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28.05.2024 |

IPES-Food: Land inequality threatens the future of farming and food security

Squeeze
Pressures on farmland have increased (Photo: CC0, Pixabay)

A new wave of land grabbing, a surge in green grabs for carbon schemes, the rising loss of farmland to mining, urbanization and mega-developments, as well as the loss of control over food production and land use are putting enormous pressures on farmland and small-scale food producers, a new IPES-Food report has revealed. These pressures lead to widespread land concentration and degradation, critically undermining the livelihoods of farmers, pastoralists, Indigenous Peoples, and marginalized groups and posing major threats to food security. According to the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), a global thinktank that unites 25 food system experts from around the world, land inequality is on the rise in all regions. Since 2000, an area twice the size of Germany has been acquired through transnational land deals. Between 2008 and 2022, land prices nearly doubled globally – and tripled in Central-Eastern Europe. “Land isn’t just dirt beneath our feet, it’s the bedrock of our food systems keeping us all fed. Yet we’re seeing soaring land prices and grabs driving an unprecedented ‘land squeeze’, accelerating inequality and threatening food production,” says IPES-Food expert Susan Chomba who works at the World Resources Institute, Kenya.

“Land squeeze” is also the title of the report that was released on May 12th and presented and discussed at an online event on May 28th. “Today’s land inequality is rooted in long-standing processes, structures and narratives that uphold powerful interests and exclude certain groups. However, those processes are continually evolving, and it is crucial to capture the latest, emerging dynamics as they drive land inequality in the present,” the authors of the report write. For this reason, they analyse four trends behind the current pressures on land. The first driver is what they dub “Land grabbing 2.0”, a dynamic characterised by various forms of deregulation, financialization and rapid resource extraction. The financial crash and food price crisis of 2007-2008 unleashed a huge wave of land grabs. Investors, agri-food companies, and sovereign wealth funds acquired large areas of farmland around the world. The ‘land rush’ slowed down around 2013, but the pressures never went away, the authors explain. Powerful governments, financial actors, speculators, and big agribusinesses are gaining control over land through new waves of land grabbing. “The food price spikes that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have revived ‘feed the world’ narratives, sparking a renewed push to secure land for export commodity production, with agribusinesses, investors and foreign governments finding new ways to unlock and appropriate farmland,” the authors point out. Land grabs are also increasingly being deployed to seize control over other key resources such as freshwater, forests, and coastline with the aim of rapidly extracting value from them (e.g. through water-intensive cash cropping).

Governments are increasingly urged to deregulate their land markets and adopt pro-investor policies. In Africa and Asia, large swathes of land are being appropriated through ‘special economic zones’ and ‘growth corridors’, in the context of expanding bilateral trade and investment agreements. A key dimension of Land grabbing 2.0 is the increasing role of ‘South-South’ land deals and investments. China, Brazil, India, and other emerging economies are becoming increasingly prominent in foreign direct investment flows. Agri-food trade, and development cooperation, with South-South trade is now accounting for a quarter of total agricultural trade flows. Land is increasingly being turned into a financial asset, with powerful actors entering financialized land markets. Agricultural investment funds rose ten-fold from 2005 to 2018, and now regularly include farmland as a stand-alone asset class, with US investors doubling their stakes in farmland since the pandemic. By 2023, there were some 960 active funds specialised in food and agricultural assets, managing over $150 billion. The IPES-Food experts highlight that there is also a major push to digitize land registers underway in the Global South. Although intended to strengthen land tenure, these processes could end up feeding financial markets with data and exacerbating land grabs.

The second driver of the current land squeeze identified by the report are green grabs. Since land is an important carbon sink, the enshrinement of environmental goals in international agreements meant a fast rise in the interest in land-based conservation, carbon removal and offsetting. This unleashed a new wave of ‘green grabs’, which now account for around 20% of large-scale land deals. Governments have pledged to allocate land areas equivalent to total global cropland – almost 1.2 billion hectares of land – for ‘carbon removal’ initiatives alone. “The rush for dubious carbon projects, tree planting schemes, clean fuels, and speculative buying is displacing small-scale farmers and Indigenous Peoples,” says Susan Chomba. “In Africa, powerful governments, polluting fossil fuel companies, and big conservation groups are elbowing their way onto our land under the veneer of green goals, directly threatening the very communities bearing the brunt of climate change,” she adds. The authors criticise that carbon and biodiversity offset markets are facilitating huge land transactions and bringing farmland and forests under the control of major polluters. In addition, land and resources are also being appropriated for biofuels and green energy production, including water-intensive ‘green hydrogen’ projects, and the conversion of farmland to solar parks that pose risks to local food production.

