10.11.2022 |

Report denounces farming’s costly dependency on chemical fertilisers

A worker fertilizing on oil palm plantation in Papua, Indonesia (Photo: Agus Andrianto / CIFOR,,

As farmers and governments are struggling to cope with increased fertiliser prices, the world’s largest agribusiness giants are making record profits, a new report reveals. According to “The Fertiliser Trap”, published by GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) on November 8th, G20 nations paid almost twice as much for key fertiliser imports in 2021 compared to 2020 and are on course to spend three times as much this year. This entails an additional cost of around US$ 22 billion in 2021 and 2022, while the world’s biggest fertiliser companies are expected to make almost US$84 billion profit over the same period. “This year, the bill for these energy-intensive products has hit new heights. With the world in the midst of an energy and climate crisis, prices for chemical fertilisers are at record levels,” the report authors write. “Fertiliser corporations are using their market power to capture mega profits, while farmers and governments are scrambling to try and cope with the added costs, especially in the global South.” They warn that high fertiliser prices are putting food production at severe risk in many places. The authors conclude that the world can no longer afford the food system’s addiction to chemical fertilisers. “The costs are too high, both in terms of the financial burden for farmers and public budgets, and the severe environmental and health impacts. Governments urgently need redirect public funds and policies away from industrial agriculture and towards agroecological farming.”

The report examines the wholesale costs of the three fertilisers imported in the greatest quantities to the G20 and a sample of developing countries for which data was publicly available, using data collected by Bloomberg Green Markets. One limitation was that for major fertiliser producers, imports only represent a small proportion of their total application of chemical fertilisers. However, domestic production and cost data were not easily available. This means that the findings of the report “only tell part of the story” – the extra costs in 2021 and 2022 to governments and farmers are likely to be significantly underestimated. The report finds that the cost of chemical fertilisers in both the global North and South has skyrocketed over the past two years, putting severe economic strain on farmers’ and public budgets. It is estimated that the G20 members spent almost twice (189%) as much for key fertiliser imports in 2021 compared to 2020 and in 2022, they will spend three times (288%) as much. This means that over this period, the G20 paid at least US$ 21.8 billion extra for the three chemical fertilisers they import in the greatest quantities. For example, the UK paid an extra US$ 144 million for fertiliser imports in the two years analysed, and Brazil paid an extra US$ 3.5 billion. For example, in January 2020 Canada was paying US$ 225 for a tonne of urea from the Baltic, whereas by January 2022, it had to pay US$ 814 per tonne. The nine developing countries examined together spent 186% more in 2021 and 295% more in 2022 for the same sample of fertilisers. This produces a total extra bill of US$ 2.9 billion. Among these countries is Pakistan, which paid an extra US$ 874 million. “The era of cheap fertilizers is over, and the costs have become too much to bear,” the authors write.

But why are costs rising? According to “The Fertiliser Trap”, the initial price increases in 2021 were driven by the rising cost of natural gas – a key raw ingredient for nitrogen fertilisers. After falling slightly in early 2022, there was another sharp increase due to the war in Ukraine which constrained the supply of both gas and fertiliser itself. Russia supplies 45% of the ammonia nitrate market. Russia and Ukraine are both significant exporters of phosphorus fertilisers. Prices climbed again in summer when it became clear the war would not end quickly and concerns over gas shortages in Europe returned. The authors add that some chemical fertilisers are not made from gas but from mineral deposits, such as potash and phosphate. However, the mining and production of fertilisers using these minerals is highly energy-intensive and thus still affected by gas prices. 75% of the world’s potash production comes from China, Canada, Russia, and Belarus.

But another factor is also fuelling fertiliser prices: corporate profits. The US$ 200 billion global fertiliser market is controlled by just a handful of companies. Only four of these companies control 33% of the entire nitrogen fertiliser production. In the US, Mosaic is estimated to control over 90% of the domestic phosphate fertiliser market. Given their market power, these companies have so far been able to pass on the increased costs of their raw ingredients and production processes to maintain or even increase their profit margins. According to company filings, the combined profits of nine of the world’s biggest fertiliser companies (Nutrien, Yara, Mosaic, ICL Group, CF Industries, PhosAgro, OCI, K+S, OCP) were just under US$ 13 billion in 2020. In contrast, if their reported profit levels in the first six months of 2022 are maintained, then over the whole year they will earn more than US$ 57 billion in profits, up 440% from two years ago. The profits of The Big 9 in 2021 and 2022 could reach a total of US$ 84 billion.

What can be done? The response so far from many governments has been to look for ways to increase chemical fertiliser production. Not surprisingly, this is also the solution that the world’s largest fertiliser companies are promoting. But GRAIN and IATP say that increased production will not resolve this crisis. First, the huge profits that fertiliser companies are making should be dealt with urgently. Some ideas that have been suggested include the imposition of windfall taxes and investigations into pricing. Second, governments should take urgent action to support a significant reduction in the consumption of chemical fertilisers. In countries where industrial agriculture is dominant, one of the most immediate and impactful steps that can be taken is public support for farmers to implement more efficient fertiliser use. In many countries, a large amount of fertiliser is over-applied and wasted. The excess evaporates or is washed away, polluting air, soils and water. In Germany, a study found that only 61% of fertiliser is reaching wheat crops, meaning 39% is wasted. In Canada only 59% of fertiliser reaches crops and in Australia 62%. Other measures include a change in subsidies in order to support a managed transition towards farming practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the use of chemical fertilisers. Public or private philanthropic programmes that support the introduction of fertilisers into farming systems which are not already dependent on their use should be stopped. “In many places, farmers are already demonstrating that they can transition away from the use of chemical fertilisers as part of a broader transition to agroecology, without sacrificing their yields”, the report finds. “Agroecology incorporates traditional knowledge with science, empowers farmers as actors in their markets, focuses on delivering varied and healthy food, and works with biodiversity and nature. With agroecology, instead of chemical fertilisers, farmers restore nutrients and fertility to soils through the use of manure or through the cultivation of plants that absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere, such as legumes,” the authors conclude. (ab)

31.10.2022 |

IPES-Food rejects nebulous terms like ‘nature-based solutions’

Nebulous terms are being used in international summits (Photo: CC0)

At international climate, biodiversity and food summits, a growing number of green buzzwords are being used which rather obstruct than accelerate food system transformation. Agrifood corporations, international philanthropic organizations, and some governments are currently deploying the term “nature-based solutions” to ‘hijack’ the food system sustainability agenda, often bundled with problematic and unproven carbon farming and carbon offsetting schemes in partnership with major conservation groups. This is one of the key messages of a new policy brief published by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), a group of experts co-chaired by Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and Maryam Rahmanian, an independent expert on agriculture and food systems. The briefing, written after an in-depth exchange between IPES-Food and researchers from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), analyses how the competing concepts of ‘agroecology’, ‘nature-based solutions’, and ‘regenerative agriculture’ were used at recent international events. “There’s a battle of ideas over the future of food systems. Very loose terms like ‘nature-based solutions’ are being bandied about in international summits without clear definitions, and they’re open to being mobilized in the interests of all kinds of agendas. At worst they are a cover for green grabs that undermine people's rights and threaten the land and resources they depend on,” said Melissa Leach, IPES-Food expert and Director of the IDS. She highlighted that with the UN climate conference in Egypt (COP27) fast approaching, we must be very careful about the use of these ambiguous terms and reject solutions that are not clearly defined.

