World Continues to Move Away from Achieving SDG 2, SOFI 2019 Warns
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After a decade of decline, 2018 marked the third year of slow but continuous rise in global hunger.

For the first time, the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report includes an estimate of the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity (SDG indicator 2.1.2).

SOFI is issued annually by FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO.

15 July 2019: High-level representatives of the UN system reflected on challenges related to the achievement of SDG 2 (zero hunger), on the occasion of the launch of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 (SOFI). The report highlights that after decades of declining, hunger is again on the rise.

SOFI is issued annually by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The launch event took place on 15 July 2019 at UN Headquarters in New York, US, on the margins of the UN High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (HLPF).

The report provides the latest estimates for food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition at global and regional levels, including the latest data on child stunting and wasting, and adult and child obesity. The publication also provides an analysis of the drivers of hunger and malnutrition, with a special focus on the impact of economic slowdowns and downturns.

SOFI 2019 finds that:

  • More than 820 million people still suffer from hunger in 2018;
  • Over two billion people do not have access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food, and these people live in low- and middle- and high-income countries;
  • Women have a higher chance of suffering from food insecurity than men, with the largest gender gap being in Latin America;
  • Obesity, including child overweight and adult obesity, is on the rise in all regions; and
  • Obesity could cost USD2 trillion annually because of reduced productivity and health-related costs.

One of the global indicators used to monitor progress on the eradication of hunger (SDG target 2.1) is the prevalence of undernourishment (SDG indicator 2.1.1). Beginning in 2017, the SOFI report began including the prevalence of severe food insecurity, based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES), as a complementary indicator. The 2019 report further includes, for the first time, estimates of the prevalence of “moderate or severe” food insecurity based on the FIES, which is SDG global indicator 2.1.2. This indicator provides a perspective on global food insecurity relevant for all countries of the world, as it looks beyond hunger towards ensuring access to nutritious and sufficient food for all.

Opening the SOFI launch event on 15 July 2019, UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) President Inga Rhonda King said the report is “an important yardstick” to measure the world’s progress towards achieving SDG 2 by 2030. Noting the Goal’s interlinkages with other SDGs, she highlighted that SDGs 8 (decent work and economic growth), 10 (reduced inequalities), and 1 (no poverty) are featured prominently in this year’s report.

José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General, called for focusing on the global obesity epidemic, explaining that the number of obese people surpasses the number of undernourished people globally. Even though in Africa and Asia the number of malnourished people is greater than the number of obese people, he cautioned that the situation will soon change in those regions as well. He identified as root causes of obesity: the stress caused by food insecurity; physiological changes that take place in the body as result of periods without access to sufficient food; and the fact that processed foods high in sugar, salt and fat are cheaper and more readily available that healthy and nutritious foods.

IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo called for a “radical transformation” of the world’s food systems towards systems that protect the planet and provide safe, sufficient and nutritious food. He explained that such a transformation will require supporting small-holders and including the most left behind groups. The majority of food-insecure people are living in rural areas, being farmers themselves, he said, and they need access to markets and integration in global value chains to increase their incomes and production.

Countries with high income inequality have three times the risk of food insecurity, and thus conflict.

David Beasley, WFP Executive Director, said the primary driver of rising hunger is conflict, followed by extreme weather events caused by climate change, and economic downturns. He noted that 12-13% of GDP – USD14-16 trillion – is currently invested in armed conflicts, and only a portion of that amount would be enough to end hunger and malnutrition. This could be done not through charity, but through a well-functioning, well-targeted private sector.

Beasley added that Member States need to remove the silos they have created through their mandates and funding practices. The UN system, meanwhile, needs to help governments be more strategic and thus effective in ending hunger and malnutrition. He emphasized that hunger must be treated as national security issue.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said SOFI 2019 highlights the benefits of sustainable, green food systems and demonstrates the imperative for multilateral action. She cautioned that countries with high income inequality have three times the risk of food insecurity and thus conflict. Noting that food insecurity primarily affects women, children and people with disabilities, as well as other vulnerable groups, Mohammed called for political will to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, emphasized that the world “cannot afford” to lose the human capital that stunted and malnourished (including obese) children represent. She called for: adopting a life-course approach to nutrition from the earliest days; nutritional support for pregnant women; breastfeeding for newborns; regulations on food labeling; food standards in schools and national guidelines on food; advocacy programs that promote healthy diets; and cash transfer programmes to help families in conflict zones. She added that the world needs 500 million young people to become modern farmers.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (via video message) emphasized that 2020 marks the half-way point of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, which provides an opportunity to reverse rising hunger and make progress towards SDG 2. Máximo Torero Cullen, FAO, said hunger is on the rise in almost all African subregions, making Africa the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, at almost 20%. Hunger is also rising in Latin America and the Caribbean, he said, although its prevalence is still below 7%. He added that in Asia, Western Asia shows a continuous increase since 2010, with more than 12% of its population being undernourished in 2018.

In the ensuing discussion, participants noted the European Commission’s commitment of EUR9 billion to nutrition and food security to 60 countries between 2014-2020, the need for better cooperation between UN Headquarters in New York and the Rome-based agencies to address the root causes of food insecurity, and the role of food security and good nutrition in achieving SDG 4 (quality education) by increasing schools attendance and improving children’s cognitive development. [Publication: State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019] [Meeting Webcast] [FAO Press Release] [UNICEF Press Release] [SDG global indicators]

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