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POP/1095
19 April 2021
Fifty-fourth Session, 1st Meeting (AM & PM)

Amid Rising Poverty, Food Insecurity Wrought by COVID-19, Speakers Urge Action to Build Fairer, More Durable World, as Population and Development Commission Begins Session

As COVID-19 continues to expose links between gender inequality, food insecurity and poor access to health care and reproductive rights, the global community has an obligation to build back better, fairer and more sustainably for the estimated 10 billion people who will inhabit the planet by 2050, the Economic and Social Council’s Commission on Population and Development heard today, as members opened their fifty-fourth session.

Amina J. Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, delivered opening remarks, describing the current moment as pivotal.  Against the backdrop of the destruction wrought by COVID-19, the Commission’s 2021 theme — “Population, food security, nutrition and sustainable development” — could not be timelier, she said, noting that, even before the first case, the world was not on track to eliminate hunger and malnutrition by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s implementation deadline.  Undernourishment was rising, and has now worsened considerably, and billions continue to suffer from overlapping forms of malnutrition.  “Unless we act now, hundreds of millions of children and adults will face poverty and hunger,” she warned, adding that all those challenges are taking place as climate change — driven by unsustainable patterns of consumption and production — threatens the stability of food systems.

Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), recalled that the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development prescribed measures to strengthen food, nutrition and agricultural policies, more than a quarter century ago.  “In observing this year’s theme, we must remember that, on every continent, whether in development or crisis settings, the prevalence of food insecurity is higher among women,” she said, emphasizing that, around the globe, it is often women and girls who eat last and least.  As COVID-19 continues to result in spiking poverty and food insecurity, so, too, is the risk of low‑birth‑weight babies, obstructed labour, premature births and maternal and newborn deaths rising.  Meanwhile, she said, food scarcity and movement restrictions place women and girls at higher risk of violence, early marriage, transactional sex and other forms of exploitation and abuse.

Qu Dongyu, Executive Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said the world’s food systems are suffering from vast inequalities and already exceed planetary boundaries for key resources.  Billions of people still cannot afford healthy diets and struggle for decent livelihoods within and outside agriculture, and in rural and urban areas.  Emphasizing that a business-as-usual scenario “is simply not an option”, he called for concrete action to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s multiple targets simultaneously.  Spotlighting several key trade-offs, he said efforts are needed to increase agricultural output while reducing greenhouse‑gas emissions and to scale up automation while supporting employment with decent wages.  More sustainable and affordable agricultural technologies are needed, even as human capital is built up and social protection policies enacted, he said.

Elliot Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist, struck a similar tone, noting that ensuring a healthy future for both people and planet requires feeding the growing population in a manner that is safe, equitable and sustainable.  To that end, improving food security and nutrition calls for efforts to increase education, prevent child marriage, reduce the number of adolescent pregnancies and improve access to a nutritious diet and family planning services.  “Nutrition education and assistance can be integrated into programmes for general education, social protection and health care, including for sexual and reproductive health-care services,” he said, calling on Member States to intensify efforts to reduce and eliminate unsustainable production and consumption patterns.

Gilbert Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), drew attention to the disproportionate poverty and hunger felt by the world’s 3.4 billion women, men and children in rural communities.  An estimated 80 per cent of the world’s poorest people, and most of the world’s chronically hungry, live in the rural parts of developing countries.  Most rely on small-scale agriculture and form the backbone of the food supply chain in low- and middle-income countries, producing around half the world’s food calories on 30 per cent of its land.  Calling for efforts to ensure that food systems create decent livelihoods, he echoed calls for Governments to champion women’s empowerment and support rural women’s access to resources and financing — as well as their equal rights to land.

Alpha Barry, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, African Integration and Burkinabè Abroad of Burkina Faso, outlined development challenges and eroded progress faced by countries around the globe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  Global food chains continue to face long-term disruption at a time when developed countries are directing fewer resources towards official development assistance (ODA).  Calling on the international community to mobilize new funding and make more effective use of existing finance mechanisms, he said developing countries must also have access to the resources they need to mitigate future crises, including climate-related ones.  He urged the Commission to adopt an action-oriented outcome, feeding into the Food Systems Summit slated to be convened later in 2021, and to reach consensus on delicate issues.

