By Vincent Lyn

Stephen Jay Gould once remarked; “Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.” (Stephen Jay Gould was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was one of the most influential and widely read authors of popular science of his generation).

Every year over 10 million people die of hunger and hunger related diseases. Nearly six million of these are children under the age of five; that is one child’s death approximately every six seconds. Understanding how this still occurs amid the ever increasing social enlightenment of the 21st century — and under the auspices of a vigilant global developmental community — is one of the key challenges of our time. The science of food security aims to address such concerns. By understanding the multiplicity of the phenomenon, practitioners of global multilateral hegemony seek to shape appropriate policy to address these issues. The difficulty however is that the phenomenon is increasingly wrapped up inside an ever growing bundle of societal aspirations including under-nutrition, poverty, sustainability, free trade, national self sufficiency, reducing female subjugation and so on.

The 1996 World Summit on Food Security declared that “food should not be used as an instrument for political and economic pressure”. Since multiple different international agreements and mechanisms have been developed to address food security. The main global policy to reduce hunger and poverty is in the Sustainable Development Goals. In particular Goal 2: Zero Hunger sets globally agreed on targets to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 2021, in children aged 5 and below, 155 million are stunted, 52 million are wasted, 17 million are severely wasted and 41 million are overweight and/or obese. In Africa, around 58.5 million children are suffering from stunting and it is the only continent where the number of stunted children has increased over the last two decades: 58.5 million in 2018, up from 50.3 million at the turn of the century creating an adverse impact on the continent’s economic potential. Additionally, 39 percent of the world’s stunted children and 28 percent of the world’s wasted children are in Africa, and contrary to global trends where the number of stunted children has been declining over the last 25 years, in Eastern and Southern Africa the number of stunted children has risen from 23.6 million to 26.8 million in the same period due to slow rates of stunting reduction and a quickly expanding child population. These children are prone to inhibited intellectual and physical growth, and sometimes even premature death while economically, stunting costs Africa $25 billion annually and the cost of malnutrition is too huge for Africa to ignore.

Damage caused by stunting is irreversible and has many adverse consequences for child survival and long-term well-being. It also has far-reaching consequences for human capital, economic productivity, and national development overall. These costs stem from the need to deal with an increased disease burden and other physical and mental problems related to malnutrition and the enormous reductions in human potential and economic productivity throughout life caused by hunger and malnutrition. Additionally, malnourished children suffer from irreparable stunted physical growth, and it has been proven that hungry children make poor students and are prone to drop out of the educational system. Hungry and malnourished adults on the other hand are unable to be fully productive workers and are more likely to be ill, increasing the strain on often overburdened health systems.

Stunted women on the other hand give birth to low-birth-weight babies, transferring the broad economic disadvantages of malnutrition in their own lives to the next generation, and Children who suffer from stunting or wasting are more likely to suffer poor health and be at risk from disease and diet-related conditions. But stunting doesn’t only affect a child’s health, it also inhibits their future development. Children suffering from stunting may never grow to their full height or develop their full cognitive potential, and they are at elevated risk of poverty because of stunting. Stunted children earn 20 percent less as adults than their non-stunted counterparts, while mothers affected by undernutrition are more likely to have children who suffer from stunting or wasting, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and undernutrition.

Food availability: The availability of sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality, supplied through domestic production or imports (including food aid). Food access: Access by individuals to adequate resources (entitlements) for acquiring appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. Food must satisfy dietary needs, taking into account the individual’s age, living conditions, health, occupation, sex, etc. For example, if children’s food does not contain the nutrients necessary for their physical and mental development, it is not adequate.

The four key elements of the right to food are:

  • Availability: Food should be obtainable from natural resources, either through the production of food by cultivating land or animal husbandry, or through other ways like fishing, hunting or gathering. Food should be on sale in markets and shops.
  • Accessibility: Food must be affordable. Individuals should be able to have an adequate diet without compromising on other basic needs, such as school fees, medicines or rent. Food should be accessible to the physically vulnerable, including children, sick people, people with disabilities and the elderly. Food must also be available to people in remote areas, to victims of armed conflicts or natural disasters, and to prisoners.
  • Adequacy: Food must satisfy dietary needs, taking into account a person’s age, living conditions, health, occupation, sex, etc. Food should be safe for human consumption and free from adverse substances.
  • Sustainability: Food should be accessible for both present and future generations.

The human right to adequate food is crucial to the enjoyment of all rights, including:

  • The right to health: When a pregnant woman is denied access to nutritious food, for example, she and her baby can be malnourished, even if she receives prenatal care.
  • The right to life: When people are not able to feed themselves and face malnutrition and resulting illnesses or death by starvation their right to life is at stake.
  • The right to water: Without safe water for drinking, food preparation, and household hygiene, the right to food is out of reach.
  • The right to adequate housing: When a house lacks basic amenities, such as for cooking or storing food, the right to adequate food of its residents may be undermined. Also, when the cost of housing is too high, people may have less money to spend on food.
  • The right to education: Hunger and malnutrition impair children’s learning abilities, and may force them to drop out of school, thus undermining their enjoyment of the right to education. People need to know how to maintain a healthy diet and have the skills and capacity to produce or obtain food.

Moving towards a sustainable global food system will become more difficult as global population increases. A common perception is that global food supply is currently sufficient to feed the world’s population, with timely distribution required to avoid hunger, but that food production must increase dramatically in the next decades as global population increases to 10 billion by 2050. However, the challenge of sustainably producing sufficient food for the growing global population will not necessarily be solved by increases in production because there is a limit to the potential for efficiency gains, and many of these come with greater environmental costs, while increasing agricultural area by land use change almost invariably leads to losses of biodiversity. Changes in consumption patterns may also have detrimental environmental costs, e.g. if meat consumption increases globally. Finally, it is clear that social inequalities, which give rise to excesses and insufficiencies in supply, distribution and availability, exacerbate the sustainability challenge, not least by enhancing food wastage and placing a proportion of the population outside the easy reach of micro-nutrient fortification and supplement programs. Achieving global food system sustainability is therefore a hugely complex but necessary goal.

Food and nutrition security is central to individual dignity and foundational to the enjoyment of human rights. People’s ability to access food is heavily defined by structural and social conditions. As climate change exacerbates food and nutrition insecurity, negatively impacting the health of the most vulnerable, climate change adaptation strategies must address the rights to food and health, protecting the well-being of disproportionally affected populations by adopting a human rights-based approach to food and nutrition security. This approach opens a series of international legal mechanisms through which food and nutrition insecurity can be addressed. Both the nature of the issue and the human rights-based approach call for complex interventions that involve a wide range of actors, including governments, affected populations, civil society, human rights ombudspersons, academics, international organizations, and the private sector that can together work toward the effective domestication of international standards for promoting food and nutrition security and thus ensuring better health outcomes for those affected.

Vincent Lyn

CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children

Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization

Economic & Social Council at United Nations

Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency

Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts




CEO-We Can Save Children. Director Creative Development-African Views Organization, ECOSOC at United Nations. International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)

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Vincent Lyn

Vincent Lyn

CEO-We Can Save Children. Director Creative Development-African Views Organization, ECOSOC at United Nations. International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)

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