When asked for the one thing they could change about the world, people (not least beauty pageant contestants) often answer: "To end world hunger.” Given 796 million people across the globe do not have enough to eat, it’s a very noble aspiration - and it does not have to be an empty one. In fact, when you consider the multi-factored nature of food insecurity and hunger, many possible solutions emerge. Here’s a closer look at nine fields of study with the potential to eradicate world hunger.
1. Agricultural science
While the planet currently produces enough food to feed all of its inhabitants, one out of every nine people goes hungry every day. Agriculture can play a crucial role in bridging the gap, by both providing nutrient-rich foods and supporting sustainable livelihoods.
According to Impakter, the agriculture industry can improve world nutrition in five immediate ways: by increasing availability and access to diverse and nutritious foods; by encouraging income use for better diets, health and hygiene; by recognizing the central role played by women in agriculture and nutrition; by generating demand for diverse and nutritious foods; and by establishing policies and programs to support broader views of nutrition.
Hunger Project executive vice president John Coonrod adds, “The world has over-invested in low-nutrition staple crops, driving up the relative price of nutrition rich-foods. Empty calories is the food system of the poor. To overcome malnutrition, we need to increase the dietary diversity of the poor to include many more fruits and vegetables, which means increasing their local production and reducing their price to local consumers.”
In studying agricultural science, you will have many opportunities to help both the environment and the people of the world while playing an important role in alleviating world hunger.
2. Public policy
A great deal of global hunger comes down to something other than lack of food: inadequate policies that would enable countries and communities to more effectively fight hunger through economic security and self-sufficiency.
The Guardian recently set forth eight issues for which improved policies could make a difference when it comes to feeding the world. These include everything from reforming and regulating commodities markets to supporting and training small farmers. Public policy students can help drive such policies, to make a difference in the world.
Infant malnutrition is one of the most widely known effects of world hunger. As such, it receives significant attention. “Big improvements have already been made. The solution lies in education on good feeding techniques and getting the right nutrients to the mother and child from the beginning of pregnancy. Overall, malnutrition makes people poorer – it is responsible for an 11 percent decline in GDP in affected countries,” says The Guardian.
Still, more work is needed, and the importance of educating people about proper nutrition cannot be overstated. Through work in a variety of industries ranging from healthcare and government service to business and the food and foodservice industries, nutrition experts can help both individuals and the public make more informed choices around infant and maternal nutrition.
4. Water management
As droughts become more and more common, both water scarcity and poor water quality continue to threaten people all over the world -- especially in Africa. The Water Project explains, “Relieving hunger in Africa has to begin with access to clean water. It may seem simple, but we forget that without access to a reliable source of water, food is hard to grow and even more difficult to preserve and prepare.”
5. Energy studies
Another pivotal factor in preventing global hunger is energy. The UN explains, “840 million people have no access to electricity worldwide – most of whom live in rural areas of the developing world. Energy poverty in many regions is a fundamental barrier to reducing hunger and ensuring that the world can produce enough food to meet future demand.”
Studies in energy conservation, renewable energy, and energy resources engineering are a few fields that can help make a difference to ending energy poverty.
6. Climate change and sustainability
The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) recently released a report identifying climate change -- including extreme weather events, land degradation and desertification, water scarcity and rising sea levels -- as a leading driver of global hunger. A joint forward to the report penned by a collective of experts insists:
“If we are to achieve a world without hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030, it is imperative that we accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of food systems and people's livelihoods in response to climate variability and extremes.”
SOCI SDG, Social Innovation & Inclusion of Sustainable Development Goals, adds, “We have to find and integrate various technologies, tools and services to better equip the communities that are most affected by climate changes.”
In addition to helping graduates mitigate climate change directly, a degree in climate studies can also prepare graduates for jobs on the frontlines of affected areas, in the areas of communication, politics, and social work.
Microfinance is the provision of financial services to the poor who might otherwise not have access to them. These include loans, savings, and insurance to start and grow businesses.
The Hunger Project says of its Microfinance Program, “Across the areas where we work in Africa, well over two million individuals will take microloans from scores of microfinance institutions this year. They will use those loans to start small trade businesses and improve farming techniques for increased crops. The profits they make will in turn serve to feed and send the next generation to school and to receive health care.”
In particular, The Hunger Project is focusing its microfinance efforts on one especially powerful initiative: “the economic empowerment of the most important but least supported food producers on the continent – Africa’s women.”
Wondering whether microfinance is right for you? According to Clara Lipson, Founder and Chief Executive of AboutMicrofinance.com and Member of the Board of the Microfinance Club of New York, you’ll need “a sincere devotion to helping people at the bottom of the pyramid and a conviction that microfinance is a tool for helping people out of poverty (although it’s not a silver bullet).”
8. Agricultural mechanization and infrastructure
The FAO’s ninth Sustainable Development Goal is to “build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.” This is another example where lack of food is not the problem, but rather logistics related to the accessibility of food.
For example, in Nigeria lack of infrastructure for storing and distributing farming equipment has been associated with food insecurity in poor rural populations. The opening of multiple plants and shops improved access for hundreds of thousands of farmers, thereby helping them increase their yields and compete better. Furthermore, the development of market gardening sites with irrigation equipment and fencing enabled farmers to produce more high-value produce while simultaneously contributing to more diversified diets and higher income and greater resiliency in the face of climate change.
In certain areas of Asia, meanwhile, post-harvest losses have been high in vital crops due to generally weak infrastructure across handling, transportation, packaging, and poor storage. The introduction of good post-harvest management practices and improved technologies offers hope for reduced losses.
Also according to FAO, agricultural mechanization, which is often neglected in developing countries, can increase farm power in several ways, including improving timeliness and quality of cultivation toward increased land productivity; relieving the burden of labor shortages and enabling households to better tolerate shocks; decreasing the environmental footprint of agriculture through adequate conservation agriculture practices; and improving people’s livelihoods while reducing poverty and boosting food security.
“Biodiversity for food and agriculture is indispensable to food security and sustainable development. It supplies many vital ecosystem services, such as creating and maintaining healthy soils, pollinating plants, controlling pests, and providing habitat for wildlife, including for fish and other species that are vital to food production and agricultural livelihoods,” according to FAO.
And yet the world has grown increasingly dependent on fewer crops and animal species. This is detrimental to nutritious diets, farming livelihood within communities, and resilient and sustainable farming systems. Studies in biodiversity, conservation, and ecology can yield invaluable insights into protecting and promoting the biodiversity which is critical to our future, not least in terms of food.
World hunger is a monumental problem, but many believe solutions are within our collective reach. If you would like to lend your knowledge, skills, and passion to the effort of solving this challenging yet fascinating problem, studying or working in one of these nine fields can help you position yourself to make a difference!