Report highlights impacts of pandemic on increased hunger in the world

Publicação: 7 de October de 2021

Advances driven by science are needed to meet the challenges

The number of people facing hunger in 2020 increased by 118 million. Africa had the biggest increase

Among the consequences of Covid-19, the United Nations (UN) noted that world hunger underwent a dramatic worsening in 2020. Although the impact of the pandemic has not yet been fully mapped, the report The State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) 2021, highlights that one tenth of the planet’s population, that is, up to 811 million people, was malnourished in 2020, an increase of 118 million compared to 2019. According to the document, food insecurity is being driven by climate change, conflict and economic recession.  According to the report’s projections, approximately 600 million people could go hungry in 2030, in part as a result of the long-term effects of the pandemic on global food security, that is, 30 million more than in a non-pandemic scenario. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of ending hunger by 2030 will require a major effort.

The report points out that more than half of all undernourished people (418 million) live in Asia; more than a third (282 million) in Africa; and a smaller proportion (60 million) in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the sharpest increase in hunger has been in Africa, where the estimated prevalence of malnutrition, at 21% of the population, is more than double that of any other region. The document also informs that 22% (149 million) of children under the age of five are affected by stunting, in which cognitive development problems that will affect their lives stand out.

Food Systems Summit

To accelerate efforts towards compliance with the SDGs, through the transformation of food systems towards sustainability, the Food Systems Summit  – FSS was held in September during the High Level week of the United Nations General Assembly. Convened by the United Nations Secretary-General, in the context of the Decade of Action to achieve the SDGs by 2030, the initiative aims to foster advances in all 17 SDGs, taking advantage of and leveraging the interconnection of food systems with global challenges such as hunger, climate change, poverty and inequality. The Summit’s work was organized around five thematic lines of action: Ensuring Access to Healthy, Safe, Sustainable Food for All; Healthy and Sustainable Consumption Patterns; Scale Production of Positive Foods for Nature; Promote the Support and Distribution of Equitable Value; and Building Resilience against Vulnerabilities, Shocks and Stresses.

What can still be done

According to the 2019, report, transforming food systems is essential to achieving food security, improving nutrition and putting healthy food within reach. This year’s edition goes further and outlines six paths of transformation:

– Integrate humanitarian, development and peace-building policies in conflict areas – for example, through social protection measures to prevent families from selling scarce goods in exchange for food;

– Enhance climate resilience across all food systems – for example, by offering smallholder farmers broad access to climate risk insurance and forecast-based financing;

– Strengthen the resilience of those most vulnerable to economic adversity – for example, through field programs or cash support to lessen the impact of pandemic-type shocks or food price volatility;

– Intervene along supply chains to reduce the cost of nutritious food – for example, by encouraging the planting of biofortified crops or facilitating fruit and vegetable growers’ access to markets;

– Combat poverty and structural inequalities – for example, stimulating food value chains in poor communities through technology transfers and certification programs;

– Strengthening food environments and changing consumer behavior – for example, eliminating industrial trans fats and reducing the salt and sugar content of the food supply, or protecting children from the negative impact of food marketing.

To learn more about the subject, the Communication Department of the Brazilian Society of Tropical Medicine (SBMT) interviewed the Professor of Economic and Technological Change and Director of the Center for Research for Development (ZEF) at the University of Bonn (Germany), Dr. Joachim von Braun, considered a leading international expert on the problems of hunger and malnutrition and solutions to these problems. He served as co-chair of the German Bioeconomy Council and is the initiator of the Global Bioeconomy Summits. Dr. Joachim von Braun is president of the UN Secretary General’s Food Systems Summit Scientific Group and president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He is also a member of the Council of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and vice president of Welthungerhilfe, a non-profit, non-profit and politically independent German agency that works in the areas of cooperation for development and emergency aid.

Find the interview in full.

SBMT: The global food system needs a makeover In your article, you mention many ways to face the crisis in the food chain, but you do not mention the division between North and South, between rich and poor. Could you tell us about the politics of global division, in which we continue to be colonies to a sea of wealth, which are the developed countries, the United States, Western Europe, basically, and the European Community, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, which makes other countries suffer the consequences.