According to the brief ‘Smoke & Mirrors: Examining competing framings of food system sustainability’, there is widespread consensus on the need to make food systems more sustainable, but how to pursue that objective is subject to much debate. In recent years, terms such as ‘regenerative agriculture’ and ‘nature-based solutions’ have gained popularity within global governance and international development spaces and among agrifood corporations. The authors explain that “these terms add to a growing collection of concepts and ideas that are often used as bywords for sustainable development in discussing the future of food systems, including sustainable agriculture, climate-smart agriculture, nature-positive food production, sustainable intensification, conservation agriculture” and so on. The paper focuses on three concepts, ‘agroecology’, ‘nature-based solutions’, and ‘regenerative agriculture’, considering their origins, evolution, and how they are used in debates on the future of food systems. The authors looked specifically at how these terms were deployed in the run-up to, at and in the follow-up to three high-level summit events in 2021 – the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) and at the UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP15). They also examined the usage of these terms in other policy and funding spaces (e.g. corporate sustainability schemes and development initiatives).

The researchers found that one controversial idea, ‘nature-based solutions’, is rapidly gaining traction in international summits. The term was very prominent at the UNFSS, contentious in some negotiations at COP26, and has gained a foothold in CBD – where it is being heavily promoted by some parties and strongly opposed by others in ongoing negotiations towards the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. At the UN Food Systems Summit, the term ‘nature-positive’ was preferred in earlier stages. Across summit literature, ‘nature-based’ and ‘nature-positive’ were used as generic prefixes together with a range of topics – “suggesting that the terms are being used in a loose and aspirational way and perhaps to mask the specific and highly-critiqued approaches (e.g., carbon offsets) being promoted by a number of proponents of nature-based solutions”, the authors write. Nature-positive food systems; nature-positive agriculture and nature-positive approaches, practices, and solutions are just some examples that appeared in summit documents and processes. The UNFSS was organised around five action tracks and track 3 is dedicated to “nature positive production”. IPES-Food criticises that the concept of ‘nature-based’ lacks an agreed definition and a transformative vision and is being used to maintain agribusiness as usual. It is a depoliticized concept that ignores inequalities of power and wealth that lead to unsustainability in food systems. Therefore, it falls short of the deep, structural, transformative change required to make food systems truly sustainable in all three dimensions – ecological, social, and economic. In addition, the term is often bundled with risky, unproven carbon offsetting schemes that entrench big agribusiness power. The result is thus a dilution of food system transformation.

By contrast, ‘agroecology’ – the second concept analysed in the paper – is a term given formal definition through democratic and inclusive governance processes, backed by years of scientific research and social movement legitimacy. The authors explain that agroecology offers a more inclusive and comprehensive pathway toward food system transformation because it connects social and environmental aspects of sustainability, addresses the whole food system, is attentive to power inequalities, and draws from a plurality of knowledges emphasizing the inclusion of marginalized voices. Agroecology is the only concept among the three that has attained clarity and conceptual maturity through a long process of inclusive and international deliberation. In 2018, following a 4-year consultative process, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) laid out the ‘10 elements of agroecology. This framework was a milestone in bringing agroecology into mainstream policy debate and establishing a holistic version of it that included social justice components. This conceptual maturity was consolidated the following year when the High Level Panel of Experts of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) translated these 10 elements into a set of 13 operational principles to guide agroecological food system transformation. At the UNFSS, agroecology was mentioned as a type of nature-based solution under action track 3, emerging as a ‘game-changing solution’ under this track. However, the brief concludes that agroecology is not used as an overarching framework in the three fora studied. Insufficient attention to agroecology and food sovereignty was among the reasons why hundreds of civil society groups boycotted the UNFSS, and its outcomes remain highly contested. Agroecology was largely absent from the main business of COP26 and was not mentioned in the CBD’s main outcome document to date, the Kunming Declaration.

The third concept, ‘Regenerative agriculture’, is less prominent in policy spaces, the briefing note finds. Sustainable food system actors use it to emphasize regenerating natural resources. However leading agrifood businesses (including Walmart, Pepsi and Cargill) are in some cases invoking ‘regenerative agriculture’ in their corporate sustainability schemes, often in conjunction with carbon offsetting schemes, stripped of social justice dimensions. “Regenerative agriculture is a term at a crossroads. Highlighting the principles it shares with agroecology (…) can help to reclaim regenerative agriculture from corporate co-optation and reinfuse it with conceptual clarity,” the authors write. The brief also presents a number of recommendations for policy actors, observers, and advocates in global governance spaces on food, climate, and environment. IPES-Food calls to reject solutions that lack definitions, exploit ambiguity and mask agribusiness as usual, while ensuring inclusive global processes to deliberate on socially and environmentally sustainable food system solutions. Business as usual through nature-based solutions, as expressed at the UNFSS, should be rejected in the upcoming climate conference in Egypt. “COP27 faces crucial decisions on agriculture. Rapidly transitioning to more sustainable and resilient food systems is vital if we are to limit global warming and prevent mass crop failures,” said Molly Anderson, IPES-Food expert and Chair in Food Studies at Middlebury College. She stressed that undefined terms like ‘nature-based solutions’ are being used to keep the focus on vague aspirations and this is just another form of greenwashing. “True food system solutions emerge through global, deliberative, democratic processes, and agroecology is the best solution that meets that criteria today,” she added. (ab)

07.10.2022 |

Corporate concentration in the global food chain is increasing, report

Food barons
Front cover of the report (by Garth Laidlaw)

Many key industrial agrifood sectors are now so “top heavy” that they are controlled by just four to six dominant companies. This enables these firms to wield huge influence over markets, agricultural research and policy-development, thus undermining food sovereignty and driving high food prices, new analysis has revealed. A report published by the international research collective “ETC Group” in September shows that new technologies are enabling the biggest players in the industrial food and agriculture chain to further consolidate their wealth and control, especially via the digitalization of agriculture. The report “Food Barons 2022” is an update of ETC Group’s previous reports about corporate concentration and was researched over the last two years. Drawing on 2020 data and sales figures from 11 food sectors, it names and ranks the largest food corporations dominating each link of the 8-10 trillion dollar commercial industrial food chain. The authors also outline the latest corporate maneuvers that make the food system more vulnerable to shocks and disruptions. “We have to remember that structural inequality and corporate concentration drive high food prices. This report highlights the startling consolidation that has enabled profiteering around climate, conflict and COVID-19. It names the culprits who are fuelling growing hunger,” commented Veronica Villa from ETC Group’s office in Mexico City.

