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FAO: Nutrient deficiencies, stunted growth affect Europe and central Asia

By Shane Starling , 03-Apr-2014
Last updated on 03-Apr-2014 at 17:57 GMT

The United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has met this week in Bucharest, Romania, where malnutrition issues have been highlighted...
The United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has met this week in Bucharest, Romania, where malnutrition issues have been highlighted...

Few may go hungry but vitamin and mineral deficiencies and health problems like growth stunting in children are widespread among the 53 countries of Europe and central Asia, according to the FAO.

The United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has met this week in Bucharest, Romania, where malnutrition issues have been highlighted in a paper focused non-Euroepan Union countries in eastern Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia and Caucasus, and Turkey.

It found that while hunger is likely to affect only 1% of the population by 2050, malnutrition will remain a very real concern.

“…caloric intake as a measure of undernourishment is currently not the major problem for the countries in question (except Uzbekistan and Tajikistan),” the report found.

“Rather, challenges related to food access, stability, and utilisation are more pressing, and will likely remain so in the future. Poverty has been seen as the key constraint to the improvement of household food security, primarily in the Caucasus and Central Asia (CCA) sub-region.”

It recommended governments push for change in their agricultural and rural sectors, where malnutrition problems were the greatest.

“If properly carried out, this should result in a sustainable increase in incomes of the rural populace, which is the group that is most vulnerable to food insecurity.”

It added:“The main challenge will be to devise policy strategies and principles that are sustainable in the unpredictable environment of the coming years and,  at the same time, to take advantage of the opportunities that may emerge.”

“For many countries included in the review, a more significant problem is lack of adequate micronutrient intake and the ‘sub-optimal’ quality of diets. On this score, these countries often rank lower than other regions of the world.”

The FAO’s Raimund Jehle pointed to deficiencies, “like iron, copper or vitamins.”

“Undernourishment is related to the status of poverty.”

In a positive sign it found fruit and vegetable production in Caucasus and Central Asia was rising. Indeed most countries saw agricultural output rising, but all continued to import agricultural products except Uzbekistan.

Obesity rates were high, at around 50%.
Other recommendations included:

  • A policy focus on smallholder producers in order to reduce rural poverty, increase output and improve agricultural competitiveness
  • Shifting away from extensive production and reliance on one or two commodities
  • Overall economic growth
  • Avoiding consumer subsidies and price controls
  • Income redistribution and social safety net programs that target vulnerable populations
  • Trade and international cooperation
  • A strong science and technology system that stimulates agricultural innovation

It also said climate change will affect agriculture.

“We need to step up our efforts to mitigate, to adapt and, most importantly, to shift to more sustainable food systems,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

“This is one of our core responsibilities.”

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