While feeding a hungry planet has been a challenge down through the years, food security experts are warning the next 25- to 35 years could be a critical time in terms of meeting the growing food needs of a rapidly growing population.
Complicating larger population numbers are concerns over fewer acres of arable land and changing climate conditions that could mean less available water for crop irrigation and production.
Such concerns are not based upon speculation but hard research. Severe acute malnutrition is a very real problem in the modern world. It is responsible for nearly half of all child deaths each year. But while today's problems are challenging enough, research indicates in the next 50 years, farmers will need to produce more food than has been produced over the past 10,000 years combined in order to meet the needs of nearly two billion more people on our planet.
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The long term solution to the problem is simple at face value. To meet the growing need for more food, farmers simply need to grow more food commodities. But given the challenges of water and land shortages, more developments and additional solutions will need to take place.
Researchers have been working on solutions for a number of years and have made some astounding progress. The development of genetic modification and plant cross breeding have given us better varieties of food products that are more resistant to pest and disease pressure and require less water and fertilizers.
But many researchers are quick to point out that even with these benefits meeting the growing needs of a hungry planet will remain a major concern for generations to come. These concerns that have many looking at new and different alternatives to feeding the hungry, and a few of those are showing a degree of promise.
One such solution proving itself worthy is the idea that peanuts can help save starving children in the modern world and could go a long way in meeting the growing food needs of tomorrow.
The National Peanut Board (NPB), the American Peanut Council and Peanut Proud, launched a program a few years back to develop what they termed Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), a substance largely made of peanut butter. Based upon the work of Dr. Mark Manary, founder of a non-profit organization, Project Peanut Butter is delivering peanut based RUTF to refugee camps in Somalia that are housing thousands of starving families. Through donors, countless thousands of children are being rescued from malnutrition from this food source, one that provides proteins and calories to the diets of starving kids and families.
The vitamin-enriched concoction, with peanut butter as its base, may be the most important advance ever to cure and prevent malnutrition. The American Peanut Council is also working with growers, shellers manufacturers, and other partners to create peanut butter especially for use in food pantries throughout the U.S.
The American Peanut Council works with global partners to distribute peanut-based RUTFs. These energy dense, specially formulated foods are designed to combat severe acute malnutrition; most cases are cured within just six weeks according to research.
While the development of a peanut butter-based paste is nothing new, it may have finally come into its own. Peanut paste has its developmental roots with Canadian Marcellus Gilmore Edson, the first to patent peanut butter in 1884. Peanut flour already existed at the time, but his cooled product had "a consistency like that of butter, lard, or ointment" according to his patent application, and included the mixing of sugar into the paste so as to harden its consistency.
Edson, a chemist and pharmacist, developed the idea of peanut paste as a delicious and nutritious staple for people who had a hard time chewing food because of severe dental problems and tooth loss, common in that time period.
It wasn't until 1898 that John Harvey Kellogg, of Kellogg Foods, was issued a patent for what we know today as peanut butter.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, peanut butter is an excellent source of protein, dietary fiber, vitamin E, pantothenic acid, niacin and vitamin B6. It is also rich in dietary minerals manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and copper, and a good source of thiamin, iron and potassium.
In recent days peanut butter is capturing the headlines as a product to help stave off hunger. Last week Memphis DJ Mathew Downen started a campaign to help feed hungry homeless people and local families suffering food shortages. Vowing to raise a ton of peanut butter, Downen has started setting up shop on a street corner in Memphis each weekend asking listeners to drop off jars of peanut butter. The local Mid-South Food Bank says the peanut butter campaign “is great,” as it is struggling with providing assistance to an estimated 418,000 food insecure families.
The director of the local food bank says peanut butter is a good food choice because of its nutritional benefits and because it has a long shelf life.
No one is making the claim that peanuts and their many by-products are all that is needed to stamp out world hunger today or in the years to come. But the importance of peanut production and the diligence of America's peanut farmers should be recognized because of the significance the food product offers in helping to stave off hunger in a world where malnutrition remains a daily dilemma.
While peanut prices are down and production costs have risen, it is important to remember that the U.S. is the largest producer of peanuts in the world, and the production of the peanut is critical in the escalating war against hunger.