthy diets. These increases follow the nation’s growth in prosperity — derived from its lucrative nickel industry and payments from mainland France.

Malnutrition in New Caledonia arises from economic and geographical limitations. Despite how the territory seems to flourish, wealth is unequally distributed. This, in turn, leads to a significant portion of the population struggling with rising food prices. When markets lack competition, sellers can raise the price of goods without the risk of a competitor undercutting them. On top of wealth and wage disparities, the poorest populations in the country cannot afford nutritional food.

A Victim of Geography

Like most islands, New Caledonia operates under the constraints of its remoteness, which involves limited space and a smaller, local market. Food prices are about 33% higher in New Caledonia, with inflation having risen in the territory at a faster rate than it did in France. Those above the poverty line in New Caledonia spend only about a quarter of their income on food. Yet, for the 17% living below it — they might spend more than half of their income on food. In New Caledonia, 85% of adults eat fish at least once a week. Of the total amount fished, 92% is used for subsistence, which leaves the remaining 8% for the market.

While New Caledonia has several great agricultural staples, the reliance on agriculture has been decreasing due to a reduction in available land (as well as the increase of non-agricultural jobs). The distribution of available agricultural land parallels the disparity in wealth distribution and food security concerning the Kanak community and the rest of New Caledonia’s population. The predominantly European-settled Southern Province holds about 22% of New Caledonia’s limited farmland. Meanwhile, the native Kanak Northern Province holds only about 14%.

During 2004–2006, the prevalence of undernourishment in the population was at 9.6%. This rate decreased in the next decade, dropping to 8.2% during 2017–2019. For comparison, the rate of undernourishment in the U.S., one of the wealthiest nations in the world, is less than 2.5%.

Closing the Gaps

While hunger is not an issue for all of its citizens, malnutrition in New Caledonia tends to plague those who receive less of the territory’s wealth as compared with others. As food prices rise, many of those who do not receive proper nutrition fall into the lower-income bracket and thus, below the poverty line. Also, this unfortunately tends to include members of the Kanak community. This wealth disparity (and subsequent nutrition disparity) is exacerbated by lower rates of education and job training within the Kanak communities. This of course results in lower rates of employment among the Kanak. By first bridging the education and employment gap, closures on the wealth and nutritional gaps can then follow.

Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

Starvation has long been something many Americans associate with the “third world.” As a country, we sometimes become so engrossed in aiding other nations that we seldom take the time to look within our own borders and see the issues relating to food waste that we face at home.

While a façade of top-rated healthcare, strong innovation and an overall surplus of goods successfully hides the hunger, poverty and abuse, it is difficult to ignore the facts. Up to 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is going to waste before it even reaches the tables of hungry families. In 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, meaning families were unsure of where their next meal would come from.

Starvation in the United States does not stem from a lack of food as it does in many developing countries. Instead, it stems from a lack of access to affordable healthy food along with a disregard for re-using and recycling materials considered to be waste.

There are many parts of the United States which are considered “food deserts”. These are areas where there are no food superstores like Whole Foods, Target or Acme, for example. Instead, individuals in these areas are forced to purchase food from gas station markets or travel over 10 miles to get fresh food. These “food deserts” exist even within our nation’s capital and force people to rely on food from shelters and food banks. Unfortunately, many of these food banks do not receive enough donations to keep up with the demand for food.

Much of the waste that inhabits our nation’s dumps comes from farms and supermarkets that were unable to sell produce. About 1.3 billion tons of food gets lost or wasted in the United States, with over 97 percent of food waste ending up in a landfill. Most of this produce is so fresh when it arrives at the dumps that people could have consumed it, had it not come in contact with other waste.

Food waste in America also arises from small households. A family of four throws away around $600 worth of food annually due to spoilage or fear of eating leftovers. When all of this food in the landfills begins to break down anaerobically, without access to oxygen, it produces methane gas, which is about 20 times more toxic than CO2 and can seriously harm our environment.

If supermarkets and households learn to use their food waste responsibly, imagine the world we would live in. Households can use food waste—even if it is completely spoiled—in compost pits, which in turn will help their plants grow better and help our environment. Supermarkets can donate their unsold produce to food banks and soup kitchens nearby and accept the profit losses in order to feed their less fortunate friends and neighbors.

When we live in a nation so devoted to helping others in poverty, it is hard to picture starvation in our own country. Most Americans have the luxury of being able to go down the road to pick up fresh produce every week and are unable to see the issue in throwing away left-overs, but if we just learned to eat and live responsibly, we could make a world of a difference beginning in our own neighborhoods.

Sumita Tellakat

Sources: End Food Waste Now, NRDC
Photo: Flickr