A tenth of the global population – 811 million people – were undernourished last year, according to a new multi-agency report.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report reveals the jump to 10%, from 8.4% in 2019, was fuelled by the impacts of the pandemic, which exacerbated the ongoing drivers of hunger: ‘conflict, climate variability and extremes, and economic slowdowns and downturns’.
Five agencies published the annual report: the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world,” said the •heads of the five UN agencies in the foreword to the report.
The report goes on to talk of a world at a crossroads and points to critical events that lie ahead this year that will heavily dictate the way forward.
“This year offers a unique opportunity for advancing food security and nutrition through transforming food systems with the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit, the Nutrition for Growth Summit and the COP26 on climate change,” the five said. “The outcome of these events will go on to shape the second half of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition.”
No time to waste
The recently released Sustainable Development Report (SDR) indicates progress on the Global Goals (SDGs) is going backwards for the first time, and on current trends, the SOFI report predicts that SDG2, achieving Zero Hunger by 2030, will be missed by over 650 million people, 30 million of which will be linked to the ongoing effects of the pandemic.
To change direction the report puts forward six transformative pathways the authors say, if backed by a ‘coherent set of policy and investment portfolios’, can help overcome the drivers of hunger and malnutrition. They include ‘scaling up climate resilience across food systems, for example by offering smallholder farmers wider access to climate risk insurance and forecast-based financing’; and ‘changing consumer behaviour, through actions such as eliminating industrial trans fats and reducing the salt and sugar content in the food supply’.
All six pathways and recommendations in the report coalesce around the fact that the world must act now in implementing transformative change. Because with food systems broken, and hunger levels rising again, the SOFI report serves as both final warning and global call to action.
Feeding 10 billion
With the world already failing to feed the 7.7 billion people that inhabit the planet, what happens as a growing global population predicted to hit 10 billion by 2050 adds further challenges?
Filmmaker, naturalist and environmental activist, Terry Spahr, on a recent episode of the Inside Ideas podcast with Marc Buckley, spoke of the pressures of over population, a theme he explores in the acclaimed 2020 documentary: 8 Billion Angels, which establishes the connection between unsustainable population growth and global emergencies, like food shortages and climate change. A sensitive subject but one that needs to be part of the debate.
While another recent podcast guest, Dr Brent Loken, Global Food Lead Scientist for WWF, cites food waste as a fundamental problem that will need to be addressed, and fast, if efforts to feed a growing global population have any chance of success.
“One of the key issues moving forward is we need to work out how we are going to feed every person on this planet without expanding agricultural land,” Dr Loken said. “We have to not only feed 7.7 billion on it but we will have to feed 10 billion people on that by 2050. And that is where food waste comes in because food waste automatically comes back to land and how we use the resource – and you have to use them much more efficiently.”
He added: “We need to think about how we actually produce the food, because producing the food a lot more efficiently on land is something we have to do to ensure we are not cutting down more trees, which increases greenhouse gas emissions, increases biodiversity loss.”
There are huge challenges here but solutions exist to trigger transformative change. What is needed now is collaboration and action on a scale that mirrors, and comes to exceed, the global response to the pandemic.
• The five heads: for FAO – Qu Dongyu, Director-General; for IFAD – Gilbert F. Houngbo, President; for UNICEF – Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director; for WFP – David Beasley, Executive Director; for WHO – Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General.