Several speakers pointed to the upcoming Food Systems Summit as a crucial platform for multilateral action in support of more robust, equitable and sustainable foodways.  Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit, also delivered opening remarks, calling for concrete steps to transform food systems and stay ahead of population growth.  Noting that the Summit's top priority is delivering on the 2030 Agenda while addressing how the world produces, processes and consumes food, as well as the impact of those processes on people, planet and prosperity, she also welcomed the Commission’s current focus on better understanding the relationship between population, food and nutritional security, and sustainable development.  Turning to COVID-19, she pointed out that food systems and their value chains have the potential to help the world build back better as they recover from the pandemic.

Keynote speaker Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck, Queen Mother of Bhutan, agreed that too many women and girls around the world are still marginalized, living at or below the poverty line, with far too little control over their reproductive health and choices.  COVID-19 has deepened and perpetuated those inequalities and vulnerabilities, while highlighting gaps in policies and systems.  Gender-based violence has risen, health‑care systems have failed to provide reliable maternal and neonatal services, and women face increased domestic labour and economic shocks.  Noting that Bhutan’s commitment to universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and advancing women’s rights brought about a healthier, happier society, she emphasized the national view that “economic growth is just one indicator”, including in the world’s COVID-19 recovery plans.

In the afternoon, the Commission convened a virtual panel discussion to introduce reports of the Secretary-General on population, food security, nutrition and sustainable development (document E/CN.9/2021/2); the monitoring of population programmes, focusing on population, food security, nutrition and sustainable development (document E/CN.9/2021/3); and the flow of financial resources for assisting in the further implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (document E/CN.9/2021/4).  It also began its general discussion.

In other business, members elected, by acclamation, Cristina Popescu (Romania) and Mayra Lisseth Sorto (El Salvador) to serve as Vice-Chairs of the fifty-fourth session, and announced the designation of Damla Fidan (Turkey) to serve as the session’s Rapporteur.  It also adopted the provisional agenda for its current session (document E/CN.9/2021/1) and the provisional organization of work (document E/CN.9/2021/L.1), on the understanding that further adjustments may be made as warranted during the course of the session.

The Commission will reconvene to hold another virtual panel discussion at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 20 April.

Opening Remarks

AMINA J. MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the world has achieved many milestones since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, including significant poverty reduction and improved food security.  Health systems have substantially improved, maternal deaths have declined by some 40 per cent, life expectancies increased and access to primary education was expanded for both boys and girls.  However, she said, “as we take stock of progress, the picture is clear — we are far from where we need to be”.  Too many people are still being left behind, unable to fulfil their aspirations or exercise their rights.  “The Sustainable Development Goals cannot, and will not, be achieved until women, girls and young people are able to control their bodies and their lives, and live a life free from fear and violence,” she said.

Describing the current moment as pivotal, she said the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated livelihoods, exacerbated injustices and inequalities, and threatened decades of development progress.  Against that backdrop, the Commission’s focus this year on food security and nutrition could not be timelier.  Sadly, the world is not on track to eliminate hunger and malnutrition by 2030, and the undernourishment that was already rising before the pandemic has worsened considerably.  Meanwhile, billions of people suffer from multiple and overlapping forms of malnutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies and obesity, and cannot afford healthy diets.  COVID-19 is also exacerbating food crises caused by conflict, severe climate events and pest infestations.  Noting that the nutritional status of the most vulnerable groups is likely to deteriorate further due to the pandemic’s impacts, she warned:  “Unless we act now, hundreds of millions of children and adults will face poverty and hunger.”

All that is taking place as climate change — driven by the world’s current patterns of consumption and production — threaten the stability of food systems, she continued.  Calling for a shift towards sustainable approaches, balanced diets, responsible consumption and production, and fairer distribution of income and food, she said the livelihoods of 4.5 billion people are also tied to food systems.  “For them, and for the health of all the world’s people, we must seize this moment of potential transformation,” she said.  Guided by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Food Systems Summit slated to convene later in 2021 provides an opportunity to advance in five key areas, namely:  Access to safe and nutritious food; sustainable consumption patterns; nature-positive production; equitable livelihoods; and resilience.