The report looks at so-called “food barons”, the world’s leading corporations in the food chain, including giant traders, food processors, grocers, technologists and financiers. The authors examine 11 key industrial “agrifood” sectors: seeds, agrochemicals, livestock genetics, synthetic fertilizers, farm machinery, animal pharmaceuticals, commodity traders, food processors, Big Meat, grocery retail and food delivery. Their rankings and the infographics in the report are mainly based on 2020 sales figures. They find that our food system has already tipped well into oligopoly. Economists typically speak of an oligopoly if at least 40% of a market or sector is controlled by just a few firms. The report shows that just four firms (ChemChina/SinoChem, Bayer, BASF and Corteva) control 62.3% of the world agrochemical market. The top six companies even control 78% of the market. The global market for agrochemical products was US$62,400 million in 2020. ChemChina and SinoChem (Syngenta Group) alone account for one-quarter of the global pesticide market – a share that is likely to expand rapidly following the 2021 merger of ChemChina and SinoChem. The global market for commercial seeds and traits reached $45,000 million in 2020. The top 2 companies (Bayer and Corteva Agriscience) control 40% of this market. The top 6 companies (the former two plus ChemChina/Syngenta, BASF, Groupe Limagrain/Vilmorin and KWS) control 58% of the seed market. Globally, just three companies (EW Group, Hendrix Genetics and Tyson Foods) control commercial poultry genetics, making it the most concentrated sector in the industrial food chain.

The report also looks at three critical, multi-sectoral trends that increase the ability of the Food Barons – Big Ag, together with Big Tech and Big Finance – to maintain control over the industrial food chain. The first of these is the digitalization of food and agriculture. Tech giants are becoming prime players in food, handling the data, networking and artificial intelligence that undergirds the newly digitized food chain. “The Food Barons are introducing a suite of new technologies and “techno-fixes” that are conceived and designed to entrench corporate control over food and agriculture even further,” says the report. ETC Group’s research reveals that every sector of the Industrial Food Chain is in the process of transforming into a digital enterprise. “The vista of new digital initiatives in food and ag is dizzying. On the farm, it includes concerted attempts to impose digital agriculture, weaving in drone sprayers, Artificial Intelligence-driven robotic planters and automated animal-feeding operations tricked out with facial recognition for livestock. Big Ag giants such as Bayer, Deere & Company, Corteva, Syngenta and Nutrien are restructuring their entire businesses around Big Data platforms.” The authors name Bayer’s ‘Field View’ digital platform as an example: It extracts 87.5 billion data points from 180 million acres (78.2 million hectares) of farmland in 23 countries and funnels it into the cloud servers of Microsoft and Amazon to generate new business strategies. The authors fear that these systems will displace farm workers, erode farmer’s rights and manipulate consumers. They also point to the fact that Deere, the world’s largest farm machinery company, now employs more software engineers than mechanical engineers.

The second trend is the rising power of Asian (especially Chinese) and Brazilian food barons. “In decades past, industrial agriculture was overwhelmingly dominated by corporations based in North America and Europe, and focused primarily on meeting market demand in those regions. Today, corporate players in the global South, especially China, Brazil and India are reordering the Industrial Food Chain, while adopting the same extractive model as their Northern counterparts,” the report finds. The authors highlight that the pace and scale of China’s hyper-industrializing agrifood system is without precedent. “Chinese Food Barons are catering to colossal domestic as well as global markets: China’s state-owned Syngenta Group is now the world’s largest agrochemical input firm (seeds, pesticides, fertilizers); and China’s newly consolidated COFCO is second only to Cargill as the world’s largest agriculture commodity trader.” The third trend is horizontal integration, including the increasing involvement of asset management companies in food and agriculture sectors, which creates the semblance of competition, but diminishes actual competition. In sectors such as grocery and food processing, giant asset managers Blackrock, State Street and Vanguard maintain the largest ownership stakes across many of the top firms, showing real competition to be an illusion. For example, these three large asset management firms collectively control more than one quarter of all institutional shares of agribusiness corporations such as Pepsico (20.51% of shares held collectively by the Big Three), Tyson (25.13%) and ADM (23.92%).

ETC Group warns that the extreme market power of a tiny number of firms documented in this report enables and drives high prices. The authors write: “The year 2020 was a horrific year for food security and health – but a bonanza for Big Food and Big Ag. In the midst of a global pandemic – combined with climate shocks, supply chain gridlock, price spikes, increasing hunger, food and energy shortages, civil strife, racial violence and wars – these Food Barons made the most of the converging crises in order to tighten their grip on every link in the Industrial Food Chain. In doing so, they undermine the rights of peasants, smallholders, fishers and pastoralists to produce food for their own communities and many others.” The report makes clear that policymakers and antitrust regulators haven’t developed the tools or the teeth to clamp down on 21st century oligopoly power – including the opaque power of tech giants and asset management firms. “It can be daunting to imagine taking on the Food Barons - They are backed by the titans of capital, have their claws in around 10% percent of the global economy and are ruthlessly buttressing the Food Chain with new technologies and false promises,” said Jim Thomas, ETC Group’s Research Director based in Canada. “But their power is illegitimate and not inevitable,” he added. The report also underlines that agribusiness is currently in a moment of significant transformation. “Agribusiness has failed to feed even a third of people on the planet, while wrecking ecosystems, economies and society along the way. As the food chain becomes more top-heavy these companies become more exposed and vulnerable. It’s time to topple, defund and divest the food barons of their power,” says Jim Thomas.

The authors outline three key proposals for action. The first is to support food sovereignty. According to ETC Group, it is urgent to recognize the vital importance of non-industrial food systems. Food Barons are not feeding the world and it is not in their interest to do so. In direct contrast, feeding people is recognised as a real need and is the core concern of peasants’ and grassroots organisations which have set a very clear path to be able to feed the world and rebuild the planet: food sovereignty and agroecology. The second proposal is to divest from the chain. “Institutions under pressure from civil society have already succeeded in partly directing funds away from tobacco, arms and fossil fuels on moral grounds. Grassroots climate movements have successfully named fossil fuel majors as the obstruction to meaningful climate action. Food movements should follow suit: it is a logical next step to demand divestment from the Industrial Food Chain,” says the report. Schools, universities, pension funds, local authorities and other public institutions holding investments in the identified companies should withdraw their funds from specific Food Barons and even from the entire industrial food chain. Third, powerful new technologies such as blockchains, drones, ag robots, AI platforms, RNAi, alt-proteins, designer microbes and gene drives should be closely monitored. “The participatory assessment of technologies based on precaution, as well as the development and support for the implementation of socially and ecologically useful technologies, should be a top priority for governments, multilateral communities or fora, and civil society,” the authors demand. Food governance bodies such as the Committee on World Food Security should prioritize horizon scanning, technology assessment and monitoring of new technologies that impact food systems. (ab)

29.09.2022 |

Almost 1 million people are facing starvation, UN report warns

Millions of people are living from hand to mouth (Photo: CC0)

The number of people facing acute food insecurity worldwide will continue to rise very quickly as the food crisis tightens its grip on several ‘hunger hotspots’ identified by a new UN report. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warn that millions of people are facing starvation and death if humanitarian assistance is not scaled up rapidly. Rising conflict, weather extremes, and economic instability aggravated by the lingering impacts of COVID-19 and the effects of the war in Ukraine are among the key drivers of acute food security, the two organisations said in a joint press release. The report released on September 21 says there are 17 countries and 2 regional clusters - the 19 hunger hotspots - where parts of the population will likely face a significant deterioration of already high levels of acute food insecurity during the outlook period from October 2022 to January 2023, putting lives and livelihoods at risk. The report focuses on the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa, where the longest drought in over 40 years is forecast to continue. The fifth consecutive failed rainy season will be aggravating the situation. “The severe drought in the Horn of Africa has pushed people to the brink of starvation, destroying crops and killing livestock on which their survival depends. Acute food insecurity is rising fast and spreading across the world,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. “People in the poorest countries in particular who have yet to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are suffering from the ripple effects of ongoing conflicts, in terms of prices, food and fertilizer supplies, as well as the climate emergency,” he added.

The report uses the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), an index agreed on by the international community as a global reference for the classification of food insecurity which includes 5 phases. People in IPC/CH Phase 3 and above are in urgent need of assistance. In phase 3, households are at crisis level and urgent action is needed to protect livelihoods and reduce food consumption gaps. At emergency level 4, lives and livelihoods are at risk because households have large food consumption gaps which are reflected in very high acute malnutrition and excess mortality. At IPC Phase 5 (Catastrophe level), starvation, death, destitution and extremely critical acute malnutrition levels are evident. The new report sounds the alarm because globally, an all-time high of 970,000 people are expected to face catastrophic hunger (IPC Phase 5) and are starving or projected to starve due to catastrophic conditions in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen, if no action is taken. This number is ten times higher than six years ago when only two countries had populations in Phase 5. Around 45 million people in 37 countries are projected to have so little to eat that they will be severely malnourished, at risk of death or already facing starvation and death (IPC/CH Phase 4 and above). A total of 222 million people in 53 countries/territories are expected to be in need of urgent assistance (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above).

The situation is especially alarming in the Horn of Africa: Up to 26 million people are expected to face Crisis or worse (IPC Phase 3 and above) levels of food insecurity in Somalia, southern and eastern Ethiopia, and northern and eastern Kenya. In Somalia, a likely fifth below‑average rainy season, combined with high food prices and persistent conflict, is rapidly driving an extreme deprivation of food, with parts of Bay region likely to experience famine in the context of critical gaps in funding levels to support humanitarian assistance in the last quarter of the year. Overall, 6.7 million people are expected to face high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 and above) in the outlook period, including 2.2 million people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and at least 300 000 people in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). “Without an adequate humanitarian response, analysts expect that by December, as many as four children or two adults per 10 000 people will die every day. Hundreds of thousands are already facing starvation today with staggering levels of malnutrition expected among children under 5,” the two organisations warn in their press release. “This is the third time in 10 years that Somalia has been threatened with a devastating famine. The famine in 2011 was caused by two consecutive failed rainy seasons as well as conflict. Today we’re staring at a perfect storm: a likely fifth consecutive failed rainy season that will see drought lasting well into 2023,” said WFP’s Executive Director David Beasley. “But the people at the sharp end of today’s crisis are also facing soaring food prices and severely limited opportunities to earn a living following the pandemic. We urgently need to get help to those in grave danger of starvation in Somalia and the world’s other hunger hotspots.” The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Kenya, the Sahel, the Sudan and Syria also remain ‘of very high concern’ with deteriorating conditions. The alert is also extended to the Central African Republic and Pakistan. Guatemala, Honduras and Malawi have recently been added to the list of hotspot countries, joining Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe.

Violent conflict remains the primary driver of acute hunger and a continuation of this trend is projected in 2022, with particular concern for Ethiopia, where an intensification of conflict and interethnic violence in several regions is expected to further escalate, driving up humanitarian needs. Climate change is also taking its toll. Weather extremes such as floods, tropical storms and droughts remain critical drivers in many parts of the globe, and a “new normal” of consecutive and extreme weather events is becoming clear - particularly in the hotspots. For example, devastating floods have affected 33 million people in Pakistan alone this year and South Sudan faces a fourth consecutive year of extreme flooding. Meanwhile, a third consecutive season of below-average rainfall is projected in Syria. In addition, for the first time in 20 years, the La Niña climate event has continued through three consecutive years – affecting agriculture and causing crop and livestock losses in many parts of the world, including Afghanistan, West and East Africa and Syria. Another factor are economic risks. The persistently high global prices of food, fuel and fertilizer continue to drive high domestic prices and economic instability. Rising inflation rates have forced governments to introduce monetary-tightening measures in advanced economies which have also increased the cost of credit of low-income countries. This is constraining the ability of heavily indebted countries – the number of countries increased significantly in recent years – to finance the import of essential items, says the report.

The two organisations call for urgent humanitarian action to save lives and livelihoods and prevent famine in hotspot countries, especially Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. “Without a massively scaled up humanitarian response that has at its core time-sensitive and life-saving agricultural assistance, the situation will likely worsen in many countries in the coming months,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. The report highlights that insecurity, administrative and bureaucratic impediments, movement restrictions and physical barriers severely limit humanitarian responders’ access to people facing acute hunger in eleven of the hotspot countries. It presents country-specific recommendations for each of the hunger hotspots on priorities for anticipatory action – short-term protective measures to be put in place before new humanitarian needs materialize; as well as emergency response – actions to address existing humanitarian needs. In the case of Somalia, for example, the authors recommend a number of anticipatory actions such as support for social protection and humanitarian programs to avert the loss of livelihoods and asset depletion. Another measure is to build social cohesion to reduce tension over access to dwindling common resources such as water (for human and livestock) and pasture. The emergency response would require USD 624.4 million for food security and livelihoods, and USD 178.8 million for nutrition interventions. It is also necessary to scale up lifesaving emergency food, cash, health, water, sanitation and hygiene as well as nutrition services through more proactive approaches, including mobile health and nutrition services in hotspot districts. The authors also recommend to expand the delivery of life‑saving food and nutrition assistance to populations living in hard‑to‑reach areas and areas that have remained inaccessible so far. (ab)

21.09.2022 |

Acute hunger is increasing in world’s climate hotspots, Oxfam

Global warming will decrease yields (Photo: CC0)

Ten of the world’s worst affected “climate hotspots” – those with the highest number of UN appeals driven by extreme weather events – are also plunging into deeper hunger. According to new research published by Oxfam International, acute hunger has more than doubled in those countries over the past six years. The development organisation says the correlation between weather-related crises and rising hunger in these countries, and others, is “stark and undeniable”. The brief “Hunger in a heating world”, published on September 16th, found that “the climate crisis is increasingly becoming a threat multiplier that conspires with other major drivers of hunger, such as conflict, economic shocks, displacement, poverty and widening inequalities”. Climate change is adding pressure on food production systems, undermining food security and increasing security risks. “Climate change is no longer a ticking bomb, it is exploding before our eyes,” warned Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director at Oxfam International. “It is making extreme weather such as droughts, cyclones, and floods – which have increased five-fold over the past 50 years – more frequent and more deadly.”

