‘Hunger Is Rising, Due to Factors Including Conflict, Climate Change and COVID-19’ – World Food Day

(UN News)*Hunger is rising, due to factors including conflict, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, which is putting a strain on food systems that are already failing in many countries. In 16 October 2020‘s LIVE blog, marking World Food Day, we will look at some of the many issues and possible solutions.
© FAO/Luis Tato | Members of a farmers cooperative harvest beans in Mwingi, Kenya.

    UN chief video message
•    What is sustainable agriculture?
•    Food and the COVID-19 pandemic
•    The business of food

Next steps towards fairer food systems

And with that, we will wrap up our coverage of World Food Day, but don’t forget to check out the Food Systems Summit global relay conversation, with celebrity chefs, indigenous peoples, youth climate activists, and more, discussing ways to transform food systems over the next 10 years.

The work of the Summit team has already begun, with a scientific group, made up of experts drawn from a range of disciplines, having met over the summer to ensure that the event is based on sound scientific principles, but it will step up a gear in November, when regional dialogues, involving governments and other stakeholders, are due to take place.

These discussions will culminate in a meeting in Rome next Summer, at which actions for inclusive and sustainable food systems will be identified, and taken forward as recommendations for the Secretary-General to submit to world leaders at the September Summit.

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Meanwhile, back in Rome, the Colosseum is being transformed for World Food Day, with a video mapping show beginning at 19:30 Rome time. It promises to be spectacular, and you can watch it LIVE here

FAO | The 75th anniversary of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization is celebrated in a digital projection on Rome’s Colosseum. ©️FAO/Alessia Pierdomenico

“What does food mean to you?”, asks the World Food Programme, putting forward some suggestions in a video tweeted out earlier today, whilst the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), recommends five ways that you help refugees during the pandemic.

Food systems responsible for over a third of greenhouse gas emissions

A food market in Kelantan, Malaysia., by Unsplash/Alex Hudson

The UN estimates that food systems have an enormous impact on the climate. If you take into account all of the elements and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food, these systems account for up to 37 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

But, as a joint UN report released at the beginning of September shows, this figure can be dramatically reduced. The report identifies several policy actions that would integrate food systems into national climate strategies, and also help to improve food security.

These include conserving natural habitats, reducing food loss and waste, and shifting to healthier and diets, which are predominantly plant-based. This measure alone, could cut up to eight gigatonnes of CO2 emissions every year.

‘Providing sustenance through difficult times’

Volkan Bozkir, the President of the General Assembly, began his address to this afternoon’s (New York time) World Food Day celebrations, by recognizing FAO’s role as the oldest of the UN’s permanent specialized agencies, and the critical role it has played, in addressing hunger and improving nutrition.

He also noted the contribution of “food heroes”: “from farmers and food chain workers, to drivers, shop assistants and food bank representatives, including here in New York, millions of people helped to provide sustenance and nourishment through difficult times.”

The GA president looked ahead to the Food Systems Summit as a chance to accelerate reforms, and remove barriers to ending hunger, and called for young people to be empowered to become the next generation of leaders and reformers in agriculture and food supply chains.

UN News/Daniel Dickinson | The President of the UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, addresses a virtual meeting to celebrate World Food Day 2020.

Fair trade needed

The head of the Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC), Munir Akram, noted that the loss of income that many have suffered since the COVID-19 pandemic, has mostly impacted the poor, who spend most of their income on food.

The world, warned Mr. Akram, was not on track to achieve zero hunger, the second of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, even before the pandemic spread.

COVID-19, he said, will mean that there will be millions more under-nourished people around the world, and some 144 million children will suffer stunted growth.

Some core issues must be addressed, declared Mr. Akram. These include keeping supply chains from being disrupted, investing in infrastructure for sustainable agriculture, and ensuring fair trade:

Technology that makes sustainable agriculture possible must be made available to poorer farmers, and the kinds of subsidies that have led to chronic over-production, and make it impossible for small farmers to compete in the market, must be ended.

Food heroes: Naima Penniman

© FAO | Naima is the Programme Director at Soul Fire Farm, a training farm that aims to help black, indigenous and people of colour have a greater say in, and control over, their food systems.

