With One in Five Africans Facing Hunger, UN Calls for Transforming Food Systems, Nature-Based Solutions

Pandemic year marked by spike in world hunger Africa posts biggest jump Brandspurng
WFP/Grant Lee Neuenburg, Woman and her baby standing in front of a tent in a resettlement camp, Cabo Delgado, Mozambique

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks at the Africa Regional Food Systems Summit Dialogue

July 14, 2021 – It is a pleasure to speak to you today, at this Africa Regional Dialogue in support of the Food Systems Summit.  We meet at a time of rising food insecurity and hunger.  Between 720 million and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020 — as many as 161 million more than in 2019.

No region of the world has been spared; but the numbers show persistent regional inequalities.  About one in five people in Africa faced hunger in 2020 — more than double the proportion of any other region.

Pandemic year marked by spike in world hunger Africa posts biggest jump Brandspurng
WFP/Grant Lee Neuenburg, Woman and her baby standing in front of a tent in a resettlement camp, Cabo Delgado, Mozambique

The high cost of nutritious diets, coupled with high levels of poverty and income inequality, continue to keep healthy diets out of reach for around 3 billion people in every region of the world. Of these, 1 billion of our African sisters and brothers could not afford a healthy diet in 2019.

Malnutrition in all its forms remains entrenched, particularly among women and children.  Most children under 5 years with malnutrition live in Africa and Asia.  Thirty-seven per cent of the world’s stunted children can be found in Africa.

These tragic numbers are not new.  Hunger was on the rise even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nor do these numbers tell us the whole picture.

While we are severely off-track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 — zero hunger — by 2030, this Goal cannot be achieved in isolation.  Ending hunger requires us to consider food as a system, revealing a range of intersecting challenges that are undermining our progress towards all the SDGs.

Take the climate crisis. Globally, one-third of greenhouse gas emissions originate in our food systems.  Agriculture is also responsible for up to 80 per cent of biodiversity loss, and continues to overuse our diminishing natural resources, including land and water.  Around the world, an estimated 600 million people — almost 1 in 10 — fall ill after eating contaminated food each year.

Despite all these worrying trends, I remain optimistic.  But we must act with urgency.

Science has confirmed that transforming our food systems offers an opportunity to drive progress across the board, from climate action to reducing pollution.  This is the rationale of the Food Systems Summit.  Over 140 Member States have responded to my invitation to convene national Food Systems Summit Dialogues.  The majority of the African continent is participating:  44 countries, over 80 per cent of all African Governments, are leading national dialogues.

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Governments everywhere recognize the importance of this issue, particularly at a time of crisis.  But there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.  Food systems vary by location; our approaches must be rooted in local and regional realities.

Food systems dialogues are engaging a diverse range of participants.  Where they are present, United Nations resident coordinators and country teams are playing a fundamental role.

Like the power or transport sectors, food systems can and must contribute to the green and blue transitions.  This means, for example, being less dependent on fossil fuels-based fertilizers and more attuned to nature-based solutions such as natural soil regeneration.  Solutions exist, and they can be deployed at scale, to fight in the same stroke climate change, hunger and malnutrition while preserving our planet.

Through the 2030 Agenda, the world has agreed on a bold vision for the future. Through Agenda 2063, Africa has articulated its master plan for transforming itself into the global powerhouse of the future.  Our task now is to keep our promises by delivering on the commitments we have made, through accelerated action.

The aim of this Dialogue is to help you to think through how to strengthen national pathways for food systems transformation to achieve the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development].  This should be one of the main outcomes of the Food Systems Summit.  In addition to your national progress, this dialogue can help bring a unified African voice to the upcoming Pre-Summit in Rome at the end of July, and to the Summit in September in New York.

In Rome, the outcomes of regional dialogues around the world will converge with the other workstreams of the Summit process.  These strands are generating ideas for enhanced global cooperation in support of the country and regional priorities.

By the time of the Summit in New York, we will be able to show how countries and regions around the world have articulated their own pathways to 2030, joined by a range of partners to accompany them on their journey.

I am encouraged to see African countries come together at this Dialogue.  We need African leadership to realize our vision and meet the Goal of zero hunger by 2030.  I wish you every success at this meeting and look forward to an outcome that puts us on track to delivering a more sustainable and resilient food future for all of Africa’s people.