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Sustainable food systems examined at RU World Food Day event

Radford University faculty and students explored sustainable systems for food security and nutrition during the university’s annual observance of World Food Day on Oct. 16, at the Bonnie Hurlburt Student Center.

World Food Day was established by the Food and Agriculture Organization in 1979 and was first observed in 1981. RU began observing the day in 1991 under the guidance of College of Business and Economics Professor Prahlad Kasturi, chair of the Department of Economics.

The focus for this year’s event was to examine how a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly food system might look, how agriculture can work to end all forms of malnutrition and the changes needed to move toward those efforts, Kasturi explained.

Students Subeyr Sagal and Thomas Turner led panel discussions with Economics Professor Kiertisak Toh moderating. Sagal discussed poverty and hunger in the United States, and Turner examined the role of incentives in addressing the challenges of world hunger.

Toh led off the discussion by noting that food insecurity typically exists when people lack access to sufficient food for an active and healthy life.

"Food security is a complex condition and has several dimensions," Toh said. "Most development experts and many economists identify four key dimensions: availability, access, utilization and stability. They also develop a set of indicators to help us understand better."

Providing a perspective for hunger issues in the United States, Sagal noted that, while the U.S. is "the wealthiest nation on Earth," it still struggles with a 14.5 percent poverty rate and more than 49 million Americans struggle to find enough food for their families.

"With so many competing demands and the effects of globalization, many Americans have fallen prey to lower wages and less opportunities to enter the middle class which has been weakened from the financial crisis," said Sagal, a senior international economics major from Stafford. "With a population of about 311 million people, it is hard to imagine such a large part of our nation struggling in poverty. Almost 20 percent of our population do not even get the adequate nutrition needed and go to bed hungry, or even worse, without a meal at all."

Taking a global glance and using data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Turner said "nearly 870 million human beings around the world are chronically undernourished and all too many of them are innocent children who, if they don't starve to death, become far more vulnerable to life-threatening diseases."

Turner, a junior management major from Charlottesville, said his research found enough food is available to feed the world’s population, but "too many hungry people lack the resources to obtain it." Turner also examined reasons some counties are more efficient at feeding their poor.

Many variables such as education levels and usable land exist, he noted. However, Turner said he found "an impressive correlation between economic freedom and economic progress."

Concluding his statements, Turner said the long-term approach to solving global hunger issues "will require a heavy emphasis on education, first on ways to produce more food locally or to earn more wealth so food can be purchased. Along with this, we need to help teach people that good nutrition and healthy living are in their self-interest."

Oct 31, 2013