COVID challenges goal to end world hunger by 2030, says UN official

Agrifood systems responsible for one third of carbon emissions, says FAO representative in Turkey

Tuba Sahin   | 15.10.2021
COVID challenges goal to end world hunger by 2030, says UN official


With the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic still reverberating around the world and expected to last longer, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) basic commitments to end hunger, malnutrition, and poverty by 2030 have become more challenging, a top official told Anadolu Agency.

The coronavirus added its own dynamics besides exacerbating the impacts of drivers behind hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity, and worsened the current situation, Viorel Gutu, FAO representative in Turkey’s capital Ankara, said ahead of World Food Day observed on Oct. 16.

Citing a joint report by various UN bodies titled The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 (SOFI 2021), Gutu said conflicts, climate variability and extremes, economic instabilities, and high-income inequality are the major drivers of hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity.

SOFI 2021 was jointly prepared by the FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the World Food Program, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF to inform the public on progress towards ending hunger, achieving food security, and improving nutrition.

Response to the challenges, Gutu said, requires a systems-based approach to produce more food with greater socio-economic benefits and less impact on the environment.

"This can be achieved through green and climate-resilient approaches including technological innovation, digital solutions, and indigenous and traditional knowledge."

He underlined that green and climate-resilient agriculture can provide nutritious food with a low carbon footprint to help achieve healthy ecosystems and healthy diets for present and future generations.

"With this, four dimensions of food security and nutrition – food availability, access, utilization, and stability – can be addressed, especially for least developed countries, land-locked developing countries, and small island developing states," Gutu argued.

How food is produced affects the entire planet, natural resources, the climate, and the way animals live, he said, adding: "Agrifood systems are responsible for one-third of carbon emissions that cause the greenhouse effect and climate change."

Food processing is a way to limit food waste, but when it becomes excessive and chemical preservatives are used, the food loses nutritional properties, he warned.

Two billion people are severely overweight or suffer from obesity while malnutrition, which includes not only hunger but obesity as well, affects more than 3 billion people in the world.

"The FAO is working with countries to reduce this figure to zero. But what can be done?" Gutu said.

He suggested that governments should be persuaded to encourage the sustainable production of affordable and nutritious food through providing incentives for environmentally friendly behavior and helping small-scale farms, which, the UN official said, produce 33% of the world’s food and often do not earn enough.

As agrifood systems are linked to health, education, and even finance, the private sector has to make responsible investments, he stressed.

It has to fund sustainable projects and innovation in the search for new and more eco-friendly ways of crop farming, fishing and animal farming," he stated.

Gutu stressed the importance of collaborative action to change the way food is produced and consumed in order to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

"There are four key steps. We have to be committed to better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life for all," he said.

Responding to a question on the goal of zero hunger, Gutu said: "We are not on track to achieve the targets for any of the nutrition indicators by 2030 and face a systemic threat that needs to be tackled immediately and in a holistic manner. Otherwise, at least 660 million people will still face hunger in 2030."

The SOFI 2021 report pointed out that the prevalence of undernourishment globally has reached 9.9%, up 1.5% from 2020.

Some 720 million to 811 million people faced hunger in 2020, a rise of 118 million compared to 2019, the report revealed.

The number of moderate and severely food insecure people skyrocketed in 2020, with nearly one in three people worldwide (around 2.37 billion) food insecure.

Rising food insecurity has also widened the gender gap, it said, showing that food insecurity has hit women harder than men throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Highlighting that malnutrition remains a challenge and affects mostly children, the report revealed that at least 149 million children under 5 years of age were affected by stunting, 45 million suffered from wasting, and almost 39 million were overweight.

"The SOFI report identifies six pathways towards agri-food systems transformation. These pathways focus on conflict-ridden areas, climate extremes, the most vulnerable groups, the cost of nutritious foods, structural inequality, and food environments and dietary patterns," Gutu said.

He underlined that the COVID-19 pandemic is a warning sign of the insufficiency of the current agri-food systems and provides the motivation to change the current course in the sector.

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