Dr. Joachim von Braun: The food problem is to a large extend a problem of rights, inequality and poverty. It is central that the follow up to the Food Systems Summit addresses the issues we highlight, i.e. Innovations to overcome inefficient and unfair land, credit, labor, and natural resource use arrangements, and to facilitate inclusion of and empowerment and rights of women and youth and Indigenous Peoples. Among the effective ways to sustainably eradicate poverty and inequality is to boost the opportunities and capacities of the poor and those living in situations of vulnerability, through ensuring more equitable access to resources, i.e. to natural resources and economic assets. Ensuring decent work is a key area and calls for regulation and value chain transparency. The potential for significantly expanding green jobs within food systems must be vigorously pursued. Yet, eliminating poverty alone does not make healthy diets affordable for all. Changing food systems need to ensure that people with low incomes can access a healthy diet by enabling them to earn living wages and have access to social safety nets. The inclusive transformation of smallholder farming will be imperative for youth. Smallholders are not a homogenous group, and transformation of the small farm economy around the world will call for different policies to address the heterogeneity of smallholders.

SBMT: Do you believe that one of the major problems facing food systems today is that corporations have an enormous power to influence eating habits and what should be eaten, thus being largely responsible for the problems we face? Why?

Dr. Joachim von Braun: The business sector participated in constructive ways in the summit process. There was no capture of the agenda. Civil society and research community watch this.

SBMT: Is it correct to say that the high concentration of corporate power in our food systems allows a small group of people to shape markets in a way that maximizes profits at the expense of healthy food and social well-being?

Dr. Joachim von Braun: We need to pay attention to sound competition in the food markets. That is essential for consumers and farmers. Evidence based anti-trust policy is part of sound national policy. Internationally that needs attention too. The food retail sector needs to be watched at global and national levels.

SBMT: What is your opinion on the exercise of economic power by the richest countries over the poorest countries in order to impose the food policy that they think is the most correct?

Dr. Joachim von Braun: This was a food systems summit of the United Nations. There poorest countries have voice. However, the transformation requires finance. The inequality is especially problematic in the finance system. World Bank and IMF need to address that in much stronger ways.

SBMT: Regarding Africa, given its economic context, the political weakness, which leads to the extreme impoverishment of its countries, as you see the interference in the lag of food policy and the consequent increase in the most diverse diseases that demand emergency actions from partner and developed countries?

Dr. Joachim von Braun: I am optimistic about Africa. Africa has actually shown the highest growth rates of its agriculture compared to all other hemispheres in the past 20 years. Yet, the development performance is uneven. Access to investment capital and internal trade is too much constrained. Investment in food systems investment and improved infrastructure are central.

SBMT: When we talk about global food systems, what exactly are we discussing? And why are they the key to ending world hunger?

Dr. Joachim von Braun: Summit is necessary because the food systems at the global level and in many countries and regions are failing to end hunger, do not provide adequate nutritious foods for healthy diets, contribute to obesity and do not assure safety of foods. How we produce and consume food is having profound implications for the health of people, animals, plants, and the planet itself. A change in world views in support of a range of actions is needed to re-orient food systems dynamics.

SBMT: How can science ensure that changes happen?

Dr. Joachim von Braun: A central element of such change is a much greater emphasis on science for innovation to transform food systems toward sustainability and equity.

The statement by the UN Secretary General emphasizes that science and research to play an important role for the transformation of the food systems. See https://www.un.org/press/en/2021/sg2258.doc.htm

SBMT: The world population is expected to grow to almost 10 billion by 2050. Do you believe that we can produce nutritious, affordable and environmentally sustainable food for everyone?

Dr. Joachim von Braun: If appropriately investing in education, especially girls education, and in equality it will be rather 9 billion by 2050. And, yes, we can achieve the health diet goals. But vegetables and fruits need much higher priority, because they are essential for healthy and affordable diets.