Ending Hunger Requires $US40 Billion Annually & Major Reforms to Food Systems 
A major global ‘pre-summit’ on food systems took place in Rome on Monday.

The world needs an investment of US$40 billion per year by 2030 to eradicate hunger. And these investments must be accompanied by major reforms in food systems to make them more efficient, resilient, and sustainable, said experts at a major global “pre-summit” on food systems, Monday.

Transformations to food systems should focus on providing seed security to smallholder farmers, training on improved planting techniques, and ensuring production of more nutritious, biodiverse and climate-resilient crop varieties.

The UN Pre-Summit taking place in Rome from 26-28 July, is a stage-setter for the full-fledged UN Food Systems Summit, scheduled for September in New York. 

“We are here in Rome to bake the cake that will be iced in September. And as we harvest from the rich and diverse outcomes of this process, I am hopeful we will agree on the key ingredients needed to support our countries,” said Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, at the pre-summit opening Monday.

Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, at the UN Food Systems pre-summit opening on Monday.

The series of pre-summit sessions aims to foster dialogue between farmers, indigenous peoples, civil society, researchers, private sector, ministers of agriculture, environment, and health, and policy leaders. Meanwhile, UN agency officials and government ministers called for greater and more innovative investment from high-income countries and the private sector. 

“We’ve got the expertise in this room and around the world to end hunger,” said David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP). 

“Now it is time to act. We do not necessarily need more meetings, we need more monvey and more investment to eradicate hunger,” said Gerd Müller, Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“Increased investment in sustainable transformation, in agriculture, renewable energy, education, and…fair value chains between developing and industrialized countries” is needed from industrialized nations, said Müller, calling on the G20 and G7 to adopt a smarter and more targeted agenda on food systems.

“We need to look at ways where we can create innovative financing to make sure that we can bridge the gap of US$40 billion a year. And not only resources coming from our traditional donors, but also resources coming from the private sector and from domestic resources,” said Gilbert Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Gilbert Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Failures of the current food system – obesity, undernutrition & starvation 

Global food systems are currently in dire need of reform, experts stressed at the pre-summit, co-hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),the  International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Italian government.

“The dominant global food systems…are wasteful, inequitable, undemocratic, and unsustainable,” said Anne Nuorgam, Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. 

Sufficient food is produced to feed the world’s population, but one third of it, almost 1.3 billion tonnes, is lost or wasted every year throughout the supply chain from initial agricultural production to household consumption. Along with lost nutritional opportunities, that food-waste also contributes to climate change, in terms of the climate footprint of wasted energy, water resources, fertilizers, and other production inputs. 

Increased industrialization of the food production chain, including greater reliance on monocultures, production of cheap starches and processed foods, is exacerbating, rather than easing, the twin crises of obesity and malnutrition  –  with the number of food insecure people growing in recent years. 

Over the past five years, the world has regressed on progress towards tackling hunger. In 2015, there were 80 million people on the brink of starvation and today there are 270 million. 

During COVID-19, there was an increase of 165 million people dealing with chronic food insecurity and 135 million people with acute food insecurity. 

“In 2020, the increase [in food insecurity] was equal to the sum of the increase over the last five years,” said Professor Sheryl L. Hendriks, Director of the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-being at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. She was speaking at ‘Achieving Zero Hunger: Nutritiously and Sustainably,’ a parallel session organized by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). 

Food systems on the whole also fail to provide adequate calories and nutrition to approximately 760 million people. 

“The world needs a wake up call. We are in serious trouble,” said Beasley.

Industrialized food systems driving deforestation, biodiversity loss & climate change

Today’s food systems are fragile and unequal, requiring widespread reforms in policies, farming practices, and financing.

In addition, industrialized food systems are the number one cause of deforestation and they are among the main drivers of climate change, biodiversity loss, and erosion of topsoil. 

Food systems, overall, generate massive amounts of pollution and produce close to one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Even in Europe, for instance, agricultural chemicals and fertilizers used on crops and for livestock production are a major, neglected cause of air pollution – due to the particulate emissions that they generate. 

Land grabs from indigenous peoples are instigated by food systems, forcibly displacing indigenous communities, destroying livelihoods, and violating human rights.

“The system is not fit for purpose,” said Mari Pangestu, World Bank’s Managing Director of Development Policy.

Despite the large divergence in perspectives between actors in food systems, “there is consensus on one thing: the status quo is not acceptable,” said Houngbo.

