Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- A Consumers International report has stressed that food security exists when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
Assured access to nutritionally adequate and safe food is essential for individual welfare and for national, social and economic development, in accordance with the World Declaration on Nutrition, International Conference on Nutrition (ICN), Rome 1992, the report noted.
Even where and when overall food supplies are adequate, poverty impedes access by all to the quantity and variety of foods needed to meet the population's needs, said the report sent to PANA Wednesday.
It noted that the world produces more than sufficient grain and other foodstuffs for all people to enjoy a healthy diet, yet there are about 852 million food insecure people in the world, the majority of them living in rural areas.
Increased availability of food at the global level does not necessarily translate to increased food security at the national or household level, the report pointed out.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains the only region in the world where the number of hungry and undernourished people, particularly children, is increasing.
The region is experiencing declining or stagnating agricultural incomes and in many places progressive degradation of soils and vegetation.
Decision makers in most African countries often lack the information, opportunity for informed dialogue, and institutional capacity to develop appropriate policies to achieve their goals.
Food production increases are therefore important particularly in low- income, food-deficit countries, to meet the needs of the undernourished and food insecure, to meet requirements for population growth, demand for new food products due to rising standards of living and changes in consumption patterns.
Agriculture has dramatically changed within the last decades with food production rising due to new technologies, mechanization, increased chemical use, specialization and government policies that favoured maximizing production.
However, such changes allow fewer farmers with reduced labour demands to produce the majority of the food in the world.
According to the report, even though the changes have had many positive effects and reduced many risks in farming, they come with many costs especially for small farmers.
Noting that biotechnology was a broad term used to describe the use of biology in industrial processes such as agriculture, brewing and baking, CI observed that the industrial application uses living organisms and/or biological techniques developed through basic research and that biotechnology products also include pharmaceutical compounds and research materials.
"Most recently the term has come to refer more to the production of genetically modified organisms or the manufacture of products from genetically modified organisms," the group said.
Genetic engineering has rapidly entered into agriculture with millions of acres now under production in a few countries.
Worldwide, about 672 million acres of land was under cultivation, in 2003.
Since 1996, the United States planted more GM crops than any other country, with 105.
7 million acres supporting GM crops.
Argentina was the next largest producer, with 34.
4, followed by Canada with 10.
9 million acres, Brazil with 8.
4 million acres, China with 6.
9 million acres, and South Africa with 1.
0 million acres.
Together, these six countries grew 99 percent of the global GM crop area, the CI report said.
CI said proponents claim that by transferring genes from one organism to another, this overcomes the productivity constraints of conventional plant breeding.
Another claim is that the new transgenic crops will reduce pesticide use and increase food security in developing countries.
"It is also widely claimed that the 'new' global economy will be built on genetic engineering, and any country that stands on the sidelines will lose its future competitiveness.
These claims have influenced policy- making circles in Africa.
"However with such crops, Africa's small farmers will be the ones to suffer," the consumers' body observed.
According to the NGO network 'Agriculture Paysanne et Modernisation Africa': "Farmers are the first category of people affected by GM crops.
Since they are the ones who sow and harvest, they are the ones who find themselves on the first link of the food chain.
" The debate surrounding genetically modified organisms remains an important one for consumers and consumer organisations the world over.
Consumers International (CI) is calling for food security in Africa, not GM food since no evidence currently exist that it will solve world hunger and claims made by proponents are detracting attention from real causes of hunger in Africa.
Other agricultural technologies and reforms that are not GM-based also offer greater opportunities to improve agricultural productivity and food security in developing countries, CI said.
Such techniques and approaches usually aim to address broader development objectives alongside increased productivity, such as NERICA (the New Rice for Africa).
The approaches promote farmer participation in technology development, a reduced need for external inputs such as agro-chemicals, and farmer control over resources and inputs used.
Economic constraints should be addressed if technological change is to bring benefits and help ensure the viability of small-scale production.
These constraints include unequal distribution of assets and inputs (land, water, credit, technical assistance), government trade and price policies, and distribution, among others.
If farmers had the incentives and conditions to allow them to concentrate their energies on farming, Africa could easily take care of its food security for generations to come.
According to researchers Ezumah and Ezumah, the natural resources available in sub-Saharan Africa are "grossly under-utilised", as the continent only produces 0.
8 percent of its potential agricultural yields.
The researchers argue that the "main obstacles to increased crop production are socio-economic.
" There is reason for concern in Africa, because GM crops are either already in the field or on their way into the fields in a number of countries, CI observed.
It added that this new technology has not been in the field for long and has not been subjected to extensive and conclusive independent studies on impacts to human health and the environment.