The ambitions to build a fairer and more resilient world, principles that underpin the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), are sounding hollow as the world continues to face challenges arising from Covid-19, climate change and increasing geopolitical instability, all of which are contributing to rising global food insecurity.
Drawn up prior to the devastating impact of the war in Ukraine, a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report stated that:
“A better world will only emerge from the pandemic if strong economic recoveries are promoted and supported in all regions of the global economy; if the economic gains from recovery are skewed towards middle and lower-income households; if health provision, including ready access to vaccines, is treated as a truly global public good; and if there is a coordinated big investment push across all countries into carbon-free sources of energy”.
However, actions across diverse policy areas are simply falling far short of delivering a better world. Evidence of this failure is reflected in rich countries meeting less than half of their UN Official Development Assistance targets; in the EU and UK’s opposition to a meaningful Covid-19 intellectual property waiver at the recent World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference (at the end of June 2022 less than 20% of people in low-income countries had received one vaccine dose); and in inadequate climate action. Against this background is it any surprise that the SDGs are in trouble?
The reality is inequality and poverty (exacerbated by conflicts, Covid-19, climate change and economic/cost of living shocks) means the poorest are being left even further behind. Nowhere is the evidence of this reality more vividly depicted than in the 2022 edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report.
SOFI 2022 should make uncomfortable reading for governments. For despite their affirmation of the importance of achieving global food security the headline message of the 2022 report is that “any lingering doubts that the world is moving backwards in its efforts to end hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms” should be dispelled. Among the findings that underline this message are:
• in 2021, 11.7% of the global population faced food insecurity at severe levels
• based on current trends, the percentage of the world population facing hunger in 2030
will be unchanged from 2015 when the SDGs were launched
• one in five people in Africa were facing hunger in 2021
• there is a growing gender gap in food insecurity
The report also looks at governments’ food and agricultural support. The average figure for this support between 2013 and 2018 was USD 630 billion, which sounds like quite a lot. However, the report finds that in many cases this support is “inadvertently undermining food security and nutrition outcomes” as well as being “not equitably distributed, is market distortive and environmentally harmful”.
The report recommends that governments start rethinking how they can reallocate their support so that it incentivises the availability and affordability of healthy diets in ways that are sustainable and leave no one behind.
For this repurposing to be most effective, complementing policies in related areas, including climate action, are needed. Small-scale farmers represent the vast majority of the world’s farms and in Sub-Saharan Africa provide up to 80% of the food produced. As the current food crisis in the Horn and East Africa starkly illustrates, it is these farmers who are disproportionately experiencing the effects of climate change.
Yet despite agriculture’s importance to food security, livelihoods and environmental health, the percentage of climate finance for agriculture stands at a paltry 3%. Even worse is the fact that less than half of this finance is targeting small-scale farmers while a tiny fraction of this support is being directed towards transformative and innovative approaches, such as agroecology.
As the urgency of taking effective actions to build the resilience of those most impacted by climate and other shocks increases, governments re-affirming the principle of leaving no one behind is only credible if their actions and investments benefit the communities and people in greatest need.