Food

UN Photo/Isaac Billy
Displaced children residing at the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Tomping Protection of Civilians Site in Juba roast ears of corn.

The world needs to produce at least 50% more food to feed 9 billion people by 2050. But climate change could cut crop yields by more than 25%. The land, biodiversity, oceans, forests, and other forms of natural capital are being depleted at unprecedented rates. Unless we change how we grow our food and manage our natural capital, food security—especially for the world’s poorest—will be at risk. (World Bank, 2016)

For two decades, leading up to the millennium, global demand for food increased steadily, along with growth in the world’s population, record harvests, improvements in incomes, and the diversification of diets.  As a result, food prices continued to decline through 2000. But beginning in 2004, prices for most grains began to rise.  Although there was an increase in production, the increase in demand was greater.

Food stocks became depleted.  And then, in 2005, food production was dramatically affected by extreme weather incidents in major food-producing countries.  By 2006, world cereal production had fallen by 2.1 percent.  In 2007, rapid increases in oil prices increased fertilizer and other food production costs.

As international food prices reached unprecedented levels, countries sought ways to insulate themselves from potential food shortages and price shocks.  Several food-exporting countries imposed export restrictions.  Certain key importers began purchasing grains at any price to maintain domestic supplies.

High Level Task Force on Global Food and Nutrition Security

The dramatic rise of global food prices and the crisis led the United Nations (UN) Chief Executives Board in April 2008 to establish a High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis.  Composed of 23 key members of the UN system, it is chaired by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The primary aim of the Task Force is to promote a comprehensive and unified response of the international community to the challenge of achieving global food and nutrition security.

Progress continues in the fight against hunger, yet an unacceptably large number of people still lack the food they need for an active and healthy life. 

Hunger in numbers

The latest available estimates indicate that about 795 million people in the world – just over one in nine – were undernourished in 2014–16. That means one in nine people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life. Hunger and malnutrition are in fact the number one risk to health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. 

Measuring global progress against targets

The year 2015 marked the end of the monitoring period for the two internationally agreed targets for hunger reduction:

  • The first was the World Food Summit (WFS) goal. At the WFS, held in Rome in 1996, representatives of 182 governments pledged “... to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015”
  • The second was the formulation of the First Millennium Development Goal (MDG 1), which includes among its targets “cutting by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015”.

The Millennium Development Goals and food

In 2000, world leaders gathered at the UN to shape a broad vision to fight poverty, which was translated into eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and remained, until 2015, the overarching development framework for the world. At the end of the MDG period in 2015, there was a final assessment of progress made during the MDG period.  

The global mobilization behind the Millennium Development Goals has produced the most successful anti-poverty movement in history, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The MDG target of reducing by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty was achieved in 2010, well ahead of the 2015 deadline.

  • The proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions has fallen by almost half.
  • One in in seven children worldwide are underweight, down from one in four in 1990.

As can be seen from the above results of the MDGs, there was much progress in relation to food and hunger between 2000 and 2015.  However, a lot more work needs to be done. That work will now be the focus of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Zero Hunger challenge

The United Nations Secretary-General launched the Zero Hunger Challenge in 2012 during the Rio+20 World Conference on Sustainable Development. The Zero Hunger Challenge was launched to inspire a global movement towards a world free from hunger within a generation. It calls for:

  • Zero stunted children under the age of two
  • 100% access to adequate food all year round
  • All food systems are sustainable
  • 100% increase in smallholder productivity and income
  • Zero loss or waste of food

Food and the SDGs

Food is also at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN's development agenda for the 21st century. The second of the UN's 17 SDGs is to "End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture".  Achieving this goal by the target date of 2030 will require a profound change of the global food and agriculture system. Some of the components of this goal are:

  • Ending hunger, and ensuring access by all people to safe, nutritious food;
  • Ending all forms of malnutrition;
  • Doubling the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers;
  • Ensuring sustainable food production systems;
  • Increasing investment in agriculture;
  • Correcting and preventing trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets;
  • Adopting measures to ensure the proper functioning of food commodity markets.

UN agencies working for food security

World Food Programme (WFP)

The World Food Programme (WFP), aims to bring food assistance to more than 80 million people in 80 countries and is continually responding to emergencies. But WFP also works to help prevent hunger in the future. They do this through programmes that use food as a means to build assets, spread knowledge and nurture stronger, more dynamic communities. This helps communities become more food secure.

World Bank

Investment in agriculture and rural development to boost food production and nutrition is a priority for the World Bank Group. The Bank Group works with partners to improve food security and build a food system that can feed everyone, everywhere, every day. Activities include encouraging climate-smart farming techniques and restoring degraded farmland, breeding more resilient and nutritious crops and improving storage and supply chains for reducing food losses

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Achieving food security for all is at the heart of the efforts of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. Its three main goals: the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition; the elimination of poverty and the driving forward of economic and social progress for all; and, the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources, including land, water, air, climate and genetic resources for the benefit of present and future generations.  FAO also  issues the food price index, which is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

The International  Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)  has focused exclusively on rural poverty reduction, working with poor rural populations in developing countries to eliminate poverty, hunger and malnutrition; raise their productivity and incomes; and improve the quality of their lives. The International  Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)  has focused exclusively on rural poverty reduction, working with poor rural populations in developing countries to eliminate poverty, hunger and malnutrition; raise their productivity and incomes; and improve the quality of their lives. All IFAD-funded programmes and projects address food and nutrition security in some way. IFAD has supported about 400 million poor rural women and men over the past three decades.

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