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Food insecurity is an avoidable problem

Amid an uneven recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening climate crisis and rising food and fuel prices due to the war in Ukraine, 150 million more people faced hunger in 2021 than in the previous year – 78 million more than in a scenario in which the pandemic had not occurred. These drivers ravage contexts already characterised by rural poverty, marginalisation, population growth, and fragile agrifood systems, pushing millions more into extreme levels of acute food insecurity.

“A record 345 million acutely hungry people are marching to the brink of starvation”, announced the head of the UN World Food Program, David Beasley. 

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022 report, published Wednesday, 6 July, makes it clear the world is off-track to meet SDG2 by 2030, with messages coming from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the World Food Programme (WFP).

“This year’s report, therefore, reminds us – yet again – that hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms are an urgent global concern requiring coordinated resolved action.” Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General

Growing inequalities across and within countries

It is estimated that the number of people who couldn’t afford a healthy diet in 2020 increased globally, and it is particularly severe in Africa and the Middle East.

The report highlights that, on the one hand, children in rural settings and poorer households were even more vulnerable to stunting and wasting when their mothers received no formal education. On the other hand, children in urban areas and wealthier households were at higher risk of being overweight. Nevertheless, it should be noted that progress is being made on exclusive breastfeeding,  with globally 44% of infants under 6 months of age were exclusively breastfed in 2019.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022. FAO

 

The gender gap in food insecurity continued to rise in 2021 — 31.9% of women in the world were moderately or severely food insecure, compared to 27.6% of men. And again, COVID-19 impacted women disproportionately — women were more affected by job and income losses, which increased the number of people who could not afford a healthy diet to almost 3.1 billion and further led to many of these people to food insecurity. Many households cope by cutting spending on food and reducing consumption of relatively expensive nutritious food like animal-based products, fruits and vegetables.

Threatening the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero hunger by 2030)

” The Covid-19 pandemic has reduced developing countries’ capacity to cope”, said Maximo Torero, the chief economist at the FAO, and to meet commitments to end world hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.

Many countries are facing growing levels of food insecurity, reversing years of development gains. After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the prevalence of undernourishment jumped from 8.0% to 9.3% from 2019 to 2020. It rose at a slower pace in 2021 to 9.8%, reflecting the inflation in consumer food prices stemming from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures put in place to contain it. The truth is that we cannot continue fighting hunger using the same approaches as before. “We can and must do better,” concluded Ms. Amina J. Mohammed. The unprecedented hunger and malnutrition challenges before us are urgently calling for new, whole-of-systems solutions.

 

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022. FAO

” We continue to move away from our goal of ending hunger by 2030. The ripple effects of the global food crisis will most likely worsen the outcome again next year.” said IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo

 Essential agrifood system approach

The report urgently calls on transforming our agrifood systems to be more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable. It includes agricultural research and development, and improved infrastructure to diminish food loss and waste, reduce economic losses and pressure on the environment, and build resilience in the face of climate change.

The food and agricultural sector worldwide, underlined Maximo Torero, accounted for almost USD 630 billion per year on average between 2013–2018. But this money was mostly intended to support individual farmers with trade, market policies and tax subsidies. “It not only distorts the market, but it also is not reaching many farmers, hurts the environment, and does not promote the production of nutritious foods,” he warned.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022.FAO

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022 report shows that governments can achieve more with the same public resources, suggesting that if governments repurpose the resources to prioritise food consumers, and to incentivise sustainable production, supply and consumption of nutritious foods, they will help make healthy diets less costly and more affordable for all.

The complicated path to reducing hunger on the planet, Torero points out, can ultimately represent an opportunity for the agricultural sector. Strengthening the collective action, capacities, voice and bargaining power of rural populations, including smallholder farmers, can contribute to policy reforms and facilitate their formulation and implementation, as well as strengthen the legitimacy of the reforms among all stakeholders.

Despite the recessionary context, much can and needs to be done with existing resources. It seems that it is now or never. Governments should start rethinking how they can reallocate their existing public budgets to make them more cost-effective and efficient in reducing the cost of nutritious foods and increasing the availability and affordability of healthy diets to realise sustainable agrifood systems and leave no one behind.