Thirdly, land is being taken out of agriculture and repurposed for extractive industries and mega-developments. For example, urbanization and mega-infrastructure developments in Asia and Africa are claiming prime farmland. In particular, a global mining boom is increasing pressures on farmland. Mining projects accounted for 14% of recorded large-scale land deals over the past ten years, eating up some 7.7 million hectares of farmland. Demand for sand and gravel is growing rapidly with urbanization, phosphates are required in growing quantities for fertilizer production, and demand for ‘transition minerals’ – cobalt, copper, lithium, and zinc among others, also referred to as ‘critical minerals’, for solar photovoltaic plants, wind farms, hydrogen energy storage, and batteries in electric vehicles – is also on the rise. Companies based in China account for the majority of mining operations for transition minerals, both in China and on the African continent. Mining projects and the related land conversions threaten food producers and communities, leading to displacement, conflicts, and environmental degradation. Instead of protecting communities, dubious investment laws protect the polluters. The report cites Colombia as an example where several transnational companies successfully sued the government for attempting to halt a large-scale mining project.

The fourth driver has to do with industrial agriculture: Agri-food sector consolidation, the ongoing spread of industrial agriculture and input-intensive feed crop monocultures and factory farms, as well as dietary shifts are rapidly degrading land and eroding farmers’ and communities’ control over their land and how it is used. “High input costs, spiralling land prices, and boom-bust cycles are endemic in corporate-controlled industrial food systems. These dynamics are creating systematic economic precarity for farmers – effectively forcing them to ‘get big or get out’,” says IPES-Food. The concentration and control of land is advancing through various approaches that integrate smallholders into corporate value chains. One such business model is contract farming, which is allowing agri-food companies to gain effective control over farmland and impose production choices and conditions – often locking farmers into unsustainable land use and precarious livelihoods. “Studies continue to demonstrate that contract farming schemes reduce farmers’ autonomy over what to grow, placing de facto control of farmland in the hands of the contracting corporation, and transforming farmers into wage labourers on their own land,” the report finds.

To sum up: All these current trends lead to an unprecedented land squeeze, resulting in widespread land degradation and loss, land fragmentation, land concentration, a surge in land inequality, rural poverty, and food insecurity – and potentially a tipping point for smallholder agriculture. The global picture of land degradation is already alarming, the authors write: More than 70% of the Earth’s land area has been altered from its natural state by human activity and up to 40% of the world’s land is degrading. Some 80% of global arable lands are now affected by land degradation, with more than 1.3 billion food producers depending on unproductive land. Another problem for many farmers is the declining size of their farmland. Some 84% of the world’s farmers cultivate plots of under 2 hectares, with average farm size remaining below 2 hectares in Africa and Asia. In some places – including in Ghana, Mozambique, Senegal, and other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as across Asia – producers are being confined to shrinking plots of land as a result of demographic growth, sub-divisions, and land grabs. Land fragmentation, the reliance on small, often dispersed plots, can be a result of difficulties accessing larger or more proximate plots of land. It is sometimes a legacy of historical and present-day land grabs.

And then there is the rapidly advancing concentration of farmland in all regions. According to a recent study, 1% of the world’s largest farms now operate 70% of the global farmland. The concentration is particularly acute in North America, Europe, and Latin America – with the top 1% controlling 80% of Colombian farmland, and 0.3% of Brazilian holdings accounting for 25% of all farmland. Land price inflation is a major problem. Between 2008 and 2022, land prices nearly doubled globally and tripled in Central-Eastern Europe. In the UK, an influx of investment from pension funds and private wealth caused a doubling of farmland prices from 2010 to 2015. In Brazil, the states with the greatest investor speculation on farmland saw an average 200% increase in land prices from 2008 to 2017, with prices soaring by 451% in Maranhão. “Imagine trying to start a farm when 70% of farmland is already controlled by just 1% of the largest farms – and when land prices have risen for 20 years in a row, like in North America. That’s the stark reality young farmers face today,” said IPES-Food expert Nettie Wiebe. “Farmland is increasingly owned not by farmers but by speculators, pension funds, and big agribusinesses looking to cash in. Land prices have skyrocketed so high it’s becoming impossible to make a living from farming. This is reaching a tipping point – small and medium scale farming are simply being squeezed out.”

