World Food Day
What the food industry can do
It is a world that annually produces a global food surplus. We attempt to explain away the fact that millions are starving, or are in a state of near starvation despite this surplus, on politics, economic failure, distribution networks, poverty and bad government. But such an intellectualisation of human misery -- despite its truths -- is just a sop to our consciences. For those of us lucky to be living in one of the rich Western societies, it is so much easier to pass by the beggar at the door than deal with his immediate problems. Let 'society' or aid organisations deal with him or her, we say. Perhaps those who feel ineffectual in the face of such a grand problem can take the example of a very wise man, who near the end of the 19th century, looked at the people starving in the snow around him and saw the way the well-fed rationalised away poverty. The result, he concluded, was inaction. As outlined in his essay What Shall We Do Then?, Leo Tolstoy rightly concluded that the only thing one could do was to focus on the plight of the individual. One must look directly at them and ask, "What can I do?", then proceed to do it. As professionals working in the food industry, we must ask ourselves the same question, looking at particular situations, rather than getting paralysed by the immensity of the 'global situation'. The food industry and those who work for it represent a vast resource that has been underused, underexploited by those whose business it is to get help to the millions of those starving. There are signs that the food industry is starting to recognise that it has a role to play in alleviating world hunger, even if they are partially or wholly acting out of self interest. The move toward fair trade products is one example. We are not talking about direct food donations here, but of an invaluable expertise built up over a long period of sourcing, processing, conserving and distributing foods. We are talking about devoting this resource to potentially alleviating the misery faced millions of people, or a few thousand, or even a few hundred. We are talking about the millions of euros worth of research and development that could be harnessed to good use in the 40 countries that the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) today classifies as facing emergency food shortages. That classification represents about 800 million people worldwide who live with constant hunger, and 25,000 people who die each day, mostly from severe malnutrition. Last month it was heartening to see world hunger present in many of the topics during a bi-annual conference of the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST). Pierre Feillet, chairman of the meeting in Nantes, called on researchers to focus on the challenge of working out ways, no matter how minor, to meet the challenge of feeding everyone on earth. Food safety techniques, nanotechnology, and other research represent an opportunity for knowledge transfer for use in getting help to the hungry. But it is not just the food technologists who need to get into the action. Other professionals have just as much to give. To harness that expertise food companies could perhaps allow their employees to devote one or two hours a week to helping organisations involved in hunger alleviation. For example, a supply chain professional could act as an advisor to an organisation trying to figure out the best way to transport food aid over a long distance. All for little or no cost to a company, that can only benefit from positive publicity. Such a system has worked in other companies with a social conscience. And even if such efforts represent a drop in the bucket, it is still help that was not there before. So what can you do? Start the drops flowing, as drops have a tendency to fill buckets if the tap is left open long enough. Ahmed ElAmin is a business writer of 20 years' standing, having specialised in development issues, technology, international business and offshore finance, before joining Decision News Media as the Editor of FoodProductionDaily.com. If you would like to comment on this article please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.