By 2100 the world's population will exceed ten billion and more than 80% of that population will be resident in Africa and Asia, according to the United Nations. Right now, world population growth coupled with the economic crisis and its resultant higher food prices and falling consumption mean that the world, and Africa in particular, is facing a food security crisis.
The pressing issue of food security, or the availability of food and a population's access to it, will be dealt with extensively at the USA Food Security Seminar in Sandton, Johannesburg on Tuesday, 22 May, hosted by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In this one-day seminar, American and South African industry leaders will provide insights on food security, nutrition, world food trends and practical solutions for cost-effective feeding of the people of Southern Africa, including the region's most at-risk demographic, children aged five and under. "We invite stakeholders and buyers from the Southern African food industry to join us, to listen and exchange views on the issues that will be put on the table, as well as be introduced to a range of quality, cost-effective food products from the USA," says Jim Hershey, seminar facilitator and executive director of the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) at the American Soybean Association (ASA).
Emphasis will be on protein-rich products
Topics on the agenda include global food demand and rising food prices, the role of trade in transforming agriculture into food security and building a platform for long-term food security and trade in Africa, for good health and economic development.
"Among the food products that will be introduced and discussed, are dry beans, peanuts, dehydrated potatoes, value-added soy proteins and seafood. This emphasis on protein-rich products is deliberate in view of the role played by protein-deficiency in stunting and the prevalence of this condition in Southern Africa," Hershey adds.
Stunting, which is reflective of chronic nutritional deficiency and results in low height for age, affects an estimated 195 million children in the developing world. More than 90% of the world's stunted children live in Africa and Asia, and according to a January 2011 UNICEF news release, of the 24 countries that account for 80% of the world's stunting burden, seven are in the Eastern and Southern African region.
Soy is a step in right direction
More sobering yet are the findings of South Africa's 2005 National Food Consumption Survey, which highlighted stunting as the most common form of nutritional disorder affecting South African children. The study found that 18% of children aged between one and nine were affected by stunting, while 5% showed signs of severe stunting.
"On a more positive note, the good news is that there are increasing numbers of companies in Southern Africa that are looking for ways to use soy protein in the foods they offer to the market, like soy-fortified maize flour, soy beverages and textured soy products like soy mince. This is absolutely a step in the right direction, towards a future where the phrase 'nutritional deficiency' has no place in the Southern African vocabulary," says Hershey.