As Program Director at Soul Fire Farm in New York State, USA, Naima Penniman is helping black, indigenous, and people of colour have a greater say in, and control over, their food systems.

These communities, she says, are less likely to have access to healthy food. “In this time of crisis and food scarcity, 100 per cent of our harvest is going to people in our community who need it most, folks who are living under food apartheid, or impacted by mass incarceration, or who are from our refugee community”.

The farm’s programmes include farmer training, reparations and land-return initiatives for northeastern farmers, food justice workshops for urban youth, and education for public decision-makers on social and political issues that affect access to food, all with an emphasis on environmental sustainability.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the farm has been making food deliveries to vulnerable families, building raised garden beds for urban households, and providing affordable bulk products to community groups working on the front lines of pandemic response.

Read more about Nadia’s work here.

Welcome back to our coverage of World Food Day. Following the earlier events from Rome, a celebration has begun in New York, which you can follow live on UN Web TV.

Look out for a performance from the United Nations Orchestra, as well as speeches from the President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, and the President of the UN Economic and Social Council, Munir Akram.

Over the next hour, we will also look at the great work being done by some of the #foodheroes who have been helping to feed the vulnerable during the pandemic, and the devastating impact that food systems are having on the environment.

More to come…

We’re going to pause our live coverage of World Food Day, as the main focus shifts across the Atlantic from Rome to New York.

At 13:00 Eastern Time, a ceremony will being at the General Assembly Hall, at UN Headquarters. Come back and join us then!

Hunger and the pandemic

WFP/Mehedi Rahman | Families are being provided with food aid by the World Food Programme (WFP) after heavy monsoon rains flooded parts of Bangladesh in June 2020.

Conflict and climate change remain the biggest drivers of hunger worldwide but COVID-19 is exacerbating the crisis, with tens of millions at risk of falling into extreme poverty.

“Before COVID-19, we were already seeing a rise in hunger, after decades of having hunger on the run”, World Food Programme (WFP) deputy chief, Valeria Guarnieri, told UN News in September.

“What we’re seeing is that that hunger is being taken to new levels. On the one hand, food prices are going go up and, at the same time, people are feeling the hit of the socio-economic crisis.”

On Tuesday, several UN agencies (FAO, the International Labour Organization (ILO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and World Health Organization), warned that the pandemic has not only led to a dramatic loss of human life, but also constitutes an unprecedented challenge to public health, food systems and employment.

Solidarity for the most vulnerable

© FAO/Miguel Schincariol | Customers shop for mangoes and other fruits on display at a stall in a street market in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The statement called for more solidarity and support, especially for the most vulnerable, and particularly in the developing world and, since lockdowns and other measures have come into effect, a host of initiatives have sprung up to help communities to adapt.

Back in May, we reported on actions that several Latin American cities have taken to ensure that food systems continue to function. In Quito, Ecuador, for example, authorities are using municipal buses as mobile food hubs, and have also partnered with food banks, and mapped vulnerable areas, to make sure the food is distributed effectively.

In Lima, Peru, food are being monitored to counter speculation and price gouging on the black market, and a mobile wholesale market is distributing food to various districts of the metropolitan area.

And, in Montevideo, Uruguay, citizens and organizations returning to “ollas populares”; a traditional model of home deliveries of fruit, vegetable and other foodstuffs, some directly from producers, with special attention paid to the needs of vulnerable people.

UNCDF | A SafeBoda rider and market vendor use the SafeBoda app to deliver food and supplies during the COVID-19 lockdown in Kampala, Uganda.

And in August, we looked at one of the ways that digital technology is helping market traders in Uganda survive, despite travel restrictions.

After the Ugandan government enacted its lockdown measures, the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), responded by supporting a new e-commerce platform that connects market vendors to customers.

Orders for produce are placed via the Safeboda app, and paid for, using its mobile wallet feature. The company’s accredited riders then deliver the produce. The result has been a boost in trade for hundreds of market vendors, regular income for the “bodaboda” motorcycle drivers, and a safe way for customers to receive the goods.

Read the full story here.

