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Fighting on the front lines for zero hunger

In light of COVID-19 restrictions, climate change and other challenges within food systems, global food insecurity is reaching a critical level. In the face of these alarming circumstances, individuals and organisations worldwide are working at all levels of the agri-food system to enhance food and nutrition access for the global population.

Masks, sanitation procedures and social distancing have become the norm in work environments globally – and the food sector is no exception. © IMF / Raphael Alves

Three billion individuals are currently unable to afford a healthy diet, according to a new report by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, which we at WRENmedia provided communication support to in the weeks leading up to and following its launch in late September 2020. Lack of adequate access to nutrition is one of the greatest humanitarian crises that exists in today’s modern world; with our current food systems, we are simply not sustaining the lives of the global population. This critical situation has been made even more urgent by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatens the financial stability and food security of millions more, globally.

There are a number of factors that can be held at least partially responsible for the serious lack of access to nutrition that exists in populations worldwide: wars, natural disasters, diseases, climate change, food waste and numerous complex issues within the food system. The Ceres 2030 partnership between Cornell University, IFPRI and IISD, which aims to find sustainable solutions to ending world hunger, highlighted in a recent report that earth’s existing resources have the potential to feed 10 billion people. However, as a result of the above-mentioned challenges, this potential is not being fulfilled.

Fighting to address hunger in the context of the current food crisis, and the worsening reality of access to nutrition in light of the pandemic, are exemplary individuals and organisations. In recent weeks, the people and groups undertaking this challenge are being given the spotlight. ‘Food Heroes’, as they are being referred to, are those involved in the agri-food value chain – from farmers to factory workers, food transporters to shopkeepers – who are providing us with food on a daily basis, no matter the circumstances, as well as working to meet the need for nutrition in vulnerable populations globally.

One such ‘hero’ that has been recently celebrated is the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP). WFP received the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize on 9 October 2020, for its work as the world’s largest humanitarian organisation addressing hunger and promoting food security. In 2019 alone, WFP personnel provided assistance to close to 100 million victims of acute food insecurity in 88 countries.

The aim of WFP is to “deliver life-saving sustenance to those devastated by conflict, to people suffering because of disaster, to children and families uncertain about their next meal,” explains UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. It is this goal that caught the Nobel Committee’s attention, who emphasised that “the World Food Programme is a modern version of the peace congresses that the Nobel Peace Prize is intended to promote,” and that their “work to the benefit of humankind is an endeavour that all the nations of the world should be able to endorse and support.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a strong upsurge in the number of victims of hunger in the world, leading even more people to live without adequate access to nutrition than before. In countries such as Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen, the combination of violent conflict and the pandemic has led to a dramatic rise in the number of people living on the brink of starvation. In the face of the pandemic, WFP has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts.

World Food Day

‘Food Heroes’ were also a key part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) celebrations for World Food Day, on 16 October. The event aimed to highlight those who, throughout the coronavirus crisis, have made sure that food makes its way from farms to tables around the world. World Food Day facilitated over 200 events in around 150 countries globally, many online in light of governmental measures restricting social interaction, to celebrate the occasion.

Throughout these events, and their social media campaigns, FAO encouraged the general public to strive to become ‘Food Heroes’ in their daily lives. As consumers, through choosing healthy, local and seasonal food, learning how to grow food at home, respecting food and the environment by wasting less, and practicing good food hygiene, the organisation says we can all become heroes in tackling world hunger.

A world without hunger

FAO expects the current figure of 690 million people worldwide suffering from hunger daily to grow to 840 million by 2030 if such measures are not taken by consumers, and if policymakers and governments continue with a business as usual approach. However, the researchers involved in the Ceres 2030 partnership believe that a world without hunger is within reach. Through prioritising agricultural development, combining investment in the food and agriculture sector with training campaigns, the development of decentralised energy systems, appropriate mechanisation, the further development of livestock and plant breeding, and equal access to land ownership for women and men, this group claims that it is possible to provide adequate nutrition to all, now and in the years to come.

There are two clear paths here, one leading to increased hunger worldwide, and the other to a food-secure future. Without intervention, the former is our inevitable destination. However, through serious commitment to the goals above by everyone involved in agri-food systems, from producers to consumers, we can take ownership of the state of food security internationally and do our part to turn this critical situation around.

Alice Mutimer

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