Pointing to the disproportionate challenges facing women ang girls amid the pandemic, she spotlighted increased gender-based violence and eroded access to sexual and reproductive health services, which undermines their reproductive rights.  There is also an alarming increase in harmful practices and a steep rise in adolescent pregnancies and child marriages.  For its part, the Commission should adopt an action-oriented outcome as an important contribution to implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action and to the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals.  Such an outcome will also send a strong message to upcoming Summits, including the Food Systems Summit, she said.

ALPHA BARRY, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, African Integration and Burkinabè Abroad of Burkina Faso, said that the global health crisis has forced the Commission to take on work of its previous session, demonstrating that the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world and hampered efforts to achieve the well-being of all people.  “The pandemic has disrupted public health programmes and jeopardized the work of vital nutrition programmes,” he warned Member States, noting that some 3 billion people worldwide cannot afford to eat healthy food.  As it stands, global food chains continue to face long-term disruption at a time when developed countries are directing fewer resources towards official development assistance (ODA).

“It is urgent that the international community mobilize to find new resources and make effective use of existing finance mechanisms,” he said, as only so can concerted efforts be made to eradicate malnutrition and food insecurity.  Developing countries must have access to the resources they need to mitigate future crises, including climate-related issues.  He concluded by assuring the Commission that its outcomes can enrich future debates on improving livelihoods worldwide, including at the upcoming Food Systems Summit, and urged the Commission to find consensus on all delicate issues and for relevant and unified conclusions to emerge from the current session.

NATALIA KANEM, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), recalled that the 1994 International Conference called for measures to strengthen food, nutrition and agricultural policies and programmes with special attention to the creation of food security.  “In observing this year’s theme, we must remember that, on every continent, whether in development or crisis settings, the prevalence of food insecurity is higher among women,” she said, emphasizing that, around the globe, it is often women and girls who eat last and least.  When they are pregnant or breastfeeding, that spells disaster for mother and her newborn.

“Now, what was already bad has been made worse by COVID-19,” she said, noting that the pandemic is causing a spike in poverty, and consequently, food insecurity and undernutrition.  That, in turn, increases the risk of low‑birth‑weight babies, obstructed labour, premature births and maternal and newborn deaths.  Describing nutrition programmes as among the most cost-effective interventions for life‑long health, she said the delivery of such programmes must continue, “pandemic or not”.  Meanwhile, food scarcity and COVID-19-related movement restrictions place women and girls at higher risk of violence, transactional sex and other forms of sexual exploitation and abuse — as evidenced in the terrible bargains made when someone vulnerable exchanges unwanted sex for shelter or food, or when desperate families marry off their young daughters just to survive.  The pandemic is also exacerbating existing barriers that hinder women’s ability to exercise these choices.

Outlining the political progress achieved since the 1994 Cairo Conference, she said the Nairobi Summit on the occasion of its twenty-fifth anniversary, in 2019, reinvigorated the movement and helped to further mobilize political will.  “I am encouraged that, despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, we see progress in advancing the Nairobi commitments, proof that the world is serious about realizing this transformative agenda for women and girls,” she said.  However, she urged the Commission to seize the opportunity presented by its current session to demonstrate that meeting the aspirations of women and girls “will not escape our grasp”.  There must be no obstacle to a resounding consensus that food security and nutrition underpin all the Sustainable Development Goals and are essential to human dignity and well‑being, she concluded.

QU DONGYU, Executive Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), welcomed the Secretary-General’s report (document E/CN.9/2021/2) on the Commission’s multi-faceted 2021 theme “Population, food security, nutrition and sustainable development”.   Emphasizing that agri‑food systems lie at the heart of the 2030 Agenda, he said the Secretary‑General’s report highlights three critical challenges.  First, that food systems are already exceeding planetary boundaries for key resources; second, that dietary patterns are unbalanced, leading to both chronic and infectious diseases; and third, that food systems continue to suffer vast inequalities, as evidenced by the persistence of hunger and food insecurity.

Indeed, he continued, billions of people still cannot afford healthy diets and struggle for decent livelihoods within and outside agriculture, and in rural and urban areas.  According to FAO projections, a “business-as-usual” scenario “is simply not an option”, as it would lead to unacceptable levels of malnutrition, undernourishment and further environmental degradation.  Calling for concrete action to achieve the multiple targets laid out in the 2030 Agenda simultaneously, he said that means addressing and minimizing trade-offs.  Efforts are needed to increase agricultural output while also reducing greenhouse‑gas emissions and stress on natural resource; scale up automation while supporting employment; provide income-earning opportunities for all while ensuring decent wages and work conditions; and benefit from data while supporting collective ownership, openness, transparency and preventing uncontrolled concentration.

