COVID-19 Is Not the Only Cause Behind Rising Food Insecurity

The world’s nutrition crisis is worsening, according to the 2021 Report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition (SOFI) from the U.N Food and Agriculture Organization. Conflict, violence, and economic shocks, according to the report, are the main drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition, but the COVID-19 pandemic is intensifying situations around the world.

SOFI is annually released and provides the most recent estimates of food insecurity and nutrition in the world. This year’s is the first SOFI report to compile this information since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It states that rates of food insecurity, hunger, and malnutrition have increased drastically within the last year. Around one in three people, or 2.37 billion people, did not have access to adequate food in 2020, an increase of around 320 million people in one year.

“We are sadly not on track to achieve zero hunger and that’s the goal that the world agreed upon 6 years ago and the COVID-19 pandemic has made that goal even more challenging,” says Lana Wong, founder of the Shoot Back Project, at the report’s launch event.

While hunger and malnutrition were already on the rise, Valerie Guerini, Assistant Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), notes that the pandemic exacerbated the crisis. “COVID-19 took what was already a bad situation for millions of people and made it worse,” she tells Food Tank. In 2020, the WFP delivered aid to around 115.5 million people in 84 countries. This is the largest number of people to receive aid from the WFP since 2012, when conflict in Syria and droughts in the Sahel region of Africa led to humanitarian crises.

Guerini explains that the onset of the pandemic spurred a series of actions to limit the spread of COVID-19. These measures, including transportation restrictions and limited cargo movements, significantly affected the distribution of food, pushing hunger rates even higher.  “The agricultural sector is still suffering from severe disruptions, making it one of the most impacted by the pandemic,” she says.

In addition, Guerini tells Food Tank, “COVID-19 has drastically reshaped the global economic landscape and over-stretched the capacity and resources to fight hunger and poverty.”

But experts agree that the pandemic alone is not to blame for this crisis. During the report’s launch, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), explains that conflict, climate change, and economic recessions are significant drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition.

The report also offers guidance to steer the agri-food system toward more sustainable pathways. “In order to get back on track towards zero hunger, we need to address the root causes of hunger,” Guerini tells Food Tank.

Guerini believes that policies in low- and middle-income countries must put people first, and that international institutions like the World Food Program must support these policies with “debt relief and technical support to scale up, build, and enhance safety-net programs to make them more inclusive.” She says that these changes can meet urgent needs and improve local food system resilience and food security.

Guerini also emphasizes the need for local resilience. She tells Food Tank, “We also work with partners to protect local food supply chains and foster people’s resilience to shocks. Alongside meeting urgent needs, these efforts help reduce tensions and build relations among communities.”

And Ambassador Munir Akram, President of the Economic and Social Council, calls for investments in sustainable agricultural infrastructure, adequate and fair prices for farmers and consumers, and improved consumption and production practices that respect the environment.

Guerini remains hopeful that it is possible to reduce hunger and malnutrition rates but underscores the importance of cooperation. “In order to get back on track towards zero hunger, we need to address the root causes of hunger, head-on. The good news is that we made progress before and we can do it again, but it will take smart investments and concerted efforts on the part of all people.”

Photo courtesy of Boring Eyes, Unsplash

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