But what can be done in order to stop these developments? “To halt the land squeeze, restore equitable access to land, and rebuild smallholder livelihoods, it is necessary to stem the emerging land grabs and green grabs, and to undertake bold social and agrarian reforms, building on the innovative and powerful steps farmers and communities are already taking to defend their land, assert their rights, and forge new collective forms of ownership and financing,” the authors write. They identified three broad leverage points and 11 specific recommendations. The first leverage point is to build integrated land, environmental, and food systems governance to halt green grabs, recentre communities, and ensure a just transition. IPES-Food stresses that this must put community-based approaches at the heart of climate and biodiversity action, including helping communities to map and defend their own land. The expert panel says that community-managed land systems are the best example of how to reconcile ecosystem protection and food production, and these approaches – currently peripheral in the Global Biodiversity Framework – should become a central tool for meeting global biodiversity goals. Leverage point 2 is to get speculative capital out of land markets, and get land into the hands of farmers. Measures include capping land acquisitions, giving farmers first right of refusal, and cracking down on abusive land-based carbon offsets. But the authors also recommend promoting alternative forms of land ownership and access for small and medium farmers – including innovative group ownership and financing models. Thirdly, IPES-Food calls for a new social contract: “A new deal for farmers and rural communities is needed to break the vicious cycle of rural poverty, livelihood insecurity and land inequality. Access to land and secure tenure must be combined with systemic, structural support for small-scale food production, pensions, insurance, and debt relief for farmers, investment in rural infrastructures, and an end to harmful trade liberalization. To achieve these goals, it may be necessary to undertake comprehensive land and agrarian reform processes, and bold steps to redistribute land.” (ab)

15.02.2024 |

Global organic farmland up 26% in 2022, reaching 96 million hectares

Organic
Organic retail sales increased (Photo: Pixabay)

The global organic farming area increased by over 20 million hectares or 26.6 % between 2021 and 2022 and grew more than ever before. Around 96 million hectares of land were farmed organically in 2022, according to a new report published by FiBL and IFOAM – Organics International. The number of organic farmers also rose significantly, surpassing 4.5 million, and the sales of organic food reached nearly 135 billion euros in 2022. The 25th edition of the statistical yearbook “The World of Organic Agriculture” was presented on February 13th at BIOFACH, the world's leading trade fair for organic food in Nuremberg. It offers a comprehensive review of recent developments in global organic agriculture and includes detailed statistics on organic farming activities in 188 countries. According to the publishers, it also highlights the role of organic agriculture in overarching sustainability strategies such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the European Union's Farm to Fork Strategy: “Considering that organic agriculture significantly contributes to all of these goals and strategies, this book not only presents data on land area, the number of producers, and market figures but also shows organic agriculture's relevance in addressing climate change, ensuring food and nutrition security, halting biodiversity loss, and promoting sustainable consumption,” Dr. Jürn Sanders, Chairman of the Management Board of FiBL Switzerland and IFOAM President Karen Mapusua write in the foreword to the report. “Thus, it underscores its contribution to the transformation of food systems as a whole (…) and to a sustainable future.”

Australia remains the country with the largest area of organic agriculture at 53 million hectares but it is estimated that 97 % of the farmland is extensive grazing areas. Australia’s organic farming area saw a tremendous increase of 17.3 million hectares. India ranks second with 4.7 million and Argentina third with 4 million hectares, followed by China with 2.9 million hectares. France is in fifth place (2.88m hectares). Due to the large area of organic farmland in Australia, more than half of the global organic area lies in Oceania (55.2 %). Europe had the second largest area (18.4 million hectares or 19.1 %), followed by Latin America (9.5 million hectares or 9.9 %), Asia (8.8m hectares or 9.2 %), and Africa (2.7m hectares or 2.8 %). Currently, only 2 % of the world’s agricultural land is farmed organically, but many countries have far higher shares. In 22 countries, 10% or more of all agricultural land was under organic management in 2022, up from 20 countries in 2021. The top five countries with the largest share of organic land were Liechtenstein (43 %), Austria (27.5 %) and Estonia (23.4 %). Many island states have high shares of agricultural land under organic management, such as São Tomé and Príncipe (21.2 %) and Dominica (11.6 %). In the European Union, the organic share of the total agricultural land was 10.4 % while in the other regions, the share is less than 1 %. According to the report, there were 4.5 million organic farmers worldwide in 2022 and their number increased by 26 % compared to the year before, primarily thanks to a significant increase in India. However, the authors point out that calculating precise figures is difficult here because some countries only report the number of companies, projects or growers’ groups which may each comprise many individual producers, hence the total number might even be higher. The largest share of the world’s organic producers (60.6%) lives in Asia, while Africa is home to 21.6 % and Europe to 10.6 % of organic farmers. The country with the highest absolute numbers is India with 2.5 million farmers, followed by Uganda (404,246), as well as Thailand and Ethiopia with 121.500 producers respectively.

