Universal themes in book on global food security and hunger that hits close to home

Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a country described as 'the breadbasket of Europe', has caused a dramatic spike in the prices of food commodities, including grain
Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a country described as 'the breadbasket of Europe', has caused a dramatic spike in the prices of food commodities, including grain


Universal Food Security: How to End Hunger While Protecting the Planet

By Dr Glenn Denning (Columbia University Press, 2023)

THE twin needs of providing universal food security while ending the scourge of hunger has been a daunting topic from a humanitarian standpoint for decades.

But their effect today at the most basic local level for the consumer dealing with the daily impact on food prices, from tomatoes and bread to dairy products and cooking oil, has brought them closer to home by the rapidity of climate change and the Ukraine war.

The worsened refugee crisis they have provoked underscore that these events are not so far away despite our good fortune when compared to the victims of war, starvation and displacement.

In his timely and well written book Dr Glenn Denning lays out clearly how it is possible to achieve “a genuinely food-secure world – without hunger or malnutrition, where everyone gets to consume the right quantity and quality of food to live a healthy, active, and productive life”.

He does so by outlining a practical future requires transforming how our food is grown, managed, and distributed. From production to consumption, he makes clear how food systems can be made sustainable, while halting environmental degradation and repairing the damage we have previously done.

Quite usefully Denning begins with an illuminating reference to the destructive impact of Ireland’s Great Hunger on the province of Ulster.

He does so in part by citing its grim impact in Co Armagh and his late 2019 visit to the mass grave where Catholic and Protestants alike that lie behind Armagh’s Tower Hill Hospital – itself a former famine era workhouse building.

Indeed, Denning’s grim reminder of how deeply the generations before us on this island suffered from mass hunger and death due to crop failure tied to over dependence on a single food combined with official neglect helps bring the reality of the world today closer to us.

Drawing upon his decades of work in more than 50 countries and direct insights gained including from his work as adviser to Irish Aid, the Irish government's food development and nutrition programme in developing countries, he offers a compelling case on how to make healthy diets from sustainable food systems available to all while bridging the divisive worlds of science, policy and practice.

This includes a discussion on how to achieve sustainable intensification, market infrastructure and post-harvest stewardship.

Denning’s book is no panacea. It instead offers precise recommendations showing how we can take the steps necessary to reduce the current gloom and pessimism about rising levels of hunger, food price inflation and the growing traumas from climate change.

He passionately argues that sustainable food security for all is possible. Ten billion people, he states, “can be fed without wrecking the planet". He makes this argument convincingly as one of the world’s leading practitioners of agricultural development.

Dr Denning shows from practical experience how and why the “actors” in the food system – "input suppliers, farmers, traders and processors, and consumers need to have incentives to do the 'right' thing".

This means, “knowing that markets do not necessarily generate price signals that provide such incentives. An active government will need to be an essential part of this alignment process and in doing this it is important to 'get the facts right'.”

From the depths of past despair, his important book is a call to all of us as well as for students and practitioners looking to transform our food systems and assist humanity at all levels.

:: Dr Francis Costello is a former Fellow at the Centre for Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen's University Belfast (now the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice).