26 May 2022

Amid Global Spike in Hunger, Secretary-General Urges Transformative Action to End Malnutrition, Promote Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security, at Africa Dialogue

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Africa Dialogue Series High-Level Policy Dialogue “Strengthening Resilience in Nutrition and Food Security on the African Continent”, held today:

I am happy to join you for this Dialogue Series, and commend your focus on nutrition and food security on the African continent.

For too long, nutrition, food security, conflicts, climate change, ecosystems and health have been treated as separate issues.  But, these global challenges are deeply interconnected.  Conflict creates hunger.  The climate crisis amplifies conflict.  Economic insecurity is heightened by the pandemic and by inequalities in resources allocated for recovery.  These problems are systemic; and they are getting worse.

Decades of progress on hunger are being reversed.  After improving steadily in all regions between 2000 and 2016, hunger has sharply increased in recent years.  Over 281 million Africans — 1 in 5 — were undernourished in 2020.  Sixty‑one million African children are affected by stunting, which can impact their physical and mental health throughout their lives.  As always, women and girls are the most affected.  When food is short, they are often the last to eat; and the first to be taken out of school and forced into work or marriage.

Our humanitarian operations are doing their utmost to help.  Just last week, I announced the release of $30 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to meet urgent food security and nutrition needs in Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso, bringing the total funding channelled through CERF in the Sahel to nearly $95 million since the start of the year.  But, this is a drop in the ocean.

Humanitarian aid cannot compete with the systemic drivers of hunger.  External shocks are further exacerbating the situation.  An uneven recovery from the pandemic has put many developing countries on the brink of debt default.  Inequality is enormous in that regard.  The war in Ukraine has led to the highest food prices on record.  African countries are among those most heavily impacted — especially when this is coupled with rising energy bills and limited access to finance.

I convened the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance, involving all United Nations agencies and international financial institutions, to provide data and analysis, and to propose solutions.  The group immediately recommended that all food export restrictions should be lifted; strategic reserves should be released; and surpluses allocated to countries in need.

It is clear that solving this crisis also requires reintegrating Ukraine’s agricultural production and the food and fertilizer production of the Russian Federation and Belarus into world markets — despite the war.  I am continuing to pursue efforts to find common ground on this vital issue, for people around the world.

Building resilience also requires addressing the climate crisis.  African farmers are on the front lines of our warming planet, from rising temperatures to droughts and floods.  Africa needs a massive boost in technical and financial support, to adapt to the impact of the climate emergency and provide renewable electricity across the continent.  Fifty per cent of climate finance must be allocated to adaptation.  And developed countries must deliver on their $100 billion climate finance commitment to developing countries.  We are also advocating for immediate action from international financial institutions, so that developing countries, especially in Africa, can invest in a strong recovery from the pandemic, based on renewable energy.

Food systems connect all these challenges.  The United Nations Food Systems Summit last September showcased the power of food systems transformation.  Many African Member States led the call for fundamental change, through inclusive transformation pathways, which aim to address — simultaneously — food security, nutrition, social protection, environmental conservation and resilience to shocks.

I welcome the launch by the African Union of 2022 as the Year of Nutrition — a pledge to act on the strong commitments made at the Summit.  Through national, regional and global cooperation, we must build on lessons learned and harness collective expertise.  Together, we must deliver on these pathways.  The United Nations Food Systems Coordination Hub will support countries in implementing their transformation pathways, ending hunger and malnutrition, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices.

The international community must rise to the occasion.  Scaling back support at a time when demand is at an all-time high is not an option.  Official development assistance is more necessary than ever.  I urge all countries to demonstrate solidarity, invest in resilience and prevent the current crisis from escalating further.

During my recent trip to Senegal, Niger and Nigeria, I was inspired by the resilience and determination of the people I met.  Women and young people in particular were committed to lasting, sustainable solutions that enable them to live in peace with their neighbours and with nature.  If we work together, if we put people and planet before profit, we can transform food systems, deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals and leave no one behind.  We can end hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

The United Nations stands by your side, every step of the way.  I wish you fruitful discussions.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.