In order to achieve such a transformation, he called on the international community to focus on actions that favour responsible consumption and production patterns, in order to ease pressure on ecosystems, reduce greenhouse‑gas emissions and mitigate climate change.  Among other things, it should also encourage the development of sustainable and affordable agricultural technologies; build human capacity and provide revenue supplements where needed; implement arrangements to clarify big-data ownership; ensure that trade rules for food and agricultural products take into consideration social and environmental impacts; support research to improve nutrition; and provide social protection policies that benefit women, youth, older persons and others living in vulnerable situations, he said.

GILBERT HOUNGBO, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), drew attention to the disproportionate poverty and hunger felt by the world’s 3.4 billion women, men and children in rural communities, declaring:  “80 per cent of the world’s poorest population and most of the world’s chronically hungry live in the rural areas of developing countries.”  Most people in such communities rely on small-scale agriculture and form the backbone of the food supply chain in low- and middle-income countries, producing around half the world’s food calories on 30 per cent of its land, he noted.  “Rural people, their economic activities and the food systems we all depend on, are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” he said, highlighting the nexus between food security, nutrition and sustainable development.

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the international community must come together to create healthier, more inclusive, resilient, fair and sustainable food systems.  He urged the world’s leaders to recognize that most rural people contribute in some way to meeting global food demand and called for greater efforts to ensure food systems create decent livelihoods.  Further, development indicators show that rural women fare worse than rural men.  As such, it is imperative to champion women’s empowerment and ensure rural women have equal access to resources and financing, and rights to their land.  Turning to the prospects for the global youth, he said that, if given the proper employment opportunities, they can act as engines of growth while also contributing to a better food system.

ELLIOT HARRIS, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist, delivering remarks on behalf of Liu Zhenmin, Under‑Secretary‑General for Economic and Social Affairs, stressed that humanity’s success in averting global food shortages over the past centuries has come at great cost, with current food systems exceeding planetary boundaries for key resources and generating tremendous food loss and waste.  Further, current diets are resulting in premature mortality and heightened susceptibility to chronic and infectious diseases, and current systems have resulted in a rise in inequalities, as evidenced by the persistence of hunger and food insecurity for hundreds of millions of people.  All these factors put Sustainable Development Goals related to food and nutrition at risk of not being reached by 2030.

Ensuring a healthy future for both people and planet requires feeding the growing population in a manner that is healthy, equitable and sustainable, he said.  To that end, improving food security and nutrition calls for efforts to increase education, prevent child marriage, reduce the number of adolescent pregnancies and improve access to a nutritious diet and family planning services.  “Nutrition education and assistance can be integrated into programmes for general education, social protection and health care, including for sexual and reproductive health-care services,” he said, further calling on Member States to intensify efforts to reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption.

“The Commission demonstrates its continuing relevance by linking population trends to broader development processes and goals,” he stressed, adding that an outcome of the Commission will make a meaningful contribution to the upcoming Food Systems Summit.  He assured Member States that his office stands ready to advance the Commission’s recommendations, including promoting evidence-based debates on population and development.

AGNES KALIBATA, Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit, said in pre‑recorded opening remarks that people lie at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the creation of equitable food systems.  “Continued population growth will substantially increase the demand for food supplies, and require measures that guarantee sufficient, safe and nutritious food,” she said, noting that, according to United Nations projections, the world’s population will grow from approximately 7 billion today to 9.7 billion in 2050.  Action is required to transform food systems and stay ahead of that growth, she stressed, recalling that the Secretary‑General launched the Food Systems Summit — to be convened later in 2021 — to catalyse action and get the planet “back on track”.