The global market for organic food and consumer demand across the globe continued to grow. Global retail sales of organic food and drink reached around 135 billion euros in 2022 and experienced a total increase of 4 billion euros (+3 %) from the previous year. In 2022, the United States continued to be the leading market with 56.6 billion euros, followed by Germany (15.3bn euros), China (12.4bn euros) and France (12.1bn euros). While several countries in Europe experienced a decline, retail sales in Canada rose by 9.7 %, followed by Japan where sales were up 8.4 %. When the shares the organic market has of the total market are considered, the leader remained Denmark with 12%, followed by Austria (11.5 %) and Switzerland (11.2 %). Swiss consumers spent the most on organic food with an average of 437 euros per person, followed by Denmark where the average consumer spent 365 euros, followed by Austria and Luxembourg with 274 euros and 259 euros respectively. In a special chapter on the global market for organic food and drink, Amarjit Sahota of Ecovia Intelligence puts the bare figures in perspective: “The organic products market has been adversely affected by global geopolitical conflicts and uncertain economic conditions. Revenue growth continued in 2022; however, this has been partly because of rising organic food prices,” he writes in the report. “Some countries, including Germany and France, reported declines in monetary sales and volumes. In the USA and other countries, revenue growth has been at a comparatively low rate.” He says that the organic food industry is not immune to geopolitical conflict that is causing disruption in global supply chains of agricultural products. However, he expects healthy growth to resume as economic conditions improve. (ab)

20.12.2023 |

What the “Food COP” had in store for food and agriculture

Wind
Is agriculture finally on the global climate agenda? (Photo: CC0/Pixabay)

On December 13th, after two weeks of lengthy negotiations, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) came to a close with an agreement. COP28 President Dr. Sultan Al Jaber praised the “historic achievement” of the conference, exhausted delegates and observers issued their first statements before heading back home and journalists weighed up the strengths and weaknesses of the outcome document. In the days that followed, many organisations and experts published their in-depth analyses of COP28 or shared their second thoughts. The final agreement’s call on state parties to transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems to reach net zero by 2050 was celebrated by many as a first step while others decried the failure of the conference to agree on phasing out fossil fuels despite many countries advocating for the stronger term. Although food and farming systems are responsible for at least a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, they were largely neglected at previous climate talks. The final COP agreements remained silent on the contribution of food and agriculture to climate change as well as the crucial role the sector can play in limiting it. This year, food and farming featured quite prominently, with the event even being dubbed as the “Food Cop” and attracting a large presence of representatives of the meat and dairy industry who joined the growing ranks of fossil fuel lobbyists. The conference opened with a declaration on sustainable farming, dedicated a whole day and many pavilions and side events to food, agriculture and water, saw the launch of a global roadmap aimed at eliminating hunger and all forms of malnutrition without exceeding the 1.5°C threshold and closed with an outcome document that mentioned sustainable agriculture and resilient food systems.

Some said the glass is half-empty due to the non-binding nature of these declarations of intent. “This was supposed to be the Food COP, but the conclusions were not good neither for the future of the food systems nor for limiting the effects of climate change”, commented Edward Mukiibi, president of Slow Food, a global movement that promotes good, clean and fair food for all. He denounced the lack of concrete and binding targets, the influence of major emitters in the agriculture sector at the conference and the postponement of the discussions to transform the food systems to the next meetings. Danielle Nierenberg, president of the US-based non-profit organisation Food Tank, had also hoped for a stronger wording in the final document but she underlined that the glass was still half full: “It’s really exciting that food is finally on the table. Now we have this ability to talk about food systems as a solution to the climate crisis in a way that we haven’t ever had the chance to before,” she told The Guardian. Or as she reflected in an interview with Brent Loken, Global Food Lead Scientist at WWF, this COP was not perfect but tangible gains were made in terms of recognising the power of food systems on an international scale: “Finally, we have a floor to stand on – and to build on.”

