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One billion holiday wishes

As a new year dawns, 1 billion people worldwide face difficult challenges. But hundreds of organizations are working tirelessly to help.

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AVRDC works to expand the vegetable farming sector across sub-Saharan Africa, increasing access to nutrient-rich crops. And in Uganda, Developing Innovations in School Cultivation, Project DISC, educates youths on the importance of agriculture and nutritious diets. Students in the program learn about vegetables and fruits indigenous to their communities, as well as how to process and prepare these foods for consumption.

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“If a person doesn’t know how to cook or prepare food,” says Edward Mukiibi, one of the project’s founders, “they don’t know how to eat.” 

One billion overweight 

Lack of access to healthy food does not only result in hunger. More than 1 billion people around the world are overweight. Of these, nearly half are obese. And nearly 43 million children under the age of five were counted as overweight in 2010. Surging international rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and arthritis are being attributed to unhealthy diets, and 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter has urged countries around the world to make firm commitments to improving their food systems. In Mexico, where 19 million are food insecure yet 69.5 percent of the country is overweight or obese, De Schutter has called for a “state of emergency” to tackle the problem. He attributes the hunger-obesity combination to the county’s mono-cropping and export-led agriculture and argues that a change to agricultural policies could tackle these two problems simultaneously. 

One billion illiterate 

More than three quarters of a billion people – 793.1 million adults – are illiterate. Although the number of people unable to read has decreased from 1 billion in 1990, illiteracy prevents millions of people from moving out of poverty.

For farmers, being illiterate can limit access to information such as market prices, weather predictions, or training to improve their production. Yet through the work of a team of researchers known as Scientific Animations Without Borders, illiterate farmers across the world are able to view educational training on how to create natural pesticides or prevent crop damage using solar treatments, using short animated videos accessible on mobile phones.

In India, farmers can receive daily updates via text or voicemail on weather and crop prices through subscription services set up by major telephone companies. Kheti, a system operated by the Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, even allows farmers to take pictures of problems they are having with their crops and send them in for advice. With more than 4.6 billion mobile phone subscriptions globally, projects such as these have the potential to reach and improve the lives of many around the world.

As we gather together this holiday season to reflect on the things most important to us, let us also take the time to remember the billions of others who share our planet. Too many of the world’s neediest people will start the New Year without sufficient food or education. But organizations around the world are finding ways to nourish both people and the planet.

• Holiday offer: To purchase a copy of "State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet" at a 50 percent discount, please click HERE and enter code SW1150. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

This article first appeared at Nourishing the Planet, a blog published by the Worldwatch Institute.

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