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World Food Day

There is no time to lose in the fight to end hunger and obesity


José Graziano da Silva

Director General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

“Our Actions are our future. A zero hunger world by 2030 is possible,” is the slogan for World Food Day 2018.”

We reap what we sow. In many cultures, this ancient proverb is a warning about what happens to people who behave badly. It also offers an encouraging message, nudging us to prepare well for a positive harvest.

There are only 12 years left to deliver on the international community’s pledge to eradicate hunger by 2030, a cardinal objective of the Sustainable Development Agenda. There is no time to lose.

Undernourishment has risen year on year since 2014

Sadly, the number of people suffering undernourishment has risen to 821 million in 2017. This is the third year increase in a row after a decade of decline. Conflict and climate change impacts, which take their heaviest toll on rural communities, are the main reason for this situation. About 60% of the world’s hungry, and an even more intolerable 75% of stunted children, live in countries affected by conflict.

Building the resilience of poor rural communities and family farmers is key to eradicating hunger, and peace is, too.

Investment is needed to improve the links between field and plate

We need policies to spur more private-sector investments in agriculture and rural development, to boost social protection programmes for the vulnerable, and to optimise links between food producers and consumers.

We need science and innovation to find the best seeds, to save precious water resources and to protect biodiversity. The adoption of climate-smart practices is also central to making sure our food systems are able to adapt to climate change and contribute to its mitigation.

We also need to reduce food loss and waste, which affects one third of all the food produced worldwide and carries an estimated annual global bill of $2.6 trillion a year. 

672 million people classed ‘obese’ in 2016

World Food Day is not just about making sure people have access to enough calories. Healthy lives require much better nutrition than we currently enjoy. In 2016, 2.6 billion people were overweight – 672 million of them were obese (13.2% of the global population). If governments and the private sector do not take serious, coordinated actions on this issue, we may soon have more obese than undernourished people in the world.

Furthermore, childhood overweight affected 38 million children under five years of age, with Africa and Asia representing 25% and 46% of the global total, respectively. The problem of obesity is most significant in North America, but it is worrying that even Africa and Asia are also experiencing an upward trend. Eight of the 20 countries in the world with the fastest rising rates of adult obesity are in Africa. We are witnessing the globalisation of obesity. 

Consumer-focused campaigns help prevent food waste

Happily, support for doing the right thing is growing. Indeed, a pilot project by a supermarket in Britain found exceptional, 14-fold returns to investments in reducing food loss and waste. Clever campaigns promoting “ugly” fruit and vegetables – a ridiculous description of nature’s bounty – are winning the hearts and minds of many of us in our everyday lives.

Let us spread the word about the new mind-set: adopting healthy diets and preserving our natural resources are essential for a more sustainable world. We can make it happen.

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