So what exactly was agreed on in Dubai and how do food experts and NGOs think about it? The final outcome document of COP28 is the Global Stocktake (GST). The Global Stocktake process was agreed on in the 2015 Paris Agreement and is an assessment of the progress on climate action that takes place every five year. The COP28 agreement was the “First global stocktake” to be released and governments now have two years to update their climate plans and submit their adapted “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) to the UN. The global stocktake is a compromise and the lowest common denominator all 196 countries could agree on. It “recognises the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change”. It “encourages the implementation of integrated, multi-sectoral solutions, such as land-use management, sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems, nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based approaches”. State parties are urged to increase ambition and enhance adaptation action in order to attain “climate-resilient food and agricultural production and supply and distribution of food, as well as increasing sustainable and regenerative production and equitable access to adequate food and nutrition for all”.

Slowfood described the GST as “largely void, with just one mention of food systems under the Adaptation section but excluded from the Mitigation section.” Yvette Cabrera, a food waste expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, also mentioned this point to the Guardian. She stressed that adaptation is “very important, because we absolutely need to figure out what our future food system looks like, and be ready for that”, Cabrera said, but “We also need to take steps to mitigate the emissions that are happening now as well.” Others spoke out more frankly. “Omitting food system action in the final COP28 text is a stark betrayal of urgency,” Emile Frison, an expert of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), wrote in a post on Twitter/X. “Ignoring the one-third of greenhouse gas emissions from food systems is a dangerous oversight. We cannot afford another lost year for food and climate action,” he added. Brent Loken rather sees the GST as a win. “The final text, adopted this week, does indeed recognize food systems for the first-ever time in a UNFCCC document of this variety. Granted, most references to food systems are related to adaptation, not mitigation; most of the food-related references in the mitigation section are around sustainable production and consumption, rather than systems-level analysis,” he told Nierenberg, admitting that global leaders still have a ways to recognize the power of food systems as a key climate solution. “But the food movement has been successful in raising the profile of food in just a few short years.”

But let’s go back to the beginning of the climate talks. The COP28 presidency kicked off the event announcing that 134 world leaders had endorsed the “Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action”. „COP28 Presidency puts food systems transformation on global climate agenda”, the press release was headlined. It pointed out that the 134 signatory countries are home to over 5.7 billion people and almost 500 million farmers, produce 70% of the food we eat, and are responsible for 76% all emissions from global food systems or 25% of total emissions globally. In the meantime, the number of signatories increased to 159 states. The non-binding declaration recognises the profound potential of agriculture and food systems to drive powerful responses to climate change and the signatories voice their intentions to integrate food and agriculture into their climate plans. The countries declared their “intent to work in order to achieve the” objective of “scaling-up adaptation and resilience activities and responses in order to reduce the vulnerability of all farmers, fisherfolk, and other food producers to the impacts of climate change, including through financial and technical support for solutions, capacity building, infrastructure, and innovations, including early warning systems, that promote sustainable food security, production and nutrition, while conserving, protecting and restoring nature.” Another aim is to promote “food security and nutrition by increasing efforts to support vulnerable people through approaches such as social protection systems and safety nets, school feeding and public procurement programs, among others. Moreover, workers in agriculture and food systems should be supported and “the integrated management of water in agriculture and food systems” be strengthened. States also intend to “maximize the climate and environmental benefits - while containing and reducing harmful impacts - associated with agriculture and food systems by conserving, protecting and restoring land and natural ecosystems, enhancing soil health, and biodiversity, and shifting from higher greenhouse gas-emitting practices to more sustainable production and consumption approaches, including by reducing food loss and waste.” These objectives are complemented with the promise of states to strengthen their “respective and shared efforts to pursue broad, transparent, and inclusive engagement, as appropriate within” their “national contexts, to integrate agriculture and food systems into National Adaptation Plans” and to “revisit or orient policies and public support related to agriculture and food systems to achieve the objectives of the declaration”. States also agreed to scale-up and enhance access to all forms of finance from the public, philanthropic and private sector in order to adapt and transform agriculture and food systems to respond to climate change. As the quoted text shows, the document is loosely worded and many fear that the unspecific terminology gives the agriculture and food industry the chance to greenwash their participation in climate mitigation.

