10 things we should be doing NOW to make this the last famine
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have already warned of widespread famine. The news contrasts with forecasts that only a few years ago were saying we were not heading in that direction. The question is, then: How did we get to this point? And also: Is there anything we can do to stop it? How can we at least prevent a new one?
The causes of the current situation are many. We could summarise them as a sum of variables that, together, create a set of simultaneous crises with combined effects: climate change, hyperinflation, the consequences of COVID-19, global recession, war, excessive public debt and the loss of local crop varieties, among many other factors.
All these variables, in the words of WFP Executive Director David Beasley, mean that the world is currently facing “a perfect storm that will not only hurt the poorest, but will also overwhelm millions of families who have so far kept their heads above water.”
The hunger pandemic is being felt more and more strongly: there are already 828 million people suffering from chronic malnutrition. This means 150 million more people than last year (SOFI, 2022). By 2030, when the Sustainable Development Goals were scheduled to be achieved, FAO estimates that 620 million people will be chronically undernourished, almost the same number as in 2015, when the SDGs were signed. What can we do?
1. Not one policy, but several
According to Máximo Torero Cullen, FAO Chief Economist, the only way to address this problem is through a portfolio that includes a variety of policies and actions to achieve the agri-food systems we need.
In addition, FAO asserts that we can achieve better results with the same public resources and that it is possible to increase the availability and affordability of healthy diets through proactive measures in the agricultural sector. To achieve this, each government will need to consider how to reallocate its current public budgets to make them more effective and efficient in reducing the cost of nutritious food and promoting affordable sustainable food (SOFI, 2022).
2. More inclusion, less bureaucracy
Social protection systems and tax subsidies are powerful in curbing hunger, but more effort is needed to ensure that they are inclusive, tailored to each population and gender-sensitive. To mention just one example, the SOFI 2022 study highlights that rice, sugar and various types of meat production are the industries that receive the most support, while fruit and vegetable production get the least support, especially in some low-income countries.
Furthermore, the complexity of bureaucratic systems and the political decisions involved (at the local, national and international levels) also hinder early response.
3. Independence from a (poorly) globalised world
We are in a hyperconnected world. So connected that a small change in a remote location can affect the survival of entire communities thousands of miles away. This situation has been repeated over the last few decades.
We saw first-hand the fragility of our food systems during COVID-19, when the first supermarket shortages began. And we are experiencing it again today as Russia’s war in Ukraine has caused fertilizer shortages (jeopardizing the viability of crops and thus global food production) and grain and oilseed shortages (driving up food prices). Learning from these circumstances is key to understanding the value of producing local food and not relying on long supply chains.
4. Opt for small-scale food producers
Currently, only 8% of food security funding under emergency assistance goes towards supporting agricultural production (SOFI, 2022). Small farmers, fishermen and livestock breeders need government support to gain access to markets, withstand climatic factors, enjoy equitable land distribution and have economic opportunities in rural areas to prevent depopulation. Likewise, to enjoy an education that allows them to make use of technology to make informed decisions. In this article we tell you more about FAO’s initiatives to bridge the digital divide.
5. Curb the climate crisis
The latest UN climate report reminds us that time is running out to reduce emissions, curb global warming and address the climate crisis before it is too late. Climate change affects food production, undermining global efforts to end hunger.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has outlined the solutions. On the one hand, making investments that accelerate the decarbonisation of all aspects of our economy, generating green jobs and sustainable and inclusive growth, and fostering the resilience of societies and people through a fair transition. On the other hand, investing in sustainable solutions. Specifically, fossil fuel subsidies must disappear and polluters must pay for their pollution.
6. Continue to support emergency food assistance
According to WFP, one of the most powerful tools for saving lives in the face of famine is emergency food assistance, whether in cash or in-kind. In Yemen, WFP’s largest expansion of food assistance, from 1 million people in 2015 to nearly 13 million, helped avert the 2019 famine.
7. Reduce food loss and waste
According to Torero, we lose 14% and waste 17% of the world’s food production, a great contradiction in this context of hunger and climate change. What would happen if we managed to redistribute food before it ends up in the garbage?
The forecasts are encouraging. Reducing food loss (that generated by suppliers in the food chain) and food waste (caused by food service providers, retailers and consumers) could feed 1.26 billion more people a year, and there would even be enough fruit and vegetables for everyone.
8. More and better technology
Investing in cutting-edge technology is essential to assist small-scale food producers in their harvesting, optimising natural resources and increasing crop yields. In addition, it allows to anticipate and detect new humanitarian needs, providing data on natural or economic hazards.
In turn, FAO states that more appropriate and standardised tools and methods for data collection and the measurement, reporting and verification of emissions are extremely necessary to combat climate change.
9. Think long term
What if we change reactive actions to proactive actions? More complex and long-term interventions are needed if we are to end world hunger. In addition to public policies and the contribution of the private sector, one way to do this is through education, engaging young people on the importance of eating a balanced and sustainable diet. We already told you about the S3 Canteen project.
To strengthen food and nutrition security in the long term, we must look beyond national-level solutions and seek regional and international solutions that take into account the needs of communities living in vulnerable environments. Famine is never unavoidable. Let’s work together to make this the last one.
You may be interested in:
- Investing in carbon neutrality: utopia or the new green wave? Challenges and opportunities for agri-food systems. FAO and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
- The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022. FAO.
- SDG 2. Zero Hunger: Why is it important?
- Hunger hotspots: FAO and WFP early warnings on acute food insecurity