By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Aug 14 2023 (IPS)
A world free from hunger is possible, but it demands political will, investment, and effective policies to transform agriculture and rural development, says Alvaro Lario, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
More than 800 million people in the world went to bed hungry in 2022, and 3.1 billion others could not afford to eat a healthy diet in 2021, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s latest State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World report.
IFAD described the startling SOFI report as “a wake-up call for the fight against hunger,” noting that massive investment in rural development and small-scale agriculture will win the war on hunger.
“Every year, the hunger and food insecurity numbers remind us of this dark reality: Not only are we not reaching our targets — we are moving farther away,” Lario told IPS in an interview via email.
Enough Food but Hunger for Decisive Action
According to the SOFI, hunger numbers stalled between 2021 and 2022, but there were 122 million more hungry people in 2022 than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sustainable Development Goal #2 is the zero-hunger goal of the United Nations. It aims to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030 by ensuring all people — especially children and the more vulnerable — have access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round. But is the zero-hunger goal realistic, given that the number of hungry people globally is rising despite advances in technology to boost food production and productivity?
“In a world of plenty, where inequalities are increasing, zero hunger is the only objective to have,” Lario said. “Ending hunger is feasible. It is a matter of political will, adequate investments, and policies.”
Commenting on the SOFI report, Danielle Nierenberg, President of the Food Tank, said world leaders were failing to prioritize the needs of millions of people around the globe in creating better food and nutrition security.
“If we leave people behind because there is something going on in the world, whether there is conflict in Russia against Ukraine or inflation across the globe … If we do not protect and nourish those who are most in need, we are setting ourselves up for disaster,” Nierenberg told IPS in an interview.
“Hungry people tend to be angry people for obvious reasons … What we need is better political will and active policymakers to really solve this with the help of communities, nonprofits and research institutions who have been leading the charge against hunger.”
Reacting to the SOFI report, Oxfam, a global charity focusing on the alleviation of global poverty, said it was unforgivable for governments to watch billions of people going hungry in a world of plenty.
“Solutions to end world hunger exist, but they require bold and united political action,” said Hanna Saarinen, Oxfam International Food Policy Lead, in a statement, calling on governments to support small-scale food producers and promote especially the rights of women farmers, who are key in the fight against global hunger.
Lario said in Africa, conflicts, poverty, lack of infrastructure and access to energy, and poor access to education and vocational training, combined with high population growth, were converging to worsen the challenge of food and nutrition insecurity.
However, this did not mean that hunger cannot be overcome as the African continent had many assets to boost food security, including land, natural resources, and the dynamism of its youth, said Lario.
Invest in Rural Development and Small-Scale Agriculture
Asked what needs to be done to win the war against hunger and undernutrition on the back of many countries which put more money into funding war than food security.
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia as well as the tension in East Asia, have driven increased global military spending by 3.7 percent in real terms in 2022, to a record high of USD 2 240 billion, according to new data on global military spending published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
“Governments need to understand that hunger and poverty fuel conflicts, migration and ultimately instability,” Lario told IPS, noting that the Ukraine war and the dependency of many countries on food imports has led to the recognition of the importance of food sovereignty and food security for national security.
“To win the war on hunger, we need to massively scale up our investments in rural development and small-scale agriculture,” said Lario.
Lario is convinced that investing in agriculture is three times more effective at reducing poverty than investing in any other sector. Agriculture remains the backbone of many African economies.
Financial support for agriculture has been stagnant at just 4-6 percent of total Overseas Development Aid (ODA) for at least two decades. IFAD notes that agriculture ODA fell to USD 9.9 billion in 2021, far below what is needed.
Very few African governments have invested 10 percent of their budget in agriculture as per the Malabo Declaration of 2014. Besides, small-scale farmers receive less than 2 percent of global climate finance despite being major food providers, Lario said.
IFAD estimates that up to USD 400 billion would be needed annually until 2030 to build sustainable, equitable and resilient food systems.
“We need to tackle the root causes of hunger and rural poverty,” he said, adding that “Inaction will be expensive. Every USD 1 spent on resilience now saves up to USD 10 in emergency aid in the future.”
IPS UN Bureau Report