She described the Summit's top priority as delivering on the 2030 Agenda while addressing how the world produces, processes and consumes food, as well as the impact of those processes on people, planet and prosperity.  In a similar vein, the focus of the Commission’s 2021 session is to better understand the relationship between population, food and nutritional security, and sustainable development.  Citing evidence that transforming food systems is one of the most impactful ways to accelerate achievement of the 2030 Agenda, she reiterated that people must be at the centre of all five tracks of food system actions.  The Food Systems Summit must therefore be treated as a “People’s Summit”, as envisioned by the Secretary-General.  In addition, she pointed out that food systems and their value chains have the potential to help the world build back better and recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

Keynote Address

GYALYUM SANGAY CHODEN WANGCHUCK, Queen Mother of Bhutan, said global initiatives aimed at advancing women’s rights to promote their social and economic development have yielded significant results in the last 25 years.  Among other achievements, maternal mortality has dropped by nearly half and contraceptive use is higher than ever.  Expanded access to anti-retroviral therapy and declining incidences of HIV infections has greatly reduced the number of HIV-related deaths.  The introduction of vaccines for HPV has helped reduce preventable cervical cancer, and the global gender gap in education has narrowed.

However, she agreed with other speakers that many challenges remain.  Too many women and girls around the world are still marginalized, living at or below the poverty line, with far too little control over their reproductive health and choices.  Maternal mortality remains a leading cause of death, and gender equality and women’s rights continue to face challenges around the globe.  Echoing concerns that COVID-19 has deepened and perpetuated inequalities and vulnerabilities for women and girls, she said they have also highlighted gaps in policies and systems.  Gender-based violence has risen, health‑care systems have failed to provide reliable maternal and neonatal services, women face increased domestic labour, and economic shocks, such as job losses and food scarcity have disproportionately affected them.  “The socioeconomic impacts triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic clearly illustrate the connectedness of development concerns related to women,” she stressed, adding:  “One broken link can threaten the whole chain of progress on women’s issues.”

In order to shift those dynamics by 2030, she said the international community must move beyond counting, quantification and assessments.  “Now is the time for solutions,” she stressed, calling for courageous initiatives and innovative action to promote women’s rights.  Noting that the enormity of the challenge is to create a world in which women’s equality is guaranteed, not granted, she recalled that the momentum generated by the 1994 International Conference deeply influenced the course of development in Bhutan.  The country’s commitment to provide universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and advance the rights and choices for women and girls brought about significant changes and visible impacts.  Today, Bhutanese women are healthier, live longer and are better equipped to plan their families.  Gender parity in both primary and secondary schools was achieved and perceptions about gender roles are changing.

She said Bhutan’s development philosophy, centred around its Gross National Happiness Index, is at the centre of all its policies and programmes.  That strategy strives to include every woman, man and child in the development process, and views the happiness of people as the overarching measurement of a nation’s progress.  “Economic growth is just one of the means to that end,” she said, adding that, viewed in that light, much more remains to be done — including in Bhutan.  For example, the country’s young people face several emerging challenges, including unmet needs for modern contraception and low levels of comprehensive knowledge about HIV/AIDS among adolescents.  The Commission’s current theme comes at a critical time, as the COVID-19 pandemic has also had a profound impact on health‑care systems, food security and gender equality.

“Without urgent action, hundreds of millions more will face poverty and hunger,” she warned, noting that Bhutan has not been immune to COVID-19’s tragic effects.  Despite its small size, Bhutan’s lessons learned and success in mitigating the virus’ destructive consequences can have far-reaching implications for other, more severely impacted countries.  In that regard, she spotlighted Bhutan’s aggressive and early preparation, along with a well-functioning health‑care system, committed front‑line workers and open, honest and transparent communication.  The country has also successfully rolled out the first dose of COVID-19 vaccines to over 60 per cent of its population, with assistance from India.  “It is imperative to ensure that vaccines are recognized as global public goods, and that they are made equitably and fairly accessible to all countries,” she stressed.

Expert Panel

In the afternoon, the Commission held an expert panel and interactive debate on reports of the Secretary-General on population, food security, nutrition and sustainable development (document E/CN.9/2021/2); monitoring of population programmes, focusing on population, food security, nutrition and sustainable development (document E/CN.9/2021/3); and the flow of financial resources for assisting in the further implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (document E/CN.9/2021/4).

The panel was moderated by Mayra Lisseth Sorto (El Salvador), Vice‑Chair‑designate of the Commission.  It featured presentations by Cheryl Sawyer, Senior Population Affairs Officer, Population Division, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Sandile Simelane, Technical Specialist, Population and Development Branch, UNFPA; Michael Herrmann, Senior Adviser, UNFPA; Lorenzo Giovanni Bellù, Senior Economist and Lead of Policy Intelligence and Global Perspectives, FAO; and Carmen Burbano, Director of School-Based Programmes, World Food Programme (WFP).

