Building sustainable food security, rather than concentrating on food aid, is a better way to help the people most vulnerable to food crises, says Josette Sheeran, head of the UN World Food Programme (UNWFP).
"Food aid has saved millions of lives, but it cannot, by itself, solve hunger," she says. The UNWFP is shifting its focus towards building local capacity to deal with future crises compounded by ongoing food price volatility, climatic changes and conflict.
Sheeran points to programmes underway in several countries that aim to "transform the fight against hunger" by developing and scaling up innovative ideas and tools at the grassroots level.
For example, in Cameroon — where 2.8 million people are food insecure — the UNWFP makes a one-time donation of ten tonnes of cereal to each community granary but also trains farmers in management and financial aspects of food storage. Community members can withdraw stocks with little interest and replenish them from their own crops, while funds from the interest and sales help with buying more stock.
In Pakistan, food technologists have created a chickpea paste fortified with micronutrients, which requires no water or cooking — helping to guard children from irreversible damage caused by malnutrition. And in Palestinian territories, 'digital food vouchers' delivered to mobile phones have helped increase local dairy production by 30 per cent, as well as helping people to buy nutritious food.
"Ending hunger does not require major scientific breakthrough," says Sheeran. "For the first time in history we have the scientific knowledge, programmes, tools and policies to defeat hunger but we need global political will".
Nature doi:10.1038/479469a (2011)