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 today’s LIVE blog, marking World Food Day, we will look at some of the many issues and possible solutions.
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.
"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
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.
Fair trade needed
The head of the Economic and Social Council (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
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
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
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.
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
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?
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
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’
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.
Avoiding a full-blown crisis
In her video statement, Queen Letizia of Spain, an FAO Goodwill Ambassador, made a point of thanking the work of all of those who are doing their best to ensure that the pandemic doesn’t turn into a full-blown food crisis.
These “food heroes” are being celebrated throughout this year’s World Food Day: we will take a closer look at some of those who have been undeterred by the virus over the last few months.
But Letizia noted that, despite their best efforts, hundreds of millions of people are still going hungry, and many more millions are obese, all the more reason to promote local, seasonal, sustainable and small-scale food production.
A clarion call for collaboration
King Letsie of Lesotho, an FAO Goodwill Ambassador, described the 2020 World Food Day theme (“Grow, nourish, sustain, together. Our actions are our future”), as a clarion call for greater collaboration to build more resilient food systems, and “defeat the scourge of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition”.
King Letsie warned that progress towards reaching the UN’s goal of achieving zero hunger by 2030 is way off track, and that almost 10 per cent of the world’s population could be affected by hunger by the end of the decade. The pandemic, he said, is making matters worse.
The king called for a concerted effort to bring down the cost of nutritious food, which is unaffordable for many people in all regions of the world, but particularly in Africa and Asia. Doing so, would lead to a major reduction in health costs, he said, and create significant savings that could be used to make health food cheaper.
Hunger a ‘grave affront in a world of plenty’
The UN chief, António Guterres, didn’t mince his words in his World Food Day video address. “In a world of plenty, it is a grave affront that hundreds of millions go to bed hungry each night”, he declared.
The Secretary-General called for more intense efforts to achieve the UN’s vision of a sustainable future “where everyone, everywhere, has access to the nutrition they need.”
Mr. Guterres underscored the importance of making food systems more resistant to volatility and climate shocks, minimizing food waste, and ensuring that everyone has access to a sustainable and healthy diet.
Food is a noble cause
Sergio Mattarella, President of Italy, the country which hosts the FAO, said that, with some 100 million people living below the poverty line, the world needs a serious global commitment to recognize the value of agriculture, the responsible use of natural resources, and the safeguarding of biodiversity and ecosystems.
Mr. Mattarella went on to underline the importance of international cooperation in building sustainable food systems, as well as the involvement of both the public and private sector, as well as individuals and communities.
“Food”, he said, “with its ancient and inextricable link with cultures, traditions and the land, should be seen as a noble cause. We must safeguard it by preventing food waste, which is a negative trend that unfortunately continues to characterise the wealthiest regions of the planet”.
An age of contradictions
Pope Francis called for the adoption of innovative solutions, that can transform the way food is produced and consumed, for the well-being of our communities and the planet, and for increased support for the UN bodies involved in food (FAO, the World Food Program (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Today, said the Pontiff, is an age of contradictions, with unprecedented progress in the various fields of science, but also multiple humanitarian crises and growing inequality.
The Pope suggested that money used for arms and other military expenses could be used to create a fund to finally end hunger, and help develop the poorest countries.
Food heroes: Centro Agroalimentare Roma
Around the world, there are those who continue to do whatever they can to ensure their communities are fed, no matter the circumstances. On World Food Day, the FAO is celebrating these food heroes.
We’re going to share some of their stories during this blog.
Even at the peak of Italy’s pandemic crisis, the workers of the Centro Agroalimentare Roma food consortium, in the country’s capital, never stopped delivering seasonal and regional products to markets in and around Rome.
They also partnered with local groups and services to help those lacked the resources to buy enough nutritious food, delivering an estimated 2 million portions of food in March and April alone.
You can read the full story here.