Ms. SORTO, opening the panel, said the two reports on the special theme provide a wealth of evidence on the relationships between population, food security, nutrition and sustainable development that will inform the Commission’s work throughout the session and look at important impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security and nutrition.  The third report, on the flow of financial resources for implementation of the International Conference’s Programme of Action, provides updates on aid flows to deliver on commitments to expedite its implementation.

She asked Ms. Sawyer — lead author of the report on population, food security, nutrition and sustainable development — to describe the key relationships between demographic trends, population health, and food security, nutrition and sustainable development examined in the report.

Ms. SAWYER said the report documents that population size and distribution are important drivers of demand for food, with demand set to increase worldwide, especially in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.  Further, unhealthy diets are creating health burdens across the world and inadequate nutrition and anaemia are contributing to worsening development indicators.  She said food production is taking a heavy toll on the environment which is exacerbated by the large amount of food waste worldwide.

Ms. SORTO said hunger and malnutrition will increase by 2050 if the international community fails to take action to address food and agriculture concerns and asked Mr. Bellù what shifts need to take place to chart a new course towards ending hunger and promoting sustainability.

Mr. BELLÙ said that, to produce enough food to meet the needs of an increasing population while using fewer resources requires an approach that combines scientific progress with indigenous knowledge.  Further, efforts are needed to mitigate the negative effects that productivity-enhancing technologies can have on the labour market.  To balance these trade-offs, Governments must grant universal access to high quality social services that allow vulnerable populations to obtain the human capital required to raise their earning potential.

Ms. SORTO, turning to Mr. Simelane, asked what the key impacts of the pandemic on food security and nutrition are and who bears the heaviest burden.

Mr. SIMELANE highlighted that the pandemic’s full impact will take years to be understood, adding:  “The pandemic affects all pillars of food security.”  He warned that pandemic-related disruption of food systems will reverse progress towards erasing hunger by 2030 and said the pandemic will increase the number of people affected by diseases arising from malnutrition.  “The pandemic provides a stark reminder of the vast inequality that exists around the world,” he noted, adding that people in humanitarian crises and those in other vulnerable groups are those most affected by the food security implications of the pandemic.

Ms. SORTO next asked Ms. Burbano to elaborate on the impacts of COVID-19 on school feeding and nutrition for children and on how the pandemic affects food security and nutrition in humanitarian situations.

Ms. BURBANO echoed that the most vulnerable households are disproportionately affected by hunger due to the pandemic.  Additionally, school children are heavily burdened as they have been deprived of months of school meals, as well as other child health interventions.  “At the peak of the crisis, 90 per cent of school children were out of school, with 370 million children missing out of school meals,” she noted, adding that over 200 million school children are still missing out on meals as a result of the pandemic.  In India — home to the largest school meal programme in the world, efforts were implemented to provide meals to 100 million school children through meal deliveries and cash transfers.  While impressive, these interim efforts are not sustainable.  As a result, school meal programmes must be a top priority for policymakers as pandemic recovery efforts proceed.

Ms. SORTO then asked Mr. Herrmann what trends are emerging in financing for development and if adequate levels of aid are being directed towards food security, nutrition and development.

Mr. HERRMANN said the pandemic’s impact on aid flows is not yet known as aggregate data is not available.  However, if aid trends continue, amounts will decrease for 2020 and 2021 as they did in the years prior.  “Many of the richest countries are in recessions and face competing demands for resources,” he stated, adding that those Governments are reconsidering and determining how aid is allocated.  Turning to food security and nutrition, he said data since 2010 shows an increase in aid towards agricultural development, with small amounts of aid directed at programmes that have direct positive impacts on small farms.

Ms. SORTO then asked Mr. Bellù for examples of actions that can be taken to mitigate the negative impacts that agricultural transformation and urbanization can have on rural communities.

Mr. BELLÙ emphasized the relevance of resilient local food systems and of creating bidirectional flows of goods and services that exploit the nexus among agriculture, energy generation and biodiversity preservation.  “Rural areas cannot be safe unless we speed up the decarbonization of developed economic systems,” he stressed, noting that only through such efforts can mid-term climate crises be averted.

