Three billion people—a third of the planet’s population—can’t afford a healthy diet. This stark number is what drives Patrick Webb, the Alexander McFarlane Professor of Nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, in his work to transform food systems to ensure everyone on the planet has enough nutritious food to eat. Now, with a $40 million award from USAID, Webb is leading the new Feed the Future Innovation Lab on Food Systems for Nutrition, based at Tufts.
“Our lab is focused on identifying and promoting technology and practice innovations that can better protect nutrient-rich foods as they travel from farm to fork, improve food safety, and significantly reduce food loss and waste,” says Webb.
He spoke with Tufts Now about the major food security and nutrition challenges around the world, how his new lab plans to address those needs, and how even small choices by individuals can make a difference.
Tufts Now: What are some of the major food security challenges facing our world today? Patrick Webb: Old threats have reemerged, such as famines in Africa, but we’re also facing greater planetary challenges like climate change.
From the mid-2000s to around 2014, there was a period where we essentially didn’t have any famine in the world. We got very good at growing more food, and globalization allowed that food to move around the world. Poverty was falling, lifespans increasing.
Then suddenly, wham! In the past half-decade, armed conflicts escalated across the world: Syria, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Nigeria, Myanmar. And climate change impacts have been getting dramatically worse, such as extreme droughts, floods, and fires, particularly in low-income countries that can cope the least.