Over 200 events at COP28 focused on food and agriculture and the first-ever UN-climate-COP Food, Agriculture and Water Day was celebrated on December 10th. On this occasion, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched its Global Roadmap for Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2) without Breaching the 1.5°C Threshold. It outlines a strategy spanning the next three years that lists solutions across ten distinct domains of action: clean energy, crops, fisheries and aquaculture, food loss and waste, forests and wetlands, healthy diets, livestock, soil and water, and data and inclusive policies. With regard to emissions, the documents calls for a reduction of methane emissions from livestock by 25% by 2030 relative to 2020, wants to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035, and transform food systems into a carbon sink by 2050, capturing 1.5 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Concerning food and nutrition, it sets a path to eliminate chronic undernourishment by 2030 and ensure access to healthy diets for all by 2050 and recommends to improve crop diversification. Another milestone to be achieved by 2030 is to reduce by 50% per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels. Yvette Cabrera hopes that the road map, although it is not binding, might give countries “a sense of how to move forward in integrating food systems into their climate goals”. Dr. Sophia Murphy, Executive Director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) said the roadmap “offers a welcome focus on the right to food in the cacophony of food interests that have descended on COP”, referring to the fact that three times as many meat and dairy lobbyists attended at COP28 compared to the previous conference and that lobbyists even formed part of national delegations. But Murphy was disappointed that “the report neglects to call on big agricultural companies to make real emissions reductions, especially in rich countries where cutting methane and nitrous oxide emissions from industrial animal operations is a low-hanging fruit with huge collateral benefits for biodiversity, rural economies and healthy diets”.

Another disappointment for many was the breakdown of talks of an initiative called the Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Work on implementation on agriculture and food security (SSJW), a four-year process adopted at COP27. Negotiations concluded on December 5th with no agreements of substance and negotiations on how to implement commitments made at COP27 will only resume in June 2024, 18 months after SSJW was established. Brent Loken said this was “a far cry from the multi-year strategic plan we were hoping negotiators would produce during COP28 itself.” Joao Campari, Global Food Practice Leader at WWF, was also upset: “With Joint Work negotiations not resuming until June 2024, an opportunity to take a big step forward on climate action has already been wasted – negotiators can’t squander another by excluding food systems transformation from the Global Stocktake.” Kirubel Tadele, Communications Officer of AFSA, a broad alliance of different African civil society actors, also said that the postponement “signals a worrying delay in addressing the urgent climate challenges facing African agriculture, critically undermining the potential for meaningful climate action in a sector integral to Africa’s survival and resilience.”

Finally, with all the talk about sustainable agriculture and nature-based solutions, proponents of agroecology were deeply disappointed that agroecology did not make it into the relevant documents. “Most disappointingly, as expected, agroecology was sidelined and did not emerge in policy discussions as a key element, nor was it mentioned as the solution which will allow us to reverse the course and fight against climate change,” said Slow Food’s Edward Mukiibi. IATP also lamented that “despite the spotlight on food systems at COP28, the final decisions said little about the urgent need for transformative shifts toward agroecology to address the climate crisis”. Anika Schroeder from Misereor, the German Catholic Bishops' Organisation for Development Cooperation, also voiced her disappointment with regard to the outcome: “The so-called ‘Food COP’ has turned out to be a greenwashing event with many bold commitments towards more climate-friendly agriculture and food systems. Non-binding declarations and statements which do not even mention the big elephant in the room – the highly fossil fuel-based food system. They lack a clear vision towards agroecology which has proved to build up high resilience and low carbon.” Brent Loken, however, still remains optimistic. In his conversation with Danielle Nierenberg, he said that we don’t have time to be negative anymore. “We can be disappointed, but I think being disappointed and being negative are different things.” Nierenberg adds that “If we can imagine a better world – a world that’s not disappointing but actually empowering, sustainable, just – we can fight to make it a reality.” She agrees with him that after COP28, the food movement has a floor to stand on. “Now, we need to get building,” she concludes. (ab)

13.10.2023 |

GHI: Multiple crises are hampering fight against hunger

KenFood
Current food systems are failing young people (Photo: CC0)

