The world is at a critical juncture: it is very different to where it was six years ago when it committed to the goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. At the time, while we understood that the challenges were significant, we were also optimistic that with the right transformative approaches, past progress could be accelerated, at scale, to put us on track to achieve that goal. Nonetheless, the past four editions of this report revealed a humbling reality. The world has not been generally progressing either towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 2.1, of ensuring access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food for all people all year round, or towards SDG Target 2.2, of eradicating all forms of malnutrition.
Last year’s report stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic was having a devastating impact on the world’s economy, triggering an unprecedented recession not seen since the Second World War, and that the food security and nutrition status of millions of people, including children, would deteriorate if we did not take swift action. Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world, particularly the most vulnerable and those living in fragile contexts.
This year, this report estimates that between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020 – as many as 161 million more than in 2019. Nearly 2.37 billion people did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of 320 million people in just one year. No region of the world has been spared. The high cost of healthy diets and persistently high levels of poverty and income inequality continue to keep healthy diets out of reach for around 3 billion people in every region of the world. Moreover, new analysis in this report shows that the increase in the unaffordability of healthy diets is associated with higher levels of moderate or severe food insecurity.
While it is not yet possible to fully quantify the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, we are concerned by the many millions of children under 5 years of age who were affected by stunting (149.2 million), wasting (45.4 million) or overweight (38.9 million). Child malnutrition continues to be a challenge, particularly in Africa and Asia. Adult obesity also continues to increase, with no reversal in the trend in sight at global or regional levels. Efforts to eradicate malnutrition in all its forms have been challenged by disruptions in essential nutrition interventions and negative impacts on dietary patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic. On the health front, the interaction between the pandemic, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases has underlined the urgency of ensuring access to affordable healthy diets for all. Such myriad setbacks hide some important achievements – such as the increasing prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding of infants under 6 months.
The situation could have been worse without governments’ responses and the impressive social protection measures they have put in place during the COVID-19 crisis. However, not only have measures to contain the spread of the pandemic resulted in an unprecedented economic recession, but also other important drivers are behind recent setbacks in food security and nutrition. These include conflict and violence in many parts of the world as well as climate-related disasters all over the world. Given the past and present interactions of these drivers with economic slowdowns and downturns, as well as high and persistent (and in some countries growing) levels of inequality, it is not surprising that governments could not keep the worst-case scenario for food security and nutrition from materializing and affecting millions of people all over the world.
Hence, the world is at a critical juncture, not only because we have to overcome more significant challenges to ending hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition, but also because, with the fragility of our food systems widely exposed, we have an opportunity to build forward better and get on track towards achieving SDG 2. The UN Food Systems Summit, to be held later this year, will bring forward a series of concrete actions that people, food system actors and governments from all over the world can take to support a transformation of the world’s food systems. We must build on the momentum that the run-up to the Summit has already generated and continue to build the evidence base on interventions and engagement models that best support the transformation of food systems. This report aims to contribute to this global effort.
We are aware that transforming food systems so that they provide nutritious and affordable food for all and become more efficient, resilient, inclusive and sustainable has several entry points and can contribute to progress across the SDGs. Future food systems need to provide decent livelihoods for the people who work within them, in particular for small-scale producers in developing countries – the people who harvest, process, package, transport and market our food. Future food systems also need to be inclusive and encourage the full participation of Indigenous Peoples, women and youth, both individually and through their organizations. Future generations will only thrive as productive actors and leading forces in food systems if decisive action is taken to ensure that children are no longer deprived of their right to nutrition.
While this broader food systems transformation is currently at the centre of global attention, this report identifies the transformation pathways needed to specifically address the key drivers behind the recent rise in hunger and slowing progress towards reducing all forms of malnutrition. The report recognizes that these transformation pathways are only feasible if they help meet certain conditions, including creating opportunities for traditionally marginalized people, nurturing human health and protecting the environment. Getting on track towards ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition will require a move away from silo solutions towards integrated food systems solutions, as well as policies and investments that address the global food security and nutrition challenges immediately.
This year offers a unique opportunity for advancing food security and nutrition through transforming food systems with the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit, the Nutrition for Growth Summit and the COP26 on climate change. The outcomes of these events will certainly shape the actions of the second half of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition. We stand firmly committed to take advantage of the unprecedented opportunity for these events to generate commitments towards transforming food systems to eradicate food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms and deliver affordable healthy diets for all, and to build forward better from the COVID-19 pandemic.