Qu Dongyu, the head of Food and Agriculture Organization, has kicked things of from the agency’s HQ in Rome. Mr. Qu, with an overview of the FAO’s history, and the central role that sustainability has always played.
The pandemic, he said, has reminded the world of the fragility of food systems worldwide. He promised that the FAO (which, like the UN itself, celebrates its 75 years in 2020), will continue to keep pace with the times, rethinking its approach.
There’s still a lot of work to do: millions are still going hungry, even though more than enough food is produced to feed the entire population. But zero hunger is possible, he declared, if donors double the amount of money they devote to the goal.
The official World Food Day opening ceremony has begun in Rome and online, with opening speeches from the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres and other senior UN officials; Pope Francis; Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella; and two FAO Special Goodwill Ambassadors for Nutrition, King Letsie III of Lesotho and Queen Letizia of Spain.
You can watch the whole thing live here.
Voices of Food Systems Live
To coincide with World Food Day, the Food System Summit team have organized a 24-hour “global relay conversation”, with celebrity chefs, indigenous peoples, youth climate activists, small farmer businesswomen, heads of state, and everyone in between, on how we can transform food systems over the next 10 years.
You can follow the event here.
There has been a lot of social media activity surround #worldfooday already. The UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has this great video about bread-making in war-torn Syria, and the FAO celebrates some of the #foodheroes who continue to work hard to keep people fed, even in the most difficult circumstances.
🍞 Fresh from the oven, these breads look yummy 😋— UN Humanitarian (@UNOCHA) October 16, 2020
Bread is a staple food in Syria, but with rising food prices, it's harder for more families to afford.
Friday's #WorldFoodDay is a reminder of the value of food for happiness, health & nutrition.
World's most expensive meal
For some living in South Sudan, basic ingredients for a simple meal cost almost double the average person’s daily income.
That’s one of the startling statistics from a World Food Programme (WFP) report released today, showing the enormous disparities between the cost of a plate of food in different countries, as a proportion of daily income.
The Cost of a Plate of Food 2020 reports shows that a basic meal is far beyond the reach of millions of people in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic joins conflict, climate change and economic troubles in pushing up levels of hunger around the world.
In South Sudan, violence in the east has already displaced more than 60,000 people and is crippling harvests and livelihoods. This has combined with COVID-19 and climate shock to create the threat of famine.
You can read the report here.
Waste not, want not
The amount of food wasted every year is a scandal that has not gone unnoticed by the UN, which inaugurated the first International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste Reduction at the end of September. The Secretary-General called global food waste “an ethical scandal”, and a squandering of natural resources.
The World Food Programme (WFP), worthy recipients of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, launched its #StopTheWaste campaign in September, which revealed that, whilst there is enough food in the world to feed every child, woman and man on the planet, one-third of that food ends up rotting in trash bins, or spoiling during transportation and storage, while 690 million people go to bed hungry every night.
You can read our story on the international day here, and listen again to our podcast on how a deprived neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York, is trying to encourage healthier, more sustainable eating habits and reduce wasteful food practices.
‘Grow, nourish, sustain. Together’
Good morning from UN News in New York! World Food Day is celebrated globally, but it is being led by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is based in Rome, where events will be kicking off at around 14:00 Central European Time.
Over the next few hours, we’ll be taking you through some of the main themes and issues surrounding food and food systems, and how they’re being tackled throughout the UN system.
And there are some serious problems to discuss: food systems – which encompass everything that goes from transforming raw ingredients on the farm, to food on the plate – are clearly not functioning as they should. They’re exacerbating climate change, thanks to the greenhouse gases they produce, trillions of dollars worth of food goes to waste, and yet millions are still going hungry.
The UN wants to ensure that future food systems provide affordable and healthy diets for all, and decent livelihoods for food system workers, while preserving natural resources and biodiversity and tackling challenges such as climate change.
As is so often the case with global problems, the solutions are out there, but greater political will and awareness is needed to put them into practice.