Rural Training Center, Thailand (RTC-Thailand)

Food Security: What Does It Mean to You?

Jul 13, 2008

For most people, ?“Food Security?” means having enough to eat. For the RTC-TH this means 2 things: self-sufficiency and sustainability.
In many countries, the small rural family farm is a place of desperate poverty. Many family members left for a city to find work. They try to earn money to send home. This results in fragmented families. This begins a social disintegration of the family and the village. Farms become occupied by elderly grandparents and very young grandchildren. Most are unable to do heavy farm work. The cycle seems endless. The downward spiral continues. For many, food security is having enough food to eat each day.
For the poor who make it to the city, life can still be very hard. Low education and farm skills are unsuitable for higher paying jobs in the city. The rural poor only get to low paying jobs. Illegal activities earn more. They work long hours, are often exploited, and live in very cramped and undesirable conditions. Urban slums and shanty towns are filled to overflowing. Food may be more plentiful in the cities. The higher cost of living erodes low earnings. This means less money sent home. So, for many, food security is having enough to eat each day.
There is another aspect of food security. It is becoming more and more apparent and especially relevant for urban dwellers. What are the sources and the quality of the food you eat?
In recent years, the many countries have seen deaths and illness caused by contaminated food. There have been numerous recalls of tainted food. Spinach, tomatoes, chilies, cheese, pasta, and processed beef have been involved, to name a few. In many cases, farmers were forced to suffer huge losses in cash value and in crops.
The ?“global economy?” plays a part in spreading contaminated food. The ?“farm to fork?” distance can span the globe. For example, in many urban markets, ?“fresh fruit?” can come from many different countries. A simple small sticker is put on each fruit with a code number used to properly identify it for the cashier. The sticker may state the country of origin, but not the farm. In the case of suspected contaminated food, it is very difficult to find the actual source. In other cases, contaminated processed meat was found in the market. The trail led to a meat packing plant. But the packing plant buys beef from several sources, making it extremely difficult to identify the origin of the contaminated meat.
Add to this the fact that many different companies and hands handle, package, and repackage the food along the way from the farm to the table. At the same time, various sources of food are mixed together for packaging. This makes it much more difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of the origin for a food item.
Another side show to this issue is genetically modified (GM) foods. Concerns for biodiversity and concerns for long term health safety are big unknowns when it comes to GM foods. Organic farms are under silent siege as winds carry pollen grains from GM crop fields over organic fields. It is hard to know what you get when you buy food at the market. Laws governing the proper labeling of food can sometimes raise more questions than answers. The fine print and wording on the labels often escapes the unsophisticated consumers. In fact, some countries do not require GM food to be clearly identified. As a result, most people are not fully aware of what they are eating.
We all know how hard it is to be perfect or to do work perfectly. So it is unreasonable to expect any government will be able to protect us 100% from contaminated food. But these recent events point out the level of protection is far below an acceptable level.
For the RTC-TH, one solution is to grow your own food. Urban dwellers may not be able to produce food in quantity to meet their daily needs. But window and balcony boxes have grown to roof top gardens in some cities around the world. This is one way to have more control over the quality and safety of what goes into your mouth and body. Avoiding the use of synthetic agricultural chemicals is a big step to improving the safety of food for your family. Reducing the ?“farm to fork?” distance to a few steps from your kitchen to garden also reduces the cost for food and transportation fuel costs.
Growing your own food is one step in taking responsibility for your own food security and safety.

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