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Multi-Pronged Approach Needed to Fight Global Hunger

Multi-Pronged Approach Needed to Fight Global Hunger

Worldwatch Institute

The volatility of food prices, in particular price upswings, represents a major threat to food security in developing countries and typically affects poor populations the hardest. According to the World Bank, during 2010–11 rising food costs pushed nearly 70 million people worldwide into extreme poverty.

“Food prices have continued to rise since 2007, and this has led to millions of people being unable to meet their daily food needs. The price hikes unfortunately also have meant that there is less money for food aid at a time when it is most vital,” said Danielle Nierenberg, director of Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project, an evaluation of environmentally sustainable agricultural innovations to alleviate hunger.

World Food Day is a global event designed to increase awareness and understanding and to create year-round action to alleviate hunger. Since 1981, the event has been observed on Oct. 16 in recognition of the founding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a specialized agency that was established in Quebec City, Canada, in 1945. This year’s World Food Day theme is “Food prices—crisis to stability,” with the purpose of shedding some light on this trend and what can be done to mitigate its impact on the most vulnerable.

Since the inception of World Food Day, organizations have taken advantage of the occasion to inform the public about what they can do to help end world hunger. Although the number of undernourished people worldwide has decreased since 2009, to nearly 1 billion, it is still unacceptably high. According to a recent FAO report, in Africa alone, nearly one-third of the population is undernourished and one child dies every six seconds because of the problem.

“There’s something wrong with a world in which a billion people can’t get enough to eat for normal health while a different billion people threaten their health by overeating,” said Robert Engelman, Worldwatch’s president. “World Food Day is a day for thinking hard about how to see the problem of access to nutritious food whole, as a shared global responsibility for us all.”

On Oct. 16 of this year, countries, organizations and communities are organizing events to educate and raise awareness, with the aim of addressing widespread problems in food supply and distribution systems. These events are raising money to support projects that focus on initiatives such as measures to ease population growth, boost incomes and prepare farmers to protect their harvests against the negative effects of climate change, among others.

Throughout the world, organizations and governments are developing and implementing various plans to stabilize food prices and ensure that there is food on every table. Here are just a few examples:

  • India. The government is in the process of enacting a food security act that would provide food for nearly 70 percent of the population, specifically targeting the poor, who are often not counted in state surveys and who are denied many benefits.
  • Armenia. The government is enacting a sustainable development program that invests in infrastructure improvements, makes financial services and credit available to farmers, encourages the environmentally sustainable use of natural resources, and ensures food safety by improving food standards.
  • Telefood. Launched in 1997 by the FAO, Telefood funds micro projects that help small-scale farmers at the grassroots level. The projects aim to help farmers be more productive and to improve both local communities' access to food and farmers' access to cash income. Telefood is involved in 130 countries worldwide.
  • World Food Programme. The WFP operates in 74 countries and is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger. Currently, the Horn of Africa is suffering from the worst drought in 60 years, and 4 million people are in crisis in Somalia, with 750,000 people at risk of death in the next four months. WFP is providing food assistance to nearly 1 million people in Somalia and will scale up its operations during the coming months to reach some 1.9 million people.
  • Hunger Free World. This Japanese NGO was formalized in 2000 with the goal of ending hunger and poverty through education and awareness around the world. The group supports local initiatives and young volunteers, organizes information programs, and joins forces with national and international networks to make these issues a priority for both citizens and politicians.
  • Trussell Trust. This charity works to empower local communities to combat poverty and exclusion in the United Kingdom and Bulgaria. Last year, the group’s U.K. food bank network fed more than 60,000 hungry people.

There is no single solution to end world hunger, and these are just a few of the organizations that are taking the multi-pronged approach that is necessary to address this global problem. World Food Day is the perfect occasion for researchers, policymakers and NGOs to reflect on the existing efforts as well as potential future initiatives that can help fight global hunger and malnutrition.

Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet project recently traveled to 25 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, shining a spotlight on communities that serve as models for a more sustainable future. The project is unearthing innovations in agriculture that can help alleviate hunger and poverty while also protecting the environment. These innovations are elaborated in the recently released State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.

State of the World 2011 is accompanied by informational materials including briefing documents, summaries, an innovations database, videos and podcasts, all available at www.NourishingthePlanet.org. The project‘s findings are being disseminated to a wide range of agricultural stakeholders, including government ministries, agricultural policymakers, farmer and community networks, as well as to the increasingly influential nongovernmental environmental and development communities.

For more information, click here.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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