The business of food

© FAO/Xavier Bouan | Villagers grow rain-fed rice in Beung Kiat Ngong wetlands, Lao People’s Democratic Republic. (File)

The private sector also has a key role to play in making sure the world gets enough to eat; that’s according to the UN Global Compact which supports companies around the world to operate in a socially and environmentally responsible way as well as taking action to advance goals to reduce poverty including eradicating hunger.

With an expected global population of nine billion by 2050, the Global Compact says that “business has become a critical partner in designing and delivering effective, scalable and practical solutions for food security and sustainable agriculture”.

Driving such positive change are companies like Singapore-headquartered Olam International, a signatory to the Global Compact. The company’s Sustainable Rice Platform promotes farming practices which Olam says have reduced water usage by 20 per cent and greenhouse gas emissions by half, while boosting farmers’ incomes by 10 per cent.

Half a million rice farmers have adopted the practices in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. The goal is to reach a million by 2023.

Singapore has set an ambitious goal to have one-third of its nutritional needs locally produced by 2030. Esther Chang is the Executive Director of Global Compact Network Singapore and she has told UN News that the “transformation required to achieve this future of food production will be through new technologies, innovation and partnerships. Through initiatives such as the Sustainable Rice Platform, Olam is helping the make the global rice sector more efficient and sustainable”.

What is sustainable agriculture?

BSWM-UNDP Philippines-GEF5 SLM Project | Maize farmers in the Philippines’ Bukidnon Province are learning how to cultivate the crop more sustainably. (September 2018)

The term “sustainable agriculture” is being bandied around a lot today, but what does it mean? The UN environment agency, UNEP, has published a handy guide, explaining why sustainable agriculture is better for people, and the planet.

UNEP defines it as “farming that meets the needs of existing and future generations, while also ensuring profitability, environmental health and social and economic equity. It favours techniques that emulate nature – to preserve soil fertility, prevent water pollution and protect biodiversity.”

It uses up to 56 per cent less energy per unit of crops produced, creates 64 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions per hectare and supports greater levels of biodiversity than conventional farming.

Find out more here about why some processed food, full of chemicals, may be cheaper to buy, but has a much greater cost in the long run, in terms of the costs of environmental damage or the price of healthcare that is required to treat diet-related diseases.

Food heroes: Raquel Diego Díaz

© FAO/Nadir Quiroz | Raquel Diego Díaz (centre) is an anthropologist and farmer who promotes native varieties of corn and indigenous farming knowledge.

Time to celebrate the work of another FAO food hero, this time Mexican anthropologist and farmer Raquel Diego Díaz, a member of the Mixe or Ayuujk ethnic group, who is helping to honour and transfer vital knowledge from one generation to another.

Over many generations, Mixe farmers have experimented repeatedly, developing nutritious foods which have adapted to environmental, social, economic and political transformations over the years.

Raquel has made it her mission to help promote native varieties of corn and indigenous farming knowledge while helping local women to thrive, and, in 2017, decided to join other Mixe women in the production of a line of tostadas.

The small company produces around 600 tostadas a week with native corn of different varieties, all rooted in the efforts of rural women and their families who work in the region’s fields.

Find out more here.

‘I’m passionate about ending hunger in our lifetime’

UN Food Systems Summit | Female farmers in discussion with former Rwandan Minister for Agriculture, Agnes Kalibata (far left).

The world is going backwards when it comes to achieving the UN goal of achieving zero hunger by 2030, but Agnes Kalibata, the UN official charged with organizing a successful Food Systems Summit next year, is convinced that this doesn’t have to be the case. Here are some extracts from an interview she gave UN News in September.

“I’m extremely passionate about ending hunger in our lifetime: I believe it’s a solvable problem. I don’t understand why 690 million people are still going to bed hungry, amidst so much plenty in our world, and with all the knowledge, technology and resources.”

Today’s food systems do not respond to what we need as people. The cause of death for one in three people around the world is related to what they eat. Two billion people are obese, one trillion dollars’ worth of food is wasted every year, yet many millions still go hungry.

We have built up a lot of knowledge around the things that we’re doing wrong, and we have the technology to allow us to do things differently, and better. This isn’t rocket science: it’s mostly a question of mobilizing energy, and securing political commitment for change.”

You can read the full interview here.


2020 Human Wrongs Watch

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