“We have to recognize that we do have failures, not only market failures, but failures around the whole chain,” he added. 

Reforms to food systems should focus on small farmers

Farmers should be central to transformations in food systems, said the experts on Monday. 

There are some 500 million smallholder farms worldwide that over 2 billion people depend on for their livelihoods. These small farms produce 35% of the world’s food supply and 80% of the food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Smallholder farmers typically produce small volumes on relatively small plots of land and are vulnerable in supply chains. 

“This is where we must invest,” said Beasley. 

David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme.

Fostering seed security, secure land tenure & crop diversity  

Ensuring seed security to smallholder farmers is defined as providing farmers and farming communities with access to adequate quantities of quality seed and planting materials, adapted to their agro-ecological conditions and socioeconomic needs. 

Seed security is particularly important to farmers in areas that experience frequent droughts or other natural disasters. 

“We need to put farmers and indigenous peoples first, both in access to crop diversity and in seed policy and practice,” said Aksel Jakobsen, State Secretary of International Development for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

“Policy and regulation must provide farmers with the legal space to save, use, sell and exchange seeds from their harvests,” said Jakobsen. “By providing legal space and empowering local communities by strengthening farmers seed systems, we are investing in a true path towards ending hunger.”

Smallholder farmers would also benefit from access to high quality and affordable farming equipment and training on basic planting techniques.

Providing smallholder farmers with tools and technologies they need 

“We must give smallholder farmers the tools and technologies that will help them boost their deals and manage the impact of growing climate shocks as we race to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement,” Samantha Power, Administrator of USAID, said at the GAIN event on Monday.

Samantha Power, Administrator of USAID.

“The poorest farmers in the world deserve the same access to the innovative new tools and services that wealthier farmers benefit from,” said Andrew Youn, Co-founder of One Acre Fund, at the GAIN session.

Crops developed with biotechnology are able to withstand harsh weather conditions and reduce hunger in the face of climate change. Drought tolerant crops can help maintain farm productivity and yield. 

Farmers should also be empowered to invest in farming techniques that benefit the environment by ensuring the health and sustainability of the soil and land. Agroforestry, which involves the integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems, is a technique to reduce erosion.

Transition to ‘agroecology’ and ecosystem restoration 

Scientific innovation is a critical part of reforming food systems and reducing hunger worldwide. Innovations, such as bio science plant breeding, solar irrigation, carbon capturing soil, and digitized blockchain technology to assure land rights, could be important to benefit smallholder farmers and the environment. 

Advocates from farmers’ associations called for policies that respect the rights of family farmers and indigenous peoples to natural resources, especially land, water, forestry, and seeds. 

They also advocated for the transition to agroecology and ecosystem restoration, including promoting local traditional crops, which are often neglected and underutilized.

In addition, adequate financing should be directed to farmers through national committees and cooperatives with family farmers. 

“To be bold, for us, is to transform our food system into something that is sustainable, resilient, regenerative, healthy, nutritious, just, and empowering to people, including family farmers, which improves production in crops, livestock, fisheries, forestry, herding and pastoralism,” said Estrella Penunia, Secretary-General of the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development. 

Estrella Penunia, Secretary-General of the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development.

“We need to move beyond incremental change,” said Peter Bakker, President and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. “Transformational change is what we need and it is urgent.”

Private sector has important role to play in reforms 

“Solving food insecurity is not only a government problem. The private sector has to play an equally important part,” said Sunny Verghese, Executive Director of Olam International, speaking at the GAIN event.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development announced the launch of the Business Declaration for Food Systems Transformation on Monday.

“Business commits to help lead the food system transformations by implementing actions in their companies, their sectors and their value chains,” said Bakker. 

“We must not exclude the private sector. They must be part of the solution,” said Beasley. “As I talk to the private sector, I know you need a return on your investment, but be willing to make a little bit less to empower the smallholder farmers and to change systems in developing nations so that we all share this success.”

Big timber, cattle, palm, and pulp and paper cause significant damage to the environment, but “[we should] never make these sectors the enemy,” said Dr. Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). 

“Those sectors have a responsibility to lean in and to drive sustainability. That is what we need to see them do,” she added. “And governments need to set policies that do not subsidize, that do not cause further destruction. [They should] subsidize the smallholder, and big agriculture, if that is what is needed, but not with those negative consequences.”

Image Credits: FAO, FAO.

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