Ms. SORTO, turning to Ms. Sawyer, asked what barriers are preventing women, young people and older people from achieving decent livelihoods in rural areas.

Ms. SAWYER said women make up 37 per cent of the rural agricultural economy and face new challenges because of the pandemic, which has increased their household work burden.  Rural young people have limited access to employment‑related services which force them to migrate to urban communities.  Finally, efforts must be made to ensure older people in rural agricultural communities have access to emerging technologies.

Ms. SORTO then asked Mr. Simelane what key policies, programmes and interventions are needed to fulfil the promises of the 2030 Agenda in relation to nutrition.

Mr. SIMELANE said that one of the most cost-effective interventions to advance efforts to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda is ensuring adequate nutrition for pregnant women and for their babies until they reach the age of 24 months.  However, even before the pandemic these initiatives were underfunded.  He also cited school food programmes and nutrition interventions responding to the unique needs of older persons as key policies that must become global priorities.

Ms. SORTO next asked Mr. Herrmann to elaborate on the status of aid flows for population-related matters — notably sexual and reproductive health and population data and policy analysis.

Mr. HERRMANN again said aid for population-related matters is insufficient and has decreased over the past decade.  Breaking down aid for sexual and reproductive health, trends show that aid for sexually transmitted diseases is shrinking, while aid for family planning is on the rise.  “The pandemic has been a negative shock to baseline figures of aid,” he noted, adding the aid is shrinking and the world is moving further and further away from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ms. SORTO, turning to Ms. Burbano, asked what special actions are needed to reach the most vulnerable populations, with particular focus on women and girls.

Ms. BURBANO said the worsening food security around the world requires interventions to address all forms of malnutrition.  “We need to increase investment for immediate food assistance in countries threatened by famine,” she stressed, pointing to Yemen, South Sudan and Burkina Faso as countries in urgent need of food assistance.  There is also a need to recognize that crises have a disproportionate effect on women and girls, with gender-based vulnerabilities rising during the pandemic.  “Up to 10 million girls may never return to school once the pandemic is over,” she warned, again calling for greater efforts to improve school food programmes.

Ms. Sorto then gave the floor to panellists for closing remarks.

Ms. SAWYER noted that population patterns and trends cut across all key issues of the upcoming Food Systems Summit and the recommendations in the report she authored can help address the pandemic’s impact on food security and nutrition.

Mr. BELLÙ said that FAO is working on three food security scenarios towards 2050, ranging from status quo to a worst-case scenario.  Worryingly, he said data on food insecurity points to the worst-case scenario becoming the reality.  “It is time that all societies change the way they produce and consume,” he concluded.

Mr. SIMELANE declared:  “Food security and nutrition for all is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda and the world cannot leave people behind.”

Ms. BURBANO echoed calls for societies to change the way they interact with food systems, adding that multisectoral approaches to global crises are the only way to make progress towards a more sustainable future.

Mr. HERRMANN said it is unacceptable that millions more people are suffering from hunger now than two years ago.  “We need much more aid to help farmers grow more food,” he stressed, also calling for societies to move towards truly sustainable production and consumption patterns.

General Discussion

As the Commission began its general discussion, many speakers drew attention to the links between gender inequality and food insecurity, and spotlighted the contribution of rural wom

FLEMMING MØLLER, Minister for Development Cooperation of Denmark, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said the Commission’s current theme is relevant to the health and well‑being of every human being.  Stressing that the world’s food security largely depends on youth in rural areas, he said it is imperative that they are empowered through education and market access.  Households headed by women prioritize food security and education, yet they are often the most impacted when mothers are malnourished, which increases the risk of low birthweight and perpetuates the cycle of generational risks.  Emphasizing that climate‑change impacts are key drivers of food insecurity, he declared:  “We must build sustainable food systems […] and invest in their capacity to respond to climate change.”

RAYMOND SERGE BALÉ (Congo), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the state of food security in Africa before the pandemic was already alarming, with countries across the continent suffering from droughts, desertification and land degradation, as well as other environmental challenges.  Noting that the prevalence of undernourishment in Africa will rise from 19.1 per cent in 2019 to 25.7 per cent in 2030 if recent rates of increase in hunger persist, he called for effective multilateral cooperation to reverse this trend.  “Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being at all ages is essential to sustainable development, and good nutrition is fundamental to achieving this goal,” he said.  Citing the crucial contributions of rural women to food production, he warned the Commission that, on every continent, the prevalence of food insecurity is higher among women than men.  Investment is needed to empower women in rural communities to address their food and nutritional needs, and those of their families, and ensure women’s access to productive assets, inputs and services.

