Changing people’s consumption habits is a long and difficult process.
Photo: © epsos.de

Perspectives on global food security – also from the consumption side

The bleak scenarios for world food output predicted by the economist Robert Malthus, or by the Club of Rome, have fortunately not come about. Yet in today’s world 842 million people face hunger, while a similar number are overweight. An expert discussion hosted by the KfW in mid-September examined both sides of the coin – production and consumption.

World food security remains a question of distribution. But there is a danger, in Europe at least, that the problem will gradually disappear from public discourse. This point was made by Dr. Friedrich Kitschelt, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), speaking at a mid-September panel discussion in Berlin. He noted with dismay that the human right to food was being continuously violated but the moral scandal of hunger now hardly concerned the European public.

Hosted by Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) and supported by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the event focused on the question of how world food supplies might work within the limits of the world’s planetary boundaries. The debate moved quickly to the issue of the sustainability of agricultural production. Dr. Kitschelt spoke of the urgent need for change. The ongoing degradation of soils, wastage of scarce water resources and decline in biodiversity were no longer acceptable. He said that, for its part, the BMZ was trying to tackle these problems with a new initiative called “One World – no Hunger”.

Eberhard Brandes, chief executive of WWF Deutschland, also called for a rethink on agricultural production. He argued that the innovations being promoted on all sides should not focus only on technological aspects. Folkhard Isermeyer, president of the Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute concurred: rather than developing solutions in the labs of the Western world, he wanted to see on-farm research in collaboration with food producers on the ground.

Timothy Lang from the Centre for Food Policy at City University London criticised the fact that, all too often, solutions were only being sought on the supply side. Experts and policymakers should also tackle the issue from the demand side by changing our consumption patterns. This did not mean, he said, simply posing the monolithic question of “meat or no meat” but adopting a holistic perspective on public health. Governments would have to address the issue, especially as the expansion of food production would meet its planetary boundaries within 20 to 30 years. He acknowledged that changing people’s consumption was a long and difficult process, and one which should not be led by moralistic appeals for restraint. 

With its initiative against hunger, the BMZ is committed to a path of stakeholder dialogue and public consultation. If people in industrial societies can see the direct impacts of their consumption choices, interest in the issue will grow and solutions will be easier to implement. Professor Lang drew a simple lesson that every consumer can take to heart: “What’s healthy for people is healthy for the planet.”


Roland Krieg,
Journalist, Berlin/Germany