Hunger, conflict and COVID 19

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Few years ago, Swedish diplomat Jan Eliasson observed that unless we made peace with nature, we would never be able to solve the problems of global hunger. Jan Eliasson suggested to the community of food experts to consider the nexus of a sustainable food supply with the ongoing threat of climate change.

As the world observed World Food Day on October 16, it is pivotal to consider the challenges of eradicating global hunger in the context of the warming of our planet. Until 2014, the decades-long-decline in hunger in the world was one of the great achievements of progress, the world’s ability to grow enough food to feed billions of people. Hundreds of millions of people in Africa, Latin American and especially Asia were lifted out of poverty.

Today, that global progress is in jeopardy. Johanna Forman, a scholar-in-residence at American University’s School of International Service noted that, we ignore this reality at our peril. She stated that the ranks of the food insecure are increasing. In March 2020, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sounded an alarm as the initial data on global hunger confirmed what we already suspected. More than 60 million undernourished people, up by 10 million people between 2018 and 2019, joined the ranks of the food insecure. In 2019, over 1.25 billion people experienced moderate food insecurity, and 750 million experienced severe food insecurity. The majority of hungry people worldwide live in countries wracked by conflict, 489 million people. The arrival of the COVID 19 pandemic only aggravates these pressures further.

Johanna Forman further stated that with ten years to go until 2030, the year the United Nations set as the target to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we are now off track to achieve them. The SDG target of zero hunger by that date is no longer in reach. If the global community continues to keep the discussions about solutions to hunger separate from ways to tackle climate change, we will certainly lose the battle for survival.

The United States and China, the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, have taken irresponsible positions regarding ways to keep the earth’s temperature stable.  So, what can citizens do to create a global grassroots movement that will help put the planet on a more hopeful trajectory to address hunger and the continued warming of the earth?

For this end, the young generation plays a key role in this battle. Young people are individually very much aware of the connections between agricultural production and climate. The young Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, has inspired a generation to call out their governments and local communities to make changes in the way they manage food waste and generate energy that do not pollute the atmosphere.

Ford Runge, Director of the Center for International Food and Agricultural Policy stressed that mobilization requires the private sector to operate its own campaigns to use their businesses for good purposes. There are many multinational companies that are signing on to agreements to address their carbon footprints. This movement must now also be duplicated in both small and medium-sized enterprises. A new initiative, 10x20x30 intends to get 10 major retailers to enlist 20 suppliers to commit to meeting the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goal to cut food waste by half.

Ford Runge argued that the technology sector has created a remarkable array of options for generating energy that will not emit carbon. It must now insist that these options for wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy generation are made available at low cost to all countries that are at risk of falling further back in feeding their populations. According to Ford Runge, there must be financial incentives that both sovereign lenders and the international financial institutions provide to those countries at the greatest risk especially small island states where rising sea levels threaten their very existence. This is possible if a target list of priority states starts the process of energy sector modernization.

The fossil fuel production companies talk a good line about transitioning to renewable energy. But they are still focused on further extraction of oil in spite of all the warning signs of disaster. The United States and Saudi Arabia, the two largest oil producers, could better serve the global community if they agreed to reduce harm to the respective energy sectors. This is where citizen mobilization could play a major role as investment dollars could be conditioned on an energy transition.

Johanna Forman stressed that food growing companies worldwide can become a positive force in each of the countries where they operate by providing a decentralized approach to agriculture. This would allow them to produce what the world needs to eat, while creating mechanisms to give those in the most remote parts of the world a way to reach markets. They can achieve that by guaranteeing these small farmers a means to sell their products locally. Big companies have the logistical capacity to help governments develop these types of decentralized approaches to their agricultural policies.

Dealing with food waste as a major issue in tackling the dual global hunger and climate change challenge. It needs to be tackled at the systems level rather than by looking at it as a piecemeal solution to reducing carbon emissions. According to Project Drawdown, if landfills were a country, they would be the third largest emitters of greenhouse gases, coming only after China and the United States. A global approach to landfills, while not easy to implement, could also help focus attention on food waste. This would create an enduring solution to one of the greatest offenders to the environment.

Observing World Food Day may give people around the globe a chance finally to consider how their own impact on the planet must be considered in light of the threats we all face. As Johanna Forman suggested, all United Nations member states must take responsibility to protect the earth. Now is the moment to act on this, for failing to act will be done at our peril. It is indeed a must to make peace with nature.