VILLE SKINNARI, Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade of Finland, delivering a statement on behalf of a cross‑regional group of 81 countries, said the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference and its review conferences are saving and improving millions of lives.  The Generation Equality Forum, co-organized by the Governments of France and Mexico with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) this year, marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, is also crucial to meeting those objectives.  In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission’s special theme in 2021 is both critical and timely.  The full realization of all people’s human rights — including sexual and reproductive health and rights, achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls — is essential for addressing food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition, as well as for eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development.  “Where women and girls go hungry, their sexual and reproductive health is impacted,” he stressed, adding that pregnancy under conditions of malnutrition or undernutrition can have life-threatening consequences.

BEKIR PAKDEMIRLI, Minister for Agriculture and Forestry of Turkey, said the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder that agriculture is the most important sector for humanity.  The only way to feed 10 billion people by 2050 is to enhance the sustainability of food systems, while also increasing food production 60 per cent.  From the start of the pandemic, Turkey took steps to prevent negative impacts on the food supply chain, including keeping close contact with the food industry, increasing food‑stock levels in retail stores and arranging transportation and housing for seasonal workers.  Turkey made food loss and waste a priority during its 2015 Presidency of the Group of 20 (G20), and it launched a “Save Your Food” campaign in 2015 to raise public awareness and share best practices.  He also spotlighted another topic overshadowed by the pandemic — migration — noting that Turkey has been severely burdened by migrants and refugees flows.  It currently hosts some 5 million displaced people, ensuring their health care, education, social services, access to labour markets and food security, he said.

ARIUNZAYA AYUSH, Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Mongolia, described her country’s “Vision 2050” development plan, as well as such legislation as the Law on Food Production and Services for secondary schools.  In addition, a school lunch programme for secondary schools was approved and implemented, aimed at providing healthy and nutritious food for children.  Meanwhile, its Law on Social Welfare stipulates the provision of food assistance to vulnerable people and impoverished families.  Noting that the Government has doubled its food assistance to the most vulnerable since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said it also decided to increase the child allowance fivefold.  While Mongolia continues to face challenges, it stands committed to further strengthening its cooperation with other countries and the United Nations system in an effort to mitigate the consequences of COVID-19, she said.

ALEXANDER CHITEME, Minister for National Development Planning of Zambia, noted the importance of population growth in a country’s development trajectory.  Out of 18.4 million people in Zambia, 1.73 million people are likely to face high levels of acute food insecurity, and approximately 1.5 million are in crisis.  To address those challenges, as well as those wrought by COVID-19, the Government is promoting youth participation in the sustainable development agenda and working to further reduce hunger — which fell significantly between 2000 and 2019.  Pledging to continue prioritizing food security, including by scaling up the implementation of social protection programmes and cash transfers, he said the number of households receiving the latter rose from 700,000 in 2020 to 994,000 in 2021.  In addition, the Government is scaling-up the implementation of its Nutrition Programme, an ongoing multisectoral initiative aimed at reducing obesity and undernutrition through the development of nutrition‑specific programmes.

LINDIWE DZULU, Minister for Social Development of South Africa, said COVID‑19 demands decisive support for programmes that are making a difference in enhancing food systems access and mitigating climate change.  South Africa’s food and nutrition sovereignty, security and access policy initiatives are underpinned by its post-apartheid Constitution, which enshrines food and nutrition sovereignty, security and access as every citizen’s right.  Its National Development Plan further sets out methods and targets to eradicate food poverty and improve people’s health outcomes and well‑being, by 2030.  As COVID-19 threatened to worsen socioeconomic conditions related to hunger and malnutrition, the Government responded pre-emptively by investing $26 billion into the economy.  Its COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant Programme, as well as the COVID-19 Agricultural Disaster Fund, are informed by the need for sustainability beyond the end of the pandemic, she added.

Also participating were ministers and other senior Government officials from India, Peru and Kenya.

For information media. Not an official record.