Zero hunger

Published November 2, 2020
The writer is country representative, FAO Pakistan.
The writer is country representative, FAO Pakistan.

WORLD Food Day 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. It comes at a time when the world is facing the impacts of Covid-19 amidst multiple natural hazards, shocks and transboundary pests.

Despite past achievements, five years into the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, the world is not on track to achieve zero hunger. The number of people affected by hunger globally has been on the rise since 2014. FAO currently estimates that nearly 690 million people are hungry, the majority of them being in Asia. This is an addition of 10m people in one year and nearly 60m in five years. Looking beyond starvation, over two billion people do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. The Covid-19 pandemic could further add 83m to 132m food-insecure people worldwide. Globally, the prevalence of food insecurity at a moderate or severe level is higher among women than men. The gender gap in accessing food increased from 2018 to 2019.

In Pakistan, the Prevalence of Undernourishment — an important indicator for measuring our progress on SDG 2 Zero Hunger — has slowly declined to 26m Pakistanis in 2017-19, from about 33m in 2003-04. Some of the gains were however reversed by climate-related shocks, such as the floods of 2010-13, as well as recent challenges of drought, more floods, locusts and Covid-19 impacts. With all this to bear, we can expect a deterioration in Pakistan’s food security as we head towards the end of 2020 under a business-as-usual scenario.

Economic slowdowns due to lockdowns, such as Pakistan experienced in 2019-20, tend to increase poverty, which is closely interlinked with food insecurity. The shocks are consequently affecting poorer commu­nities disproportionately, and pushing those in the most uncertain contexts deeper into poverty and hunger, with an important impact on the stability of access to adequate, safe and nutritious food for households. Access to food is also under threat for more vulnerable households because of food price fluctuations observed in a range of Pakistani markets since the onset of Covid-19.

We can expect a deterioration in food security.

Food insecurity can lead to different manifestations of malnutrition. The kind of and relative amounts of food people eat, specifically, the quality of their diet, translates into how our body utilises it and is directly linked with health and energy. In Pakistan, access to healthy, balanced diets is a challenge. Shifting to healthy diets can contribute to reducing health and climate-change costs because the hidden costs of these healthy diets are lower. The adoption of healthy diets can lead to a reduction of up to 97 per cent in direct and indirect health costs and 41–74pc in the social cost of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Dietary habits in Pakistan require realignment to more balanced, nutritious ingredients, by making a diverse range of foods accessible to the poor and by educating everyone on the negative health consequences of a diet dominated by energy-dense, low-nutrient foods.

On food availability, Pakistan has fared well, with a 2.7pc growth in agriculture in 2019-20 within an overall economic contr­ac­tion of 0.4pc. However, the growth was mos­tly due to livestock and three major crops. This relates to the challenge where only nine plant species in the world account for 66pc of crop production worldwide, despite over 30,000 known edible plants. Pakistan can do better at growing more diverse food.

If the pandemic has laid bare the fragility of agri-food systems, the precariousness of the agricultural labour force, the thin line that separates families from destitution, there are solutions.

This year, we celebrate the food heroes that have continued to grow, sustain and nourish us, and recognise more needs to be done: review the food supply chain in the context of the political economy that shapes trade, public expenditure and investments, and put smallholder farmers at the centre of it; government, civil society and private sector engage in collective efforts to ensure smallholder farmers and off-farm ag-workers, women and men, can access financial resources, knowledge, technology and innovation; organise campaigns and leverage the Pakistan Dietary Guidelines for Better Nutrition to promote healthy eating habits; recognise invisible labour of agriculture workers; provide access to land to women and men farmers; rethink policies and actions to tackle agriculture productivity, climate change and food systems transformation with ambition and urgency to ensure the ‘new normal’ is better; call for and facilitate collective cross-sectoral action, global collaboration to support the vulnerable in times of shocks and crises.

Our future food systems need to ensure affordable and healthy diets for all, and decent livelihoods for food system workers, while preserving natural resources and biodiversity. This will help go a long way towards achieving zero hunger.

The writer is country representative, FAO Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2020

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