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Food Security and Family Planning Are Linked – Food Tank




The world’s population is set to cross the 8 billion mark in November and reach 9 billion by 2050. And as the population grows, so does food insecurity. About 2.3 billion people suffered from moderate or severe food insecurity last year, 350 million more than in 2019.

Food insecurity and hunger are partly a problem of supply. The COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and conflict have combined to disrupt supply chains and drive up food and fertilizer prices. The Ukrainian conflict in particular impact on food security by interrupting the supply of grain and cooking oil, and is largely responsible for the rise in food prices 30 percent since 2021. Falling fertilizer production and exports from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus are undermining food production in the world, low- and middle-income countries hardest hit, especially in Africa, where a third of all those who experienced food insecurity in the last year are living.

To solve these problems, we mainly focus on stimulating food production through procedural and technological advances. However, the food supply is only one dimension of the problem. The other main ones are unequal access to the food produced and population growth, which constantly increases the demand for food.

Food insecurity and inequality are closely linked. Not only does food insecurity affect certain regions disproportionate, it manifests itself differently depending on the country. In upper-middle-income and high-income economies, malnutrition is likely to cause obesity. In low- and lower-middle-income economies, this is likely to lead to stunting or wasting.

Global frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals address the root causes of inequality, for example by working to eradicate extreme poverty. But the other variable, population size, is not sufficiently taken into account and requires greater representation in the food security agenda.

reproductive autonomy, the power to decide and control the use of contraceptives, pregnancy and procreation, could have a strong influence on food security. Countries with higher fertility rates have higher food insecurity, and conversely, those with lower fertility rates have lower food insecurity. Half of all pregnancies in the world—120 millionare involuntary. If each person had full reproductive autonomy, this number would decrease. High fertility rates would decline, as would food insecurity.

Today some 257 million women around the world who wish to avoid pregnancy do not have access to safe and modern methods of contraception. Among the obstacles in the way are supply problems, fear of side effects and opposition from family members. There are also structural barriers, such as the low priority given to sexual and reproductive health in government policies and services. During the COVID-19 pandemic, sexual and reproductive health services have been classified as non-essential in many countries, contributing to more unwanted pregnancies.

Nigeria, for example, with a population of over 200 million, is the seventh largest country in the world. It is growing so fast, with a fertility rate of 5.3 children per woman, that it is destined to become the third largest country by 2050. Only 12 percent of married women in the country use a modern method of contraception. Nearly 60% of the population faces moderate to severe risks food insecurity.

Without new efforts to bend the growth curve, population-related food insecurity will worsen. Between 2017 and 2050, the populations of 26 African countries are expected to at least double their current size.

In addition to supply-side solutions, efforts to improve food security must focus on the demand side by working on population dynamics. This includes incorporating population projections into plans to boost agricultural production, especially around rapidly expanding urban areas. This should also include strengthening family planning and contraceptive use.

Countries with the lowest use of modern contraceptives tend to have high fertility rates and higher food insecurity. Compared to other continents, Africa has the lowest prevalence of contraceptive use, the highest fertility ratesand highest food insecurity.

Rapid population growth is strongly correlated with poverty, hunger and malnutrition. The interconnections between population dynamics, fertility levels, contraceptive use and food security can no longer be ignored. In fact, they should be harnessed to reduce food insecurity, improve reproductive autonomy, and help build a more just and equitable future.

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Photo courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash