Today is World Food Day which celebrates the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and its mission to tackle the global issue of food security and hunger. To commemorate this global event, we are joined by Dr Irene Hoffmann, the Secretary of FAO’s Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
Dr Hoffmann has previously held positions as Chief of both the Animal Production Service and Animal Genetic Resources Branch within FAO’s Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department. Before joining FAO, Dr Hoffmann was assistant professor at the Institute of Livestock Ecology, Giessen University where she coordinated several international research projects.
This year’s theme for World Food Day revolves around investing in food security and rural development. Could microorganisms play a role in this?
“The 2017 World Food Day theme is “Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development”. Three-quarters of the extreme poor base their livelihoods on agriculture or other rural activities. Creating conditions that allow rural people, especially youth, to stay at home when they feel it is safe to do so, and to have more resilient livelihoods, is a crucial component of any plan to tackle the migration challenge. Rural development can address factors that compel people to move by creating business opportunities and jobs along agricultural value chains (e.g. small dairy or poultry production, food processing or horticulture enterprises).
Microorganisms play a crucial role in an array of ecosystem services in food production systems. They recycle nutrients in soils and fix nitrogen; they ferment many foods like dairy products, bread, wine and beer, and thus improve food preservation and reduce food losses; they help animals digest otherwise indigestible forage and, with proper management, some species can even provide natural protection against plant pests in farmers’ fields. They also include pathogens that attack plants and animals and spoil foods.
The management of microorganisms can contribute to food security and rural development in many ways, for example by increasing soil fertility by planting legumes, which form a symbiosis with the soil microorganism rhizobia that brings nitrogen into the soil, a practice that was used in a project to reverse the degradation of pastures and thus provide feed for cattle and secure the livelihoods of pastoralists in Angola.
FAO recognizes the crucial importance of microorganisms in sustainable food production and food safety and the need for further work to strengthen their positive impacts.
Management of microorganisms can help to optimize food processing technologies for extended conservation, and to increase farmer’s income by adding value to agricultural products, for example through processing raw milk into cheese and other dairy products. Effective management of microbiological hazards by small food businesses in order to ensure the safety of foods that they produce is another critically important link between microorganisms and improved livelihoods.
The WHO report on the burden of food-borne disease clearly shows that this burden is similar to the burden of malaria, tuberculosis and even HIV AIDS. The report also shows that the burden of food-borne disease is disproportionately borne by the least developed countries and by children. Improved food safety also leads to reduced losses, better access to markets and hence better incomes. Managing microorganisms also includes controlling microbial pests and diseases through adequate farming practices and long-term control policies, as FAO has demonstrated in Georgia, where it supported the development of a long-term control policy for brucellosis, a cattle disease.”
Is microbiology a part of FAO’s work in eradicating food insecurity? If so, what key lessons are you learning?
“One of the overarching goals of FAO is to help eliminate hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. Every aspect of FAO’s work aims to contribute, directly or indirectly, to achieving this objective. Through its work on biological control, pests and diseases, soil health and management, biotechnologies in agro-industries, bioremediation, and many other areas, FAO recognizes the crucial importance of microorganisms in sustainable food production and food safety and the need for further work to strengthen their positive impacts.
For example, FAO’s work in association with the Global Soil Partnership to promote sustainable soil management practices, aims at conserving and enhancing the diversity of soil organisms such as beneficial microorganisms, while controlling pests and pathogens (including microorganisms) to improve plant and animal health and productivity, and ultimately human health and nutrition. Food safety is an integral part of rural development and human well-being. This does not only encompass laboratories and food inspection but also the regulation and institutions required for food safety and risk management systems.”
How can everyone get involved with World Food Day?
“People all around the world can get involved in World Food Day by organizing events and activities that call for action from the international community in addressing the root causes of migration. FAO is calling people’s attention to that fact that by addressing some of the root causes of migration, we can give people a choice. FAO is tackling issues, like hunger, poverty and climate change, that compel people to leave their homes. By strengthening livelihoods, creating youth employment and helping farmers adapt to climate change, we are at the same time working towards a Zero Hunger world.
World Food Day is a chance to show our commitment to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 – to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030. Everyone can be a part of the global effort to end hunger, either by changing simple day to day decisions or their actions, for examples, by wasting less food, preserving the world’s natural resources or by being an advocate. Every year, a large number of events – from marathons and hunger marches, to exhibitions, cultural performances, contests and concerts – are organised in around 150 countries across the world to celebrate World Food Day. Through these events this year, FAO aims to underline how agriculture and rural development must be an integral part of the global response to migration. Over three-quarters of the extreme poor base their livelihoods on agriculture or other rural activities.
So creating conditions that allow rural people, especially youth, to stay at home when they feel it is safe to do so, and to have more resilient livelihoods, is a crucial component of any plan to tackle the migration challenge. Rural development can create business opportunities and jobs for young people. It can also lead to increased food security, more resilient livelihoods, better access to social protection, and solutions to climate change.”
To learn more about the role of microbe-assisted food production, explore a range of articles on this topic in FEMS Microbiology Ecology, as well as our featured articles on the interactive map on the OUP blog.