The Future of Food

2022-10-12 11:35:02

By Vinod Ahuja, Food and Agriculture Organization Representative in Mongolia

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that the future of food is looking more and more uncertain as we deal with the challenges posed by pandemics, conflicts, and natural disasters. Last few years have really tested the resilience and exposed the inequalities and vulnerabilities there are in our food systems. The war in Ukraine in prompted further price increase in global markets affecting the affordability of healthy diets. The challenges have been more severe for the countries that significantly depend on global markets for meeting food security needs, such as Mongolia.

Over the past couple of decades, Mongolia’s food production system has advanced significantly, however the sustainability of these gains remains fragile. Although, food and agriculture has been among the most resilient sectors, the prices of major food items rose more than 20% and this had adverse impact on the most vulnerable in society. Agricultural productivity is falling, new diseases are emerging, frequency of climatic shocks is increasing, natural disasters and conflicts are causing displacement, migration, social conflicts and in some cases severe psychological stress.

Human and livestock footprints and increasing impacts from mining operations are driving significant land degradation and desertification, biodiversity losses, and deterioration of water quality and supply. More than 75 percent of natural grassland has been degraded, and about 25 percent are in extremely degraded state which would require a long natural recovery period. Nutrition security remains out of reach of most Mongolians with the co-existence of multiple forms of malnutrition, including obesity. While, nearly one in four Mongolians experiences moderate or severe food insecurity, the number of people who are obese or who suffer from food-related diseases have been increasing; 55 percent of Mongolians are overweight, and 20 percent are obese. At 32 percent, Mongolia has the second highest levels of premature mortality among low middle income countries.


Almost 50% of Mongolians are not able to afford a healthy diet

According to the National Nutrition Survey carried out 5 years ago, 90% of children in Mongolia under 5 years suffered from vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency, and 95% of pregnant women were insufficient in their vitamin D levels. The prevalence of vitamin A deficiency in children under 5 years was found to be 9.5%. 27% of children 2-59 months and 21% of pregnant women were anemic.

These micronutrient deficiencies are imposing growing burden of cardiometabolic risks. In global studies comparing diets and NCD risk across countries, Mongolia ranked 1st among all countries in the fraction of cardiovascular mortality attributable to dietary imbalances. At the same time, almost 50% of Mongolians are not able to afford a healthy diet. Further, as a result of a growing number of recent crises, declines in the cost of a healthy diet have stalled and there is a risk that costs are increasing.

The health of our food systems affects the health of our bodies, our environment, our economies and our cultures. Thus, the challenge for food system transformation is not only to produce sufficient and nutritious food, but also to contribute to a sustainable planet while generating sustainable livelihoods, preserving ecosystems, and contribute to climate change, territorial integrity and peace.

We need to achieve more with the same public resources and increase the availability and affordability of healthy diets

There is the need to accelerate progress towards economic diversification. This requires massive investment in infrastructure, market access, strengthening of local food supply chains, better integration of herders, small producers and SMEs in the value chains, technological innovations, shift from quantity to quality, and better branding of agro-ecological products. Building cooperation and synergy with different types of institutions and organizations, non-governmental organizations, as well as the private sector can be a driving force to boost markets, consumers, and farmers. 

On October 16 th of every year, World Food Day is celebrated and one of the purposes is to draw public attention to the functions and dysfunctions of our food systems. We need to continue the discussions as transforming food systems represents one of the most powerful ways to make progress towards achievin g all Sustainable Development Goals. The multiple and interconnected challenges we faced and keep facing call for an innovative mindset and new ways of working to transform food systems and put an end to hunger and poverty. The government needs to start thinking how they can reallocate their existing public budgets to make them more cost-effective and efficient in reducing the cost of nutritious foods. We need to achieve more with the same public resources and increase the availability and affordability of healthy diets, with sustainability, leaving no one behind.