TraceyLi

Uncovering Undernutrition (Part I): Is there enough food?

In 1996 the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) estimated that the world was producing enough food to provide each person with 2,700 calories per day. Each day an average grown man needs around 2,500 calories per day, a grown woman around 2,000 calories, and children less. In other words, in the mid-nineties, there was more than enough food to keep everyone in the world adequately fed. Yet nearly 1 billion people, around 17 percent of the population at that time, were undernourished. What was happening?

According to the FAO, undernourishment occurs when, for at least a year, a person is unable to eat enough calories to meet the minimum energy needs of an inactive lifestyle. It does not take into account the needs of those who have a physically active life, such as farmers or manual laborers, and therefore need more calories to stay strong and healthy. Nor does it take into account deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals which can have negative long-term effects on health, such as weak bones and skeletal deformities caused by a lack of vitamin D.

Based on the latest country data on population numbers, availability and distribution of food, and the ability of people to afford and physically access that food, the 2012 FAO report,’The State of Food Insecurity in the World‘ reveals a lot about undernourishment around the world over the past two decades.

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The Value of Knowledge

A few weeks ago I was asked a seemingly simple question in a survey: “Do you think that knowledge can currently be seen as a commodity?” After a couple of seconds’ thought, I started writing my answer. Several minutes later, I still hadn’t finished and decided at that point that I should probably stop in order to prevent myself from overwhelming the person in charge of collating the answers with an unnecessary essay.

I used to work in theoretical particle physics, which is a field where knowledge is very highly valued. After all, the raison d’être of myself and my colleagues was to acquire knowledge about the fundamental laws of nature, and then to disseminate it via peer-reviewed papers, thus making it available to everyone. Equally important was that, whilst writing any paper, we carefully cited previous related works, therefore acknowledging the importance of the knowledge acquired by others. I use the word ‘knowledge’ in this sense to mean concepts, methods, techniques, and observations. If the world of science did not work this way, then everyone would be on their own and we would literally be trying to reinvent the wheel every single day. Read More »

Food Sovereignty Tour: Llamas, Quinoa and Andean Food Justice

“It is hard to summarize all the new information that was presented to me by Bolivian locals and from the wonderful professionals – now friends – that I met on the trip. I went in with just an interest in food, and left a food activist.” – Participant in 2011 Food Sovereignty Tour, Bolivia.

If you have an interest in food and agriculture, or simply want to experience a flavor of the Bolivian culture and landscape, then take a look at the Bolivian leg of the Food Sovereignty Tour. It will take place from March 9 – 18, starting on the shores of Lake Titicaca then heading south through the Bolivian Altiplano (high planes), an area with a challenging yet spectacularly beautiful environment with an average altitude of 4,000 meters. You will have the chance to explore the Andean food sovereignty of this region, with an emphasis on llamas and quinoa, whilst being immersed in the local culture. Read More »

Development Goals – Wealth versus Happiness

Does money make you happy?

This question has been asked many times before, and has featured in many of this month’s Development Roast articles. The first post of the month asked ‘How poor do poor people feel?‘ The answer was that some of them don’t feel as poor as other (richer) people expect them to feel. This was followed by a Monday Graphics piece entitled ‘Is there more to life than money?‘ (In summary, ‘yes’). Then came ‘Masking Poverty: Why Poor People Like to Appear Rich‘, exploring how poor people in China feel better if they appear richer than they are, which necessitates having sufficient money to purchase the appropriate clothes. So in this case, money does indeed make these people feel happier. The next post was entitled ‘The Conundrum of Identifying the Poor‘, a discussion about the difficulty of identifying those who are most in need of aid. The most satisfying method for the community turned out to be for themselves to decide who are the poorest amongst them, since it most accurately identifies those that feel the poorest, even if they are not necessarily the ones with the least money or possessions.

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Why Science Matters for Development

 

My attention was recently caught by the website of a conference entitled ‘Science Against Poverty‘. It was held in Segovia, Spain, in 2010 with the aim “to convey a clear message to society on the contribution of science and innovation to the fight against poverty and exclusion.”

If you’re not a scientist, you may well wonder how science, and in particular fields such as physics, can contribute to poverty exclusion. (There are, in fact, entire conferences dedicated to this topic – see for instance the 2012 conference ‘Physics for Development‘). The fight against poverty is one in which emotions run high, everyone has their own opinion as to the best course of action, and it is impossible to detach oneself from the ‘human’ factor. As such, it may appear that this is no place for abstract science, and that diplomacy and empathy would be preferred over scientific objectivity.

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Fighting Poverty Effectively – Experiments Are Not Just For Scientists

Here’s a question for you: how do we know that all the aid given to Africa has had any effect? The tricky thing about trying to answer this question, and analyzing problems such as global poverty, is that the world cannot be treated as a laboratory experiment. We cannot create two identical Africas and give aid to one and not the other, keeping all the other variables such as political conditions, climate, and population, constant.

What happens in fields such as medicine, when we want to know whether a drug works or not? Suppose we’ve developed a new pill which, we think, prevents headaches. We find two chronic headache-sufferers who are identical in terms of gender, age, and general health, and X takes the pill every day but not Y. After a month it turns out that X no longer suffers headaches but Y does. What can we conclude? Well, nothing at all. Because we have no way of knowing what would have happened if X hadn’t taken the medicine – maybe his headaches would have disappeared anyway because he finally started wearing his glasses.

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Inspiring Bolivians to Move On Up

 

December is ‘Inspiration Month’ here at INESAD, so it seems an appropriate time to draw attention to some inspirational figures from Bolivia. Up until recently, the country suffered from a lack of upward social mobility and high inequality, making it virtually impossible for anybody to become successful unless they happened to be born to the right parents. But finally, that seems to be changing.   Read More »

GM Crops – Friend or Foe?

Last July billionaire Bill Gates was criticized for donating around US$10 million to the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom to fund their research which helps the developing world. Why? Because they work on developing genetically-modified (GM) crops. GM crops receive a lot of publicity. They are cast positively as a potential savior of famine-struck countries, with the potential to be more nutritious, higher-yielding, and resistant to pests and extreme weather conditions. Were this true, then surely there would be very little opposition. So why is there so much controversy? Well, because it has become apparent that achieving these goals comes with a lot of difficulty, and because of the threat of potentially disastrous side-effects. Read More »

Ecocide: The 5th Crime Against Peace?

Today there are 8 billion human beings, speaking around 7000 different languages, sharing the Earth with 8 millions different species of plants and animals. This is the amazing diversity of life on our planet, which is sadly under threat from deeds of large-scale environmental damage. Some are calling these ‘acts of ecocide’ and fighting for them to be punishable by international criminal law.

The word ‘ecocide’ is derived from the Greek oikos (dwelling place, habitation) and the Latin -cida (one who kills). A legal definition, proposed by international barrister Polly Higgins in her campaign Eradicating Ecocide is “the extensive damage to, destruction of or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been or will be severely diminished.Read More »

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