Oxfam looked at the top ten countries with the most recurring UN humanitarian appeals in response to major extreme weather events since 2000, where climate was classified as a “major contributor” to these appeals: Somalia, Haiti, Djibouti, Kenya, Niger, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, and Zimbabwe. For Somalia and Haiti, for example, Oxfam counted 16 and 12 UN appeals respectively in the last two decades. The calculations of those facing acute hunger and starvation are based on the “Global Report on Food Crises” (GRFC), a UN report published annually since 2016 by the Food Security Information Network. The GRFC uses the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) in which the scale of food insecurity is broken down into five phases (minimal, stressed, crisis, emergency and catastrophe/famine). Today, 47.5 million people across the ten countries examined suffer acute hunger (IPC phase 3+), up from 21.3 million in 2016. This is a rise of 123 percent. Nearly 18 million people in these 10 countries are currently on the brink of starvation (based on the total number of people at IPC 4 level of food insecurity and above in 2021). “For millions of people already pummelled down by ongoing conflict, widening inequalities and economic crises, repeated climate shocks are becoming a backbreaker. The onslaught of climate disasters is now outpacing poor people’s ability to cope, pushing them deeper into severe hunger,” warned Bucher.

Among the ten countries, Burkina Faso has seen the highest increase in hunger with a staggering 1350% rise since 2016. As of June 2022, more than 3.4 million people in this country were suffering from extreme hunger due to armed conflict and worsening desertification of crop and pastoral lands. In the agricultural year 2021/22, cereal production in Burkina Faso decreased by 10% compared to the previous year. Global warming above 2°C could potentially reduce yields of cereals like millet and sorghum in places like Burkina Faso and Niger by 15–25%. In Niger, 2.6 million people are facing acute hunger today (up 767% from 2016). Cereal production has crashed by nearly 40%, as frequent climatic shocks on top of ongoing conflict have made harvesting increasingly difficult. Latin America has also been witnessing rising hunger despite having a significant number of middle-income countries. Hunger in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua has increased almost fourfold over the past two years – from 2.2 million people in 2018 to close to 8 million people in 2021 – a result of years of extreme climate events on top of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. Guatemala is also in the top ten list with 6 UN appeals with weather extremes as a major factor. The country saw a 147% rise in acute hunger (IPC3+) between 2016 and 2021. A severe drought has recently contributed to the loss of close to 80 percent of the maize harvest and devastated coffee plantations. “We spent almost eight days with hardly any food,” Mariana López, a mother living in Naranjo in Guatemala’s Dry Corridor, is quoted by Oxfam. Persistent drought forced her to sell her land.

Climate-fuelled hunger is a stark demonstration of global inequality, explains Oxfam. Countries that are least responsible for the climate crisis are suffering most from its impact and are also the least resourced to cope with it. According to the brief, the sum of cumulative carbon emissions of the 10 climate hotspots for 2020 was 0.002 trillion tons of carbon – that is 0.13% of the world emissions. The carbon emissions of the G20 countries – which together hold over 80% of the world’s economy – are 650 times higher than the emissions of these ten. The charity denounces that leaders of these rich nations continue to support mega-rich polluting companies that are often big supporters of their political campaigns. “Fossil fuel companies’ daily profits have averaged $2.8 billion over the last 50 years. Less than 18 days of those profits would fund the entire UN humanitarian appeal for 2022 of $49 billion," says Oxfam. But the research revealed that despite their spiralling hunger levels, funding for the 10 worst climate hotspots in the world has been equally inadequate. Between 2000 and 2021, donors provided less than $20 billion of the $31.6 billion UN appeals linked to extreme weather in the 10 climate hotspots – that is a shortfall of nearly 40 percent.

At the UN General Assembly and ahead of COP27, Oxfam called on political leaders to take urgent action to provide lifesaving aid to address the immediate hunger crisis in these climate hotspots and to guarantee adequate climate and anticipatory financing to help impacted people adapt, prepare for and cope with the next disaster. “Leaders, especially of rich polluting countries, must live up to their promises to cut emissions. They must pay for adaptation measures and loss and damage in low-income countries, as well as immediately inject lifesaving funds to meet the UN appeal to respond to the most impacted countries,” said Bucher. Cancelling debt could also help governments free up resources to invest in climate mitigation: “Rich and most polluting nations have a moral responsibility to compensate low-income countries most impacted by the climate crisis. This is an ethical obligation, not charity,” said Bucher. The report also calls on governments to provide safe and legal avenues for people forced to move due to climate change: They need to be able to access safe countries for both short term climate disasters as well as long term climate shifts which make their places of origin unliveable. Another demand mentioned in the brief is the need to build fairer, more resilient, and more sustainable food systems: “Governments and the private sector must put fairer, gender just food systems at the heart of climate response, to help small-scale food producers recover, rebuild and respond to climate crises. This includes investing in sustainable agriculture that supports local food production and preserves the planet.” (ab)

09.09.2022 |

Transform the economy to avoid social collapse and climate breakdown

We are standing on a cliff edge (Photo: CC0)

If current efforts are not accelerated dramatically in this decade, continued poverty and inequality and rising climate change will cause social collapse in vulnerable regions, according to a landmark analysis by an international team of scientists and economists. Humanity’s future on Earth will be vastly more peaceful, more prosperous and more secure if societies do everything in their power to transform economic systems this decade than if they do not, is one of the key messages of the book published by Earth4All, a platform of experts convened by The Club of Rome, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Norwegian Business School. “We are standing on a cliff edge,” said Jorgen Randers, one of the authors of “Earth for All: A Survival Guide for Humanity”, who also co-authored the Club of Rome’s groundbreaking report “The Limits to Growth” five decades ago. “In the next 50 years, the current economic system will drive up social tensions and drive down wellbeing. We can already see how inequality is destabilising people and the planet,” he warns. “Unless there is truly extraordinary action to redistribute wealth, things will get significantly worse.” He argues that societies are creating vicious cycles where rising social tensions, exacerbated by climate breakdown, will continue to lead to a decline in trust. “This risks an explosive combination of extreme political destabilisation and economic stagnation at a time when we must do everything we can to avoid climate catastrophes.” But the good news is that the world can still keep global temperatures below 2°C and approach an end to poverty by 2050 by enacting five ‘extraordinary turnarounds’ that break with current trends and provide a framework for a fair, just, and affordable economic transformation.

