This past week we celebrated World Food Day, a day which marks the creation of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) in 1945 – the organization tasked with ensuring global food security by ensuring that all citizens have access to sufficient high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives.
The FAO’s mission is to improve nutrition, increase agricultural productivity, and raise the standard of living in rural populations and contribute to economic growth.
World Food Day is an annual celebration of that mission with events all over the globe, and it comes directly on the heels of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste (IDAFLW) – a day on the UN calendar specifically devoted to elevating focus on the urgent need to reduce global food loss and waste in order to accelerate the essential transition to a sustainable, equitable food system.
It also comes at a critical time for the world’s most vulnerable populations as global hunger is on the rise given economic disruptions from the pandemic, conflict, and climate change, as noted in the most recent SOFI report (The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022).
Further, World Food Day is an inspirational day for millions around the globe, and it is always accompanied by an inspirational theme.
For example, the theme for 2020 was “Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together.”
And fittingly, as we entered the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the theme for 2021 was “Our Actions are our Future,” with a focus on transforming food systems forbetter production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life. Notably, that theme of food systems transformation was central to last year’s UN Food Systems Summit.
This year, again very fittingly, the theme for World Food Day is “Leave NO ONE Behind.”
And the emphasis expressed by the capitalization is significant – it is intended to connect us to those experiencing food insecurity that we cannot see.
I am always inspired by these messages as they underscore what I believe should be an elemental concept for the nations of the world: let’s work together to ensure everyone has sufficient access to healthy food.
Why wouldn’t we want to work for that?
After all, as the SOFI report states: “Everyone has a right to access safe nutritious foods and affordable healthy diets.”
And as we near the end of another year and edge closer to 2030, the target date for achieving the SDGs, there is no more appropriate time to heighten global focus on the millions of global citizens that are being left behind.
FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu stated that World Food Day 2022 is “unprecedented” in history as we are facing many overlapping challenges from natural and man-made disasters, and the most vulnerable citizens have been “pushed to the brink of starvation.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres added that World Food Day comes at a very challenging time, noting that the number of individuals facing hunger has more than doubled in the past three years, and that “almost a million people are living in famine conditions, with starvation and death a daily reality.”
In addition, let’s consider some of the findings from the most recent SOFI report, which clarifies that with just 8 years remaining to end hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition as specified in SDG Targets 2.1 and 2.2, we are moving in the wrong direction:
- The Prevalence of Undernourishment (POU) figure rose from 8.0% in 2019 to 9.3% in 2020 and 9.8% in 2021.
- Between 702 and 828 million global citizens were affected by hunger in 2021 (an increase of about 150 million since the emergence of the pandemic)
- Roughly 2.3 billion citizens experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in 2021
- About 3.1 billion citizens could not afford a healthy diet in 2021 (roughly 35% of the global population
- And, tragically, in 2020 about 22% of children under five were stunted and 6.7% were wasted
Hitting Moonshots, Missing Earthshots
Given these conditions, I think it’s worth pausing to ask ourselves: how can this be? And more importantly, how can we change this?
We’ve all heard from our early days in school, and we continue to hear, that the world produces enough food to feed everyone. But despite having enough food resources, we continue to fall well short of eliminating global hunger.
This has long remained a conundrum to me, especially when I consider all of the world’s wealth, connectivity, technological progress, and innovative capacity.
On the latter, we’ve not only landed men on the moon, we have now successfully slammed a spacecraft into an asteroid seven million miles away to test our ability to knock future Earth-threatening asteroids off course. It’s an achievement that is mind-boggling (and I’m glad for it) – it demonstrates what humanity is capable of when we commit to audacious challenges.
Yet with all of this technological prowess, and despite producing enough food to feed the planet, roughly 800 million continue to experience food insecurity, and billions face micronutrient deficiencies.
I’m struck by the disconnect here. We’ve invested enormous resources in the ability to change the track of an asteroid millions of miles away to potentially save the planet at some remote point far into the future, but we have not invested enough to save the planet today (and into the very near future) by creating a sustainable food system – one which feeds everyone within planetary boundaries – and one which leaves no one behind.
In short, we are being successful in the moonshot events, but we are missing the Earthshot represented by food insecurity (along with climate change).
And let’s not forget, the hunger numbers are deteriorating at a point when the global population is just under 8 million. We will have to feed 2 billion more citizens by 2050, and we will have to do so with fewer resources and far less environmental impact.
Further, while we have long had enough food to address global food insecurity, the effects of climate change will continue to threaten our ability to produce sufficient healthy food for the world’s population. And we can no longer rule out massive disruptions to food production and distribution from pandemics, or from the unconscionable weaponization of food as we have seen through Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But at core when we think about eliminating hunger by 2030, I think we need to view this issue at a more elemental level: We have the resources and knowledge to achieve zero hunger. Achieving that audacious goal is really an issue of caring and will.
We need authentic global commitment to leave NO ONE behind.
And we need action-oriented leadership to change this entrenched, callous condition that the world continues to accept.
And since I’m not the first person to raise the focus on caring and will – let me combine it with one more critical theme: We need to personalize the issue of global hunger.
What if you or I were one of the 800 million being left behind? What if our family members were left behind? Or our friends?
That quickly brings things into perspective, it helps connect us to those individuals that are being left behind today – the millions that are not visible to us each day.
Finding a New Frame
The Sustainable Development Goals were created in 2015, with Goal 2 seeking to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
If we are to truly end hunger per SDG 2, we have a very short window to take 800 million people out of hunger.
To drive the needed change, we will need a new lens to view global hunger – a transformational mindset coupled with an elemental, and personal, focus. This involves a new frame of thinking in which we no longer accept the idea of hundreds of millions of global citizens living in a state of food insecurity – essentially a frame of non-acceptance.
We will have to demonstrate a new level of caring. As Pope Francis noted in his World Food Day message, we will need to “see others as our brothers and sisters, as members of the same human family, whose suffering and needs affect us all.”
We will need to demonstrate a new level of will – similar to what we bring to audacious moonshot projects.
And we will need leadership and an extraordinary level of global collaboration between countries, companies, and institutions.
In his World Food Day remarks, Qu Dongyu expressed optimism that there is now an increase in political will to address global food security. He added that there is momentum “to do more and better” – to build back better and stronger and to ensure that no one is left behind.
He noted that this momentum is “unprecedented.”
Let’s hope so – because we are in need of unprecedented action to change the entrenched, and deteriorating, state of global hunger.
Which brings us back to the theme of World Food Day 2022: Leave No ONE behind.
Without meaningful change, the SOFI report projects that 670 million citizens will still face hunger in 2030.
Why would we allow that, when we have the capability to fix it? And in the process, create a more secure world.
Perhaps the best way to inspire the needed change is to make it personal: imagine if you were the one being left behind.
Then NO ONE becomes someone.
For additional information on World Food Day 2022, check out FAO’s short video here, and tips on how everyone can get involved here.