Global economic growth prospects for 2022 have been revised downward significantly; hence, more limited financial resources are available to invest in agrifood systems. Public-private partnerships will be extremely important for investments in agrifood systems.
The challenges to ending hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition keep growing. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the fragilities in our agrifood systems and the inequalities in our societies, driving further increases in world hunger and severe food insecurity. Despite global progress, trends in child undernutrition – including stunting and wasting, deficiencies in essential micronutrients and overweight and obesity in children, continue to be of great concern. Further, maternal anaemia and obesity among adults continue to be alarming.
The most recent evidence available suggests that the number of people unable to afford a healthy diet around the world rose by 112 million to almost 3.1 billion, reflecting the impacts of rising consumer food prices during the pandemic. This number could even be greater once data are available to account for income losses in 2020. The ongoing war in Ukraine is disrupting supply chains and further affecting prices of grain, fertilizer and energy. In the first half of 2022, this resulted in further food price increases. At the same time, more frequent and severe extreme climate events are disrupting supply chains, especially in low-income countries.
Looking forward, the gains we made in reducing the prevalence of child stunting by one-third in the previous two decades – translating into 55 million fewer children with stunting – are under threat by the triple crises of climate, conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic. Without intensified efforts, the number of children with wasting will only increase.
This report repeatedly highlights the intensification of these major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition: conflict, climate extremes and economic shocks, combined with growing inequalities. The issue at stake is not whether adversities will continue to occur or not, but how we must take bolder action to build resilience against future shocks.
While last year’s report highlighted the pathways to transform agrifood systems, the reality is that it is easier said than done. Global economic growth prospects for 2022 have been revised downward significantly; hence, more limited financial resources are available to invest in agrifood systems. Public-private partnerships will be extremely important for investments in agrifood systems. Robust governance will also be important to ensure that such partnerships ultimately benefit communities and people in greatest need, not powerful industry players.
This report shows that governments can invest in agrifood systems equitably and sustainably, even with the same level of public resources. Governments’ support to food and agriculture accounts for almost USD 630 billion per year globally. However, a significant proportion of this support distorts market prices, is environmentally destructive, and hurts small-scale producers and Indigenous Peoples, while failing to deliver healthy diets to children and others who need them the most.
Food-importing countries have often provided stronger policy support, especially for cereals, with the aim of shielding their farming sector from international competition. In doing so, they may have been disproportionately fostering production of cereals relative to production of pulses, seeds, fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods. These policies have contributed to food security in terms of sufficient quantity of calories, but they are not effective in improving nutrition and health outcomes, including among children.
The evidence suggests that if governments repurpose the resources to prioritize food consumers, and to incentivize sustainable production, supply and consumption of nutritious foods, they will help make healthy diets less costly and more affordable for all.
Governments must take this important transformational step, but the multilateral architecture under the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition must support it. As well, the repurposing of trade measures and fiscal subsidies will have to consider countries’ commitments and flexibilities under the rules of the World Trade Organization.
This evidence-based report builds on the momentum of last year’s United Nations Food Systems Summit and the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit, as well as the expected outcomes from the COP26 negotiations for building climate resilience for food security and nutrition.
We recognize that countries with lower incomes will have scarce public resources and need international development finance support. These are countries where agriculture is key to the economy, jobs and rural livelihoods, and where millions of people are hungry, food insecure, or malnourished. We are committed to working with these countries to find avenues for increasing the provision of public services that supports agrifood systems’ actors collectively, with the involvement of local institutions and civil society, while forging public-private partnerships.
In all contexts, reforms to repurpose support to food and agriculture must also be accompanied by policies that promote shifts in consumer behaviours along with social protection policies to mitigate unintended consequences of reforms for vulnerable populations. Finally, these reforms must be multisectoral, encompassing health, environment, transport and energy policies.
Our organizations stand firmly committed and ready to support governments and bring additional allies to achieve such policy coherence at the global and national levels. Everyone has a right to access safe nutritious foods and affordable healthy diets. Investing in healthy and sustainable agrifood systems is an investment in the future, and in future generations.