By Dominique Burgeon
Across the world, hunger is increasing and intensifying as multiple global and local shocks intertwine. The cost of food has been steadily rising since the onset of COVID-19, with international food commodity prices already at a 10-year high before the war in Ukraine sent further shockwaves through the system. Extreme weather events, largely driven by climate change, severely impacted many regions in 2022. This interacted with existing vulnerabilities and shocks to push people to the brink.
The Global Network against Food Crises estimated that by the end of 2022, 222 million people across 53 countries/territories faced acute food insecurity where people were not able to consume adequate food, which put their lives and livelihoods in immediate danger.
Over 800 million people went hungry worldwide, according to the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. The Global Network against Food Crises estimated that by the end of 2022, 222 million people across 53 countries/territories faced acute food insecurity where people were not able to consume adequate food, which put their lives and livelihoods in immediate danger. Updated projections indicate that more than 670 million people may still be hungry in 2030 – far from the Zero Hunger target set by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015.
While significant strides have been made toward fighting hunger, governments and organisations continue to face hurdles to achieve our ambition of a food-secure future. Unfortunately, hunger and food insecurity do not have a one-size-fits-all solution and come with a multitude of narratives. Therefore, they must be addressed from different angles.
Integrating humanitarian, development and peacebuilding policies in conflict-affected areas appears to be the key, since the majority of the food insecure live in countries affected by insecurity and conflict. For example, in Yemen’s capital Sana’a, the breakdown of a major wastewater treatment plant caused a cholera outbreak and scarcity of fresh vegetables. This presented challenges to not only food security, but also the peacebuilding efforts . As part of the solution, water-efficient drip irrigation systems covering 60 hectares were installed in the region to address the major drivers of food insecurity, malnutrition, and conflicts.
Scaling up climate resilience across agrifood systems can help deliver a climate-positive future in which people and nature can coexist and thrive. The way we produce food and use our natural resources is important, not simply because agrifood systems are affected by environmental degradation and climate events, but also because they impact the state of the environment and are a major driver of climate change. Understanding this interconnectedness, the introduction of agricultural insurance for vulnerable households in Zambia strengthened climate resilience, reduced poverty, improved food security, and nutrition.
Strengthening resilience of the most vulnerable through social protection is crucial for protecting livelihoods. Specifically, COVID-19 and its restrictions showcased the key role played by social assistance, employment and social insurance programmes. By May 2021, more than 200 countries/territories in the world had implemented at least one social protection initiative, consisting mostly of cash and in-kind transfers, as well as of waived or postponed financial obligations. In Ethiopia, an innovative social protection scheme provided digital access to monthly food vouchers that were tailored to household size for an amount based on the cost of a nutritious diet. This measure increased the profits of rural food retailers by as much as 40% and shortened food supply chains, while also having a positive impact on the dietary diversity of mothers and their children.
Interventions along food supply chains are needed to increase the availability of safe and nutritious foods, and to lower their cost. For instance, fortification and biofortification have been used as cost-effective measures to reduce micronutrient deficiencies. It simultaneously increased the availability of nutritious foods and lowered its cost. In Peru, the fortification of rice with nine vitamins and minerals has been scaled up and included in the school feeding programme and other social protection programmes. It also gained legal approval as of 2021.
Persistent and high levels of inequality seriously limit people’s chances to overcome hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms. Tackling poverty and structural inequalities, and ensuring that interventions are pro-poor and inclusive is key. For example, due to the volatility of coffee prices, Viet Nam reduced smallholder vulnerability to both economic and climate-related shocks by establishing provincial and district-level coffee boards. This measure allowed the coffee to be certified for a premium on producer prices and strengthened the resilience of small-scale coffee producers to climate and economic shocks.
Access to nutritious foods and healthy diets is not simply a matter of cost and affordability. The promotion and increased availability of highly processed foods has led to increased consumption of unhealthy diets and affects all ages. Therefore, based on the specific country context and prevailing consumption patterns, there is a need for policies, laws and investments to create healthier food environments and to empower consumers. This would enable them to pursue dietary patterns that are nutritious, healthy, safe, and with a lower impact on the environment.
Given the cross-sectoral nature of the interventions needed for the transformation, international Geneva – which hosts many key actors working on humanitarian affairs, health, trade, social protection and the environment – can be a catalyst for change.
These different angles conclude with one common thread: the transformation to more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life that leaves no one behind. Given the cross-sectoral nature of the interventions needed for the transformation, international Geneva – which hosts many key actors working on humanitarian affairs, health, trade, social protection and the environment – can be a catalyst for change.
Geneva-based stakeholders have been working closely within and outside the agrifood system to improve nutrition and food security towards the shared goal of Zero Hunger. Active actors include the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as well as many NGOs and academic, think tanks and research institutions.
At the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference in 2022, members adopted the Ministerial Declaration on Emergency Response to Food Insecurity, which underscores the role of trade along with domestic production in addressing food security. Following the Ministerial Conference in this domain, a dedicated work programme to address food security concerns of the least developed countries and net food-importing developing countries was also established.
As a global hub for multilateralism, international Geneva is uniquely suited to stimulate the cross-sectoral approach and heightened policy attention needed to eradicate poverty, hunger and malnutrition. In view of the immense potential of international Geneva, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been committed to engaging with the Geneva community and developing joint efforts. With the new year ringing in, we expect a year of excellence, with many related events happening in Geneva, such as the FAO Geneva dialogues, Humanitarian Network and Partnerships Weeks, and the ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment. Altogether, these actors and events will play a vital role in pushing food security to the forefront of the global agenda, a distinctive and promising contribution that international Geneva can make to building a world where no child or family goes to bed hungry.
About the Author
Dominique Burgeon is Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Liaison Office in Geneva.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Geneva Policy Outlook or its partner organisations.