Food Security Threats: Now a Warning and Later May Be Too Late

A group of women of Central Africa receives training in production diversification and improvement to expand the food security of their communities. Credit: FAO
  • Opinion by Mario Lubetkin (rome)
  • Inter Press Service

In 2015, when heads of state and government, as well as other senior representatives from 190 countries, decided at the United Nations General Assembly onthat would change the profile of our world, the international community had confidence that it would reach them all.

These important goals to create a world with true peace include the elimination of poverty and hunger, guaranteeing a healthy and sustainable life, gender equality, the availability of water for all, sustainable economic growth, effective action to fight against climate change, and protecting oceans and forests. 

The International Community had such confidence because back in 2000, when 189 countries set out to achieve theMillennium Development Goals (MDGs), significant progress was made. These eight goals aimed to reduce poverty and hunger, improve conditions in education, reduce infant mortality and other diseases, achieve greater gender equality, and achieve better environmental sustainability.

In 2015, it was about expanding the goals and entirely eliminating the most negative aspects that affect humanity.

But just five years later, in 2020, the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI), an annual report prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)  and other agencies of the United Nations (UN), showed that if the negative trend that we are living consolidates, it is doubtful that the goals that the international community set out by mutual consent to solve the main problems we have before us will be achieved.

The report noted that 690 million people still suffer from hunger, 10 million more than a year ago, and 60 million more if we include the last five years.

Although Asia is the most affected, hunger is a problem in all continents: in Africa it is increasing very rapidly, and numbers also remain high in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Since 2015, the positive trend of hunger reduction began to reverse and undernourishment and malnutrition have been on the rise.

According to the SOFI report, 381 million Asians suffer from undernourishment, as well as 250 million Africans and 48 million Latin Americans and Caribbean people. On the other hand, if we analyze the percentage in relation to its populations, Africa is the most affected region with 19.1 percent of the undernourished population, followed by Asia with 8.3 percent and Latin America with 7.4 percent.

This analysis was made before the COVID-19 pandemic, and while it is still early to have definitive data on the effects of this new dramatic reality, experts estimate that another 83 million people, and perhaps up to 132 million people may start suffering from starvation in 2020 as a result of the ongoing economic recession.

In this regard, another recent report by FAO and the World Food Program (WFP) identified 27 countries that will be imminently affected by the food crisis resulting from COVID -19. No region will be exempt from it, from Afghanistan to Bangladesh, Haiti to Central American countries, Iraq to Lebanon and Syria, Burkina Faso to Liberia, Niger, Mozambique, Mali, Zimbabwe and others will be reaching levels of acute hunger.

Many of these countries were already affected by famine before COVID-19, due to pre-existing factors and tensions, such as economic crises, instability and insecurity, extreme weather events, plant pests, and animal diseases.

But the COVID-19 crisis compounded all of these situations with the decrease in jobs and wages, disturbances associated with preventive sanitary measures to face the pandemic, the fall in government revenues with direct effects on social security and protection, and generating political instability with the increase of different types of conflicts that are due to natural resources, such as water and grazing lands, and  migratory phenomena that affects agricultural production and markets.

Undernourishment must be permanently included in the analysis of the situation regarding hunger because its consequences (including malnutrition, micronutrient deficiency, overweight and obesity) continue to worsen, especially since for a significant amount of the population nutritious food is too costly and inaccessible. 

Remember that high-nutrient foods, such as dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and protein foods, are the most expensive food products. They cost about five times more than filling your stomach with low-nutrient and unhealthy foods. 

Although each country has its own specific way to solve this difficult situation, SOFI summarizes many of the reflections of recent years to face solutions to these problems with actions that can be implemented throughout the food supply chain and in trade policies, public spending and investment. 

Some of the actions to achieve this include reducing the costs of food production, storage, transportation, distribution and marketing, as well as reducing inefficiency, food loss and waste, supporting small local producers to produce and sell more nutritious food by accessing new markets, promoting behaviour change through education and communication, integrating nutrition into the social protection system, and implementing investment strategies at national levels.

As FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu pointed out, this whole situation cannot be considered "as a threat that may arise in the future. We have to do more to safeguard both the food systems and our most vulnerable populations right now."

The outlook is clear, and so are the combined solutions. It is about acting to avoid being witnesses to a dangerous failure in just 10 years of the 2030 Agenda that was set by the international community to put an end to the millions of people that face the humiliation of hunger and poverty.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service