The book, which was published in German on September 6th and is to be launched in English on the 20th of September, is the result of a two-year research project that brought together scientists, economic thinkers and a team of ‘systems dynamics’ computer modelers. It explores two scenarios beginning in 1980 and ending in 2100. These scenarios which are dubbed “Too Little, Too Late” and “The Giant Leap” explore how population, economies, resource use, pollution, wellbeing and social tensions might change this century depending on decisions taken this decade. The first scenario looks at what will happen if we continue on our current destructive path. It assumes that the world will continue with the economic policies from the last 40 years. GDP will continue to grow, the rich get richer while the poor fall farther behind, creating extreme inequalities and growing social tensions within and between countries. “In this scenario, the model indicates that regional societal collapse, driven by rising social tensions, food insecurity and environmental degradation, is more likely than today. Regional and global crises are often not caused by a single event like one crop failure, but cascading failures made worse by climate change, chronically dysfunctional governments and system failures,” said Per Espen Stoknes, co-author and director of the Centre for Sustainability at Norwegian Business School. In this scenario, global temperatures will soar to about 2.5°C by 2100, significantly exceeding the target of the Paris Agreement. The poorest economies will face the most extreme conditions and will have difficulties adapting to climate impacts. Later in the century, around two billion people will be living in areas that are close to the limits of human habitability. All societies will be reeling from rolling shocks of extreme heat, drought, crop failure and floods.

The second scenario is far more optimistic and argues that we can also achieve the fastest economic transformation in history. If me make ‘The Giant Leap', it will be possible to keep temperatures below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, stabilise the population well below nine billion people, reduce material use and approach an end to extreme poverty globally by 2050 – a generation earlier than in the pessimistic scenario. Social tension will decrease and wellbeing rise throughout the century because of greater income equality. In order to achieve this, societies would need to adopt immediate action across five interconnected turnarounds: Empowerment, inequality, poverty, food and energy. “Out of hundreds of potential solutions, we have found five interconnected turnarounds that represent the simplest and most effective solutions that we must start implementing this decade to build economies operating within planetary boundaries by around 2050,” said Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. First, women need to be empowered to achieve full gender equity by 2050. Second, gross inequality needs to be addressed by ensuring that the wealthiest 10% take no more than 40% of national incomes. “The wealthiest 10% currently have 50% of global incomes,” explains Owen Gaffney, author and global sustainability analyst at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. “Effective progressive taxation, including wealth taxes, can easily provide the funds needed for The Giant Leap. These solutions will also help redistribute wealth which will go a long way towards reducing polarization and building the trust and legitimacy governments need to take giant leaps.” Third, poverty needs to be ended through reform of the international financial system, lifting 3-4 billion people out of poverty. “Our economic and financial systems are broken, and we are reaching dangerous levels of inequality,” said Sandrine Dixson-Declève, author and co-president of The Club of Rome. “Do we want to create the first trillionaire or do we want to create functional, fair democratic societies?” Fourth, a transformation of the food system is needed to provide healthy diets for people and the planet and fifth, we need to transition to clean energy to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The authors underline that economic transformation is affordable. They write in their key messages that the investment needed to build a more resilient civilization is likely to be small: in the order of 2-4% of global income per year for sustainable energy security and food security. “That’s less than our current annual subsidies to fossil fuel industries. This is easily affordable, and it will create millions of jobs,” says Sandrine Dixson-Declève. She explains that “The Giant Leap” does not mean an end to economic growth. However, it is the end of “directionless economic growth that is destroying societies and the planet”. The authors call for the creation of a novel financial innovation, the Citizen’s Fund, to tackle inequality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide a safety net for the most vulnerable through economic shocks. The fund would distribute the wealth of the global commons to all people as a Universal Basic Dividend. “What is missing is coalitions of politicians willing to make it happen,” said Dixson-Declève. This is echoed by Per Espen Stoknes who said: “We have known shocks were coming our way since 1972, and yet the response has been denial.” He highlights that it is now time to hold governments accountable for the future and push for strong governance models flexible enough to deal with today’s complex challenges. (ab)

12.08.2022 |

Veggie products have only up to a tenth the environmental impact of meat, study

Vegetables have a low impact (Photo: A. Beck)

Eating plant-based foods is better for the environment than going for meat and dairy products and more nutritious products are frequently more environmentally sustainable, new research reveals. According to a British study, led by researchers at the universities of Oxford and Aberdeen, many meat alternatives such as plant-based sausages or burgers had a fifth to less than a tenth of the environmental impact of meat-based counterparts. The study, which was published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on August 8th, assessed the environmental impact of more than 57,000 products sold in supermarkets, including many processed foods with multiple ingredients. In addition, the scientists linked this environmental footprint to the nutritional value of foods. They found that products that were more sustainable tended to be more nutritious, including meat alternatives. There were of course also exceptions to this trend such as sugary beverages, which had a low environmental impact but also scored poorly for nutritional quality. “By estimating the environmental impact of food and drink products in a standardised way we have taken a significant first step towards providing information that could enable informed decision-making,” said lead author Dr Michael Clark from the University of Oxford.

The researchers used publicly available information to calculate a standardised score for the environmental impact of the most common food and drink products sold in UK supermarkets, focusing on multi-ingredient products. “While previous analyses compared the impacts of food commodities such as fruits, wheat, and beef, most food products contain numerous ingredients. However, because the amount of each ingredient in a product is often known only by the manufacturer, it has been difficult to assess their environmental impacts,” the authors write in the abstract. “This work is very exciting – for the first time we have a transparent and comparable method for assessing the environmental footprint of multi-ingredient processed foods. These types of foods make up most of the supermarket shopping that we do, but until now there was no way of directly comparing their impact on the environment,” said Pete Scarborough, Professor of Population Health at the University of Oxford. The scientists identified individual ingredients of a product and known percent composition by analysing back-of-package ingredient lists which provide all ingredients in order of size. The information on each individual ingredient was then paired with environmental and nutrition databases. The analysis makes use of foodDB, a Big Data research platform that collects and processes data daily on all food and drink products available in 12 online supermarkets in the UK and Ireland, and a comprehensive review of 570 studies of the environmental impact of food production, which includes data from 38,000 farms in 119 countries. The percentages of all ingredients within each product were then used to estimate the impact and nutritional quality of each whole product. The environmental impact was estimated for four indicators: greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water stress, and eutrophication potential (when bodies of water become enriched with nutrients, often causing harmful algal blooms and ultimately killing other life). These four scores were combined into a single estimated composite environmental impact score per 100g of product.

