16 July 2020
Global Efforts to Reduce Hunger Linked to Resolving Global Climate, Health Challenges
Photo courtesy of Jennie Persson
story highlights

The 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report (SOFI) concludes that we are not on track to reach SDG 2 (zero hunger) by 2030.

SOFI compares global emissions resulting from a variety of diets, and finds declining emissions as you move from a meat-heavy diet to flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan diet.

The 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report (SOFI) concludes that we are not on track to reach SDG 2 (zero hunger) by 2030. This assessment was delivered on the margins of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), during a special event organized by the authors.

The 14 July virtual event launched the 2020 SOFI report, with the theme, ‘Transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets.’ A slate of distinguished speakers agreed that the data in the report does not show the progress they hoped for, and that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing serious setbacks in the fight against the hunger pandemic.

What is SOFI?

SOFI is an annual report that “contains the most recent and authoritative estimates of the extent of hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition in all its forms around the world.” It is authored by five UN agencies: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UN International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO). SOFI provides the facts and figures used by organizations and decision makers around the world, including the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

2020 Statistics

The high-level panel emphasized that food security and nutrition deal with issues other than simple hunger. Two billion people are not hungry but do not have access to safe and nutritious food. Three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet. Thirteen percent of adults are obese, and the number of overweight children is growing. Some of the indicators SOFI uses to track food security and nutrition are stunting, wasting, low birthweight, exclusive breastfeeding, and adult obesity. The 2020 report only found positive progress in exclusive breastfeeding numbers.

As it stands, there are 381 million hungry people in Asia and 250 million in Africa, but Africa is projected to overtake Asia by 2030. The report indicates that, by investing in healthy and nutritious diets, the social costs of greenhouse gas emissions (that is, the resulting economic harm) could decrease by 74%, and direct and indirect health costs could decrease by up to 97%. Naoko Yamamoto, Assistant Director-General of UHC/Healthier Populations at WHO, gave an example of the latter by saying that a mother with a healthy diet is much more likely to have a healthy baby.


Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced supply chain disruptions and an economic downturn, world hunger was growing due to manmade conflict and climate extremes. WFP Executive Director David Beasley warned that the number of people suffering from acute food insecurity may grow from 135 million to 270 million by the end of 2020. Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for a 15% rise in wasted children, most in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The closing of schools also presents issues in food security. Beasley recalled that 370 million children receive a meal at school, which may be the only thing many students eat that day. With schools on lockdown, those children are going without that nutritious meal, and becoming more vulnerable to COVID-19 and other diseases.

Speakers reported that the inaccessibility to markets and shortage of workers due to COVID-19 has most heavily impacted small-scale farmers. When these rural incomes decrease, the farmers are faced with other rural issues, like access to education and clean water.


SOFI recommends that, in order for more people to access diets that are nutrient adequate and even healthy, incentives should be put in place for nutrition-sensitive investment. Globally, we produce much more starchy produce than varied, nutrient-dense produce. To address the hidden cost of greenhouse gas emissions, the SOFI report compares global emissions resulting from much of the world’s current meat-heavy diet and flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan diets. Each diet, in the order listed, produces fewer emissions. Reducing the emissions embodied in food requires a behavioral change in consumers who must be educated to respect food.

Qu Dongyu, Director-General of FAO, was very critical of food waste. He suggested that education and policy must be combined to address the issue and called for teaching consumers and taxing food waste. Many speakers brought up the fact that the world produces enough food to feed more than our current population, but faulty systems and inequality leave billions hungry. IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo called hunger a social justice issue.

Houngbo also spoke on the importance of small-scale farmers. Globally, there are 500 million small-scale producers who produce 50% of the world’s food supply. Their practices are usually more friendly to sustainability, but they are more vulnerable to economic and climate-related shocks. The world relies on small-scale farmers, but youth are increasingly disinterested in becoming rural farmers. Houngbo and Fore emphasized the importance of encouraging young people to embrace agriculture as a way of living, and not as a last resort.

Many speakers were hopeful that the private sector could be convinced to act as a force for good in the fight against food insecurity.


In his opening remarks, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, mentioned that hungry and malnourished people suffer more from poverty and likely do not receive quality healthcare, have limited water access, and have compromised immune systems, making them more susceptible to serious harm by COVID-19. Additionally, women and children are disproportionately affected. Thanawat Tiensin, Chairperson of CFS, also remarked that the production of sustainable food respects the quality of the air, water, soil, and forest. Máximo Torero Cullen, FAO Chief Economist and Assistant Director-General for Economic and Social Department, suggested that food insecurity is a global challenge because the world is too unequal. Solutions are possible, nonetheless. Houngbo highlighted that because the world’s problems are so interconnected, the solutions are also intertwined.

This article was authored by Lydia Grund, IISD Generation 2030 intern and biology and environmental science and policy major, The College of William & Mary. 

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