Addressing the Causes Behind Global Food Scarcity

Empty plate
Image credit: Richard Bell / Unsplash

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic altered life as we know it, food insecurity was a widespread problem across the world. The United Nations estimates that some 2 billion global citizens lack regular access to safe and nutritious food. Further, approximately 821 million of those people are considered undernourished, with Africa and Western Asia seeing the highest rates.

While the issue of food scarcity is more common in developing countries, no nation is immune to its effects. In the U.S., the national food insecurity rate hovered around 12% before the pandemic, according to the U.S. News & World Report. The issue of food scarcity spans rural and urban counties alike, and researchers widely consider food insecurity to be a national health care crisis.

But even as food scarcity rates continue to climb, social justice volunteers, public health advocates, and municipal governments alike search for solutions. Some of these solutions include a whole gamut of tools and methods from planting urban gardens to improving logistics and distribution of food to areas that need it most. Although these solutions prove promising, involvement from everyone is needed. No matter where you live, you can become part of the solution during these hard times.

Where Food Scarcity and Poverty Intersect

Historically, food insecurity has been linked to various social issues, notably poverty and unemployment, and the COVID pandemic has only served to exacerbate the problem. Indeed, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that the economic fallout from COVID-19 has had a lasting negative impact on food, housing, and employment. In regards to hunger, about 27 million U.S. adults reported not having enough to eat at some point during the previous week, during the period between Nov. 25 and Dec. 07. 

For the bulk of those households, finances were the core reason behind food scarcity, with 86% of respondents unable to afford enough food. High unemployment rates stemming from COVID-related shutdowns are partly to blame. But many households experiencing food insecurity are under additional financial strain and may be struggling with debt and poor credit.

Although it’s not necessarily an easy task, reducing poverty on a large scale is likely to, in turn, help reduce the prevalence of food scarcity. Those who are living in poverty and struggling with debt may be able to seek out debt consolidation or credit repair services to eliminate some of the financial burdens. When families don’t have to worry about how they can pay for the food on their table, they’re more likely to focus on their well-being and how to cultivate it through nutritious food.

Organic, Fair Trade, and Beyond: What’s in a Name?

Yet making the switch to a healthful diet may not be as clear-cut as meets the eye. For starters, the various labels on food products can be confusing to the everyday consumer. Food may be labeled “natural,” “organic,” “free-range,” “fair trade,” or can lack any sort of label altogether.

How is the everyday consumer, especially someone living on a tight budget, supposed to navigate the nuances of food product labeling?

Interestingly, experts agree that organic and conventional foods have negligible nutritional differences, even though organic foods can be almost twice as costly. Where organic and fair trade products stand out, however, is in the realm of environmental stewardship.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has relatively high standards in regards to its “organic” label, and its requirements primarily relate to the natural world. Where produce and plants are concerned, organic labeling standards encompass considerations such as soil quality; pest and weed control; and the use of additives, hormones, or antibiotics. Further, to be considered organic, crops can only be grown in soil that has been herbicide- and pesticide-free for at least three years. 

How Individuals and Communities Can Curb Food Insecurity

Interestingly, organic farming has been touted as a potential solution to food scarcity. Organic agriculture has been found to stabilize and increase crop yields, allowing farmers to better maintain food security, especially in marginalized areas.

This type of farming, wherein food is produced mindfully and sustainability is applicable on both a large and small scale. As exemplified by Cuba’s alternative agriculture movement, sustainable food production has been shown to reduce food scarcity and increase available land for small-scale family farmers. To that end, by incorporating organic gardens into urban planning, city leaders can help foster healthier communities, as well as a healthier planet. 

Key Takeaways

The COVID-19 pandemic has served to increase the prevalence of food insecurity, on a global scale. As such, there’s no better time to take a hard look at how we got here and work together to eliminate food scarcity on a global scale. We can start by advocating for increased sustainability in food production, and working to reduce poverty, for a healthier future where every citizen has enough to eat.