The study found that those products made of fruits, vegetables, sugar, and flour, such as soups, salads, bread and many breakfast cereals, have low impact scores. Many of the products with the lowest impact were composed mainly of water, such as sugary drinks. Products with an intermediate environmental impact were many desserts and pastries. Those products made of meat, fish and cheese were at the high end of the scale. Jerky, biltong, and other dried beef products, which typically have more than 100g of fresh meat per 100g of final product, had the highest environmental impact. When looking at specific types of food products, such as meat and their alternatives, lasagne, cookies and biscuits, and pesto sauces, the researchers found large variation within these types of foods. For these food types, lower-impact products often had one half to one tenth the environmental impact of higher-impact products. For sausages, for example, there was a clear difference in the impacts based on the most prevalent meat in the product. With regard to the environment, sausages primarily containing beef or lamb had on average a 240% higher impact than pork sausages, which had a 100% higher impact than chicken and turkey sausages, which in turn had a 170% higher impact than vegan and vegetarian sausages. A limitation of the analysis is that information on ingredient sourcing, such as the country of origin or agricultural production method is lacking from ingredient lists, which would help to increase the accuracy of the environmental impact estimates. For example, Brazilian beef has a very different environmental footprint than British beef from grass-fed animals.

The authors write that “assessing and communicating the environmental impacts of food products will be integral to achieving the food system transformations that are urgently needed to prevent rapid environmental degradation. (…) The algorithm developed here could help enable this transformation by providing a framework that derives first estimates of the environmental impacts of food products in countries with ingredient list regulations that are similar to those in the United Kingdom.” The researchers conclude that replacing meat, dairy, and eggs with plant-based alternatives could have large environmental and health benefits in places where consumption of these foods is high. They point out that there are multiple ways to achieve this dietary change, including direct and large substitutions (e.g., beans instead of beef) or smaller transitions between like-for-like products. They admit that in some cases, large substitutions may be difficult because of taste preferences, cultural norms, or lack of access to appropriate alternatives while “smaller transitions could be more palatable” instead. “This work could support tools that help consumers make more environmentally sustainable food purchasing decisions. More importantly, it could prompt retailers and food manufacturers to reduce the environmental impact of the food supply thereby making it easier for all of us to have healthier, more sustainable diets,” said Professor Scarborough. According the authors, understanding and communicating the environmental impacts of food products is key to enabling transitions to environmentally sustainable food systems. “We still need to find how to most effectively communicate this information in order to shift behaviour towards more sustainable outcomes, but assessing the impact of products is an important step forward,” added Dr Michael Clark. (ab)

09.08.2022 |

Indigenous women are guardians of traditional knowledge, UN experts

Quechua woman in Peru (Photo: A. Beck)

Indigenous women are the backbone of indigenous peoples’ communities and play a crucial role in the preservation and transmission of traditional ancestral knowledge related to food and agriculture as well as in the protection of biodiversity and natural resources. This was one of the messages a group of UN experts conveyed on August 9 on the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The experts, among them Mr. Francisco Cali Tzay, who is Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, urged States to take affirmative action to guarantee indigenous peoples’ full public and political participation. This year’s theme of the day was “The Role of Indigenous Women in the Preservation and Transmission of Traditional Knowledge”. Therefore, the experts put a great emphasis on the crucial role that indigenous women play in their communities as breadwinners, caretakers, knowledge keepers, leaders and human rights defenders. “Indigenous women are active change agents in society and champions of sustainability. Indigenous women are custodians of a collective accumulation of scientific knowledge and technical skills related to food and agriculture, health and medicine, natural resource management, climate change, language, arts, crafts and spiritual practices. This scientific knowledge has a key role to play in safeguarding ecosystems and ensuring environmental justice and equity,” they wrote in a joint statement, adding that indigenous women’s in-depth understanding of botany and animal species is also a powerful tool to mitigate against the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

The experts pointed to the fact that the development, application, preservation and transmission of indigenous women’s knowledge is inextricably linked to the way they use their territory, lands and resources. However, indigenous women often suffer from intersecting levels of discrimination on the basis of gender, class, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. This multiple forms of discrimination, as well as violence against women, create barriers to their development and use of their scientific knowledge. Indigenous women’s rights to self-determination, self-governance and control of resources and ancestral lands have been violated over centuries. Because of their relationship with the land and natural environment, women are disproportionally affected by the loss of lands, territories and resources due to climate change, conflicts, development and the creation of protected areas. Extractive industries on their lands are increasingly depriving them of their access to and ownership of lands. When the natural resources they steward are exploited without their free, prior and informed consent, which happens quite frequently, the knowledge of indigenous women is devalued and their ability to maintain and transmit their scientific and technical knowledge is threatened.

“Historically, indigenous women have been leaders in their communities. The preservation of indigenous peoples’ communities, values and ways of life depend on indigenous women and girls regaining their roles as leaders within their communities,” the statement reads. In order to enable women to do so, States should ensure effective legal protection of indigenous women’s rights to lands, territory and resources and promote the meaningful participation of indigenous women in the management and regulation of their lands and resources. According to the experts, this must include the participation of women in consultation processes on administrative and legislative issues as well projects that may impact indigenous lands, territory and resources, with the aim of obtaining their free, prior and informed consent. “States should take affirmative measures to guarantee equal and full public and political participation of indigenous women, including by establishing and strengthening institutions for indigenous women in leadership roles,” the experts conclude. (ab)

29.07.2022 |

Overshoot: Humanity has exhausted natural resources for 2022

We are living on this planet as if we had another one (Photo: CC0)

July 28 marked Earth Overshoot Day this year – the day humanity has used up all the resources nature can sustainably supply and renew in a year, according to data from international sustainability organization “Global Footprint Network”. For the remaining 156 days of the year, we will be living on resources borrowed from future generations. The date is determined each year by the network, using National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts data. This is achieved by contrasting the world’s demand on nature (ecological footprint), including demand for food, timber, fibres (cotton) and space for urban infrastructure with the planet’s ability to replenish resources and absorb waste, including carbon dioxide emissions. Global overshoot began in the early 1970s and since then, the date has been creeping up the calendar. The first overshoot day was on December 25, 1971. In the early 90s, it was already reached in mid-October and in 2018, the day fell in July for the first time. After a postponement to August in 2020 due to corona-related lockdowns, we are now living on borrowed time again at the end of July.

The 50-year persistence of overshoot means that the annual deficits have cumulated in an ecological debt of 19 years worth of planetary regeneration, says the Global Footprint Network. This means that it would take 19 years of our planet’s entire regeneration to reverse the damage from overuse of natural resources, assuming it was fully reversible. The result is widespread degradation of ecosystems, a huge decline in biodiversity, excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and increased competition for food and energy. These symptoms are becoming more prominent with unusual heat waves, forest fires, droughts, and floods. “Earth Overshoot Day demonstrates that the current system of production and consumption is not compatible with the intention to continue to inhabit this planet,” said Ecuador’s Minister of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition, Gustavo Manrique. “To better protect our natural resources and manage our demand for them, it is necessary to take concrete joint actions aimed at a new development model based on sustainability and regeneration,” he added.

The network’s research also shows the link between resources and food security. By now more than 3 billion people or 38% of the global population live in countries which produce less food than they consume and generate less income than the world average. This means they have inadequate food capacity and a huge disadvantage in accessing food on global markets compared to countries with high relative income. For example, Nepal only produces 78% of the amount of food that it consumes. This risk is amplified by the country’s financial disadvantage: its income per person is merely 9% of the world average. Other countries with the double risk exposure include Rwanda, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Mexico, Iraq, and Iran. Countries with low income and lacking in food biocapacity are therefore particularly exposed to food insecurity. If we include all resources, not just food, the number of people exposed to this double challenge climbs to an astonishing 5.8 billion people or 72% of the world population.

However, the Global Footprint Network also points out that a reversal of the trend is possible and, above all, will also bring economic benefits for the pioneers. “Resource security is turning into an essential parameter of economic strength. There is no advantage in waiting for others to act first. Rather, it is in the interest of every city, company, or country to protect its own ability to operate in the inevitable future of more climate change and resource constraints,” said Mathis Wackernagel, founder of Global Footprint Network. He assumes that these ventures are also more likely to grow in value than assets which contribute to overshoot. Turning the trends around is possible, confirms the network. To renew everything humanity currently demands from nature would take the biocapacity of 1.75 Earths. If humanity delays Earth Overshoot Day by 6 days every year, humanity will be below one planet before 2050. To limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels we would need to move the date 10 days every year. There are many options to achieve this. Cutting food waste by half worldwide, as practiced in many community initiatives around the world, would move the date of Earth Overshoot Day by 13 days. Upgrading urban bicycle infrastructure worldwide, to a level we currently find in the Netherlands, has the potential save 9 days. “The power of possibility gives us examples of how to build the future we need,” concluded Wackernagel. (ab)

07.07.2022 |

Up to 828 million people worldwide are facing hunger, UN report

Healthy diets are not affordable for 3.1 billion people around the world (Photo: CC0)

The world is moving backwards in its efforts to end hunger and malnutrition. According to a new report released on Wednesday by five UN agencies, the number of people affected by hunger globally rose to as many as 828 million in 2021. This is about 180 million more people since the beginning of the 2030 Agenda, with much of the increase (150 million) since the outbreak of COVID-19. This means that a tenth of the global population were chronically undernourished last year. Furthermore, almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 112 million from 2019, reflecting the effects of inflation in consumer food prices. “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,” the heads of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organisation write in their joint foreword to the report.

The 2022 edition of ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’ gives a range of between 702 and 828 million people who were affected by hunger in 2021 to reflect the uncertainty in data collection due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. According to the authors, information on actual food availability and consumption in 2020 and 2021 remains scarce and imprecise. If the middle of the projected range (768 million) is considered, the number of undernourished people increased by 46 million since 2020. “There is a real danger these numbers will climb even higher in the months ahead. The global price spikes in food, fuel and fertilizers that we are seeing as a result of the crisis in Ukraine threaten to push countries around the world into famine,” warned WFP Executive Director David Beasley. “The result will be global destabilization, starvation, and mass migration on an unprecedented scale. We have to act today to avert this looming catastrophe.” More than half (56.2%) of the 828 million people who were undernourished in 2021 lived in Asia (465.4 million people), followed by Africa with 289.1 million (34.9%) and Latin America and the Caribbean with 64 million (7.7%).

After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the proportion of people affected by hunger (called the prevalence of undernourishment) jumped in 2020 and continued to rise in 2021, to 9.8 percent of the world population. If the upper bound of 828 million people is considered, the figure is at 10.5 %. The numbers show persistent regional disparities, with Africa bearing the heaviest burden with respect to the prevalence of undernourishment. In Africa, 21% of the population were undernourished in 2021, compared to 20.3% in 2020. The situation is especially alarming in Middle Africa, where a third of the population (33.3%) were undernourished last year. This subregion includes countries such as Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Eastern Africa, 30.8% of the population faced hunger. In Asia, 9.9% of the population were affected while the share was 9.7% in Latin America.

The report not only provides estimates on the number of chronically undernourished people but also on moderate and severe food insecurity. Moderate food insecurity is defined as “a level of severity of food insecurity at which people face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food” which means that people are forced to compromise on the nutritional quality and/or quantity of food consumed at times during the year due to the lack of money or other resources. Overall, nearly one in three people in the world (2.3 billion) did not have year-round access to adequate food in 2021 – an increase of almost 350 million people compared to 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded. Of those people affected by moderate or severe food insecurity, close to 40% or 923.7 million people were facing food insecurity at severe levels, which means they had run out of food and, at worst, gone a day without eating. Since 2019, these numbers increased by 207 million people. Healthy diets are also now further out of reach for people in every region in the world. In 2020, almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet, up 112 million from 2019. This number could even be greater once data are available to account for income losses in 2020.

The report also paints a grim picture of the nutritional situation of the world’s children. An estimated 45 million children under the age of five were suffering from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition, which increases children’s risk of death by up to 12 times. In addition, 149 million children under the age of five had stunted growth and development which means they are too short for their age due to a chronic lack of essential nutrients in their diets. Another 39 million children were overweight. “The unprecedented scale of the malnutrition crisis demands an unprecedented response. We must double our efforts to ensure that the most vulnerable children have access to nutritious, safe, and affordable diets – and services for the early prevention, detection and treatment of malnutrition,” said Catherine Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF. “With so many children’s lives and futures at stake, this is the time to step up our ambition for child nutrition – and we have no time to waste.”

The outlook for the future is also quite somber. The ongoing war in Ukraine, involving two of the biggest global producers of staple cereals, oilseeds and fertilizer, is disrupting international supply chains and pushing up the prices of grain, fertilizer and energy. Supply chains were already being adversely affected by increasingly frequent extreme climate events, especially in low-income countries. This has all potentially sobering implications for global food security and nutrition, the report warns. The world is constantly moving further away from its goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030. Current projections are that nearly 670 million people (8% of the world population) will still be facing hunger in 2030 – even if a global economic recovery takes place. This is a similar number to 2015, when the goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition by the end of this decade was launched under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “These are depressing figures for humanity. We continue to move away from our goal of ending hunger by 2030,” said IFAD President Gilbert F. Houngbo. “The ripple effects of the global food crisis will most likely worsen the outcome again next year. We need a more intense approach to end hunger.” (ab)


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