Global hunger remains too high, and progress in reducing hunger has largely stalled. The combined effects of several crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, economic stagnation, the impacts of climate change, and war and conflicts in many countries of the world, have led to a cost-of-living crisis and worsened the situation for many people. Around 735 million people are unable to exercise their right to adequate food. Young people are more likely to be affected by extreme poverty and food insecurity, with young women particularly affected. These are some of the main messages of the 2023 Global Hunger Index (GHI) published on October 12th by Concern Worldwide, Ireland's largest aid and humanitarian agency, and the German non-government organisation Welthungerhilfe. The multiple crises have aggravated inequalities between regions, countries, and groups, the report warns. While some countries have weathered them relatively well, others have experienced deepening hunger and nutrition problems. “The extent to which countries are able to recover from shocks depends largely on underlying factors, such as state fragility, inequality, poor governance, and chronic poverty,” the authors write in the report summary. “Given that the world is expected to be subject to increased shocks in future years, particularly as a result of climate change, the effectiveness of disaster preparedness and response is likely to become increasingly central to the outlook on food security.”

The report is published each year by the two organisations. For this year’s edition, data were assessed for 136 countries. The GHI scores are based on the values of four component indicators: the share of undernourished people in the population (insufficient caloric intake), the share of children under age five who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition (stunting), the share of children under five who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition (wasting) and child mortality in this age group. Based on the values of the four indicators, a GHI score is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 0 being the best and 100 being the worst score. The scale encompasses low, moderate, serious, alarming and extremely alarming hunger levels. There were sufficient data to calculate 2023 GHI scores for 125 countries. For 11 countries, individual scores could not be calculated and ranks could not be determined owing to lack of data. Where possible, these countries were provisionally designated by severity to the different categories.

The result of the assessment gives cause for concern: Hunger remains serious or alarming in 43 countries. Nine countries have alarming levels of hunger: Burundi, Somalia and South Sudan (provisional designation) as well as Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Niger, and Yemen. Central African Republic leads the ranking in this year’s report with a score of 42.3. The country’s 2020–2022 undernourishment rate of 48.7% means that almost half of the population is consistently unable to meet minimum dietary energy needs. One in 10 children dies before their 5th birthday and 40% of children are stunted. The country has suffered from conflict in recent years, which, along with population displacement, widespread poverty, and underemployment, is a major driver of hunger. In 37 countries, the index indicates moderate levels of hunger. The worrying fact is that in many places the situation has worsened in recent years. Since 2015, hunger has increased in 18 countries with moderate, serious, or alarming 2023 GHI scores. As the effects of crises multiply and intensify, more and more people are experiencing severe hunger and the situation is expected to worsen throughout the year according to the report.

Not all countries have seen worsening hunger levels but progress in most countries is too slow or has come to a halt. In 14 countries with moderate, serious, or alarming 2023 GHI scores, progress has largely stalled. These countries saw a decline of less than 5% in their hunger levels between their 2015 and 2023. The average score for the whole world is 18.3, considered moderate – this is less than one point below the world’s GHI score of 19.1 in 2015. Furthermore, since 2017 the prevalence of undernourishment, one of the indicators, has increased and the number of undernourished people has risen from 572 million to about 735 million. At the current pace, 58 countries will not achieve low hunger by 2030. „As the year 2030 looms and just seven years remain to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, nearly three-quarters of a billion people are unable to exercise their right to adequate food,” Mathias Mogge, Secretary General of the Welthungerhilfe, and David Regan, CEO of Concern Worldwide, write in the foreword to the report. “Hunger is not new, and neither are its drivers. What is new is that we now live in a time of what has been termed “polycrisis”: the compounding impacts of climate change, conflicts, economic shocks, the global pandemic, and the Russia-Ukraine war have exacerbated social and economic inequalities and slowed or reversed previous progress in reducing hunger in many countries,” they added. But there are also some good news. Seven countries whose 2000 GHI scores indicated extremely alarming hunger levels – Angola, Chad, Ethiopia, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Zambia – have all made progress since then. Also, seven countries have achieved reductions of five points or more between their 2015 and 2023 GHI scores: Bangladesh, Chad, Djibouti, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mozambique, Nepal, and Timor-Leste.

The 2023 report includes a special focus on the future food needs of the world’s current young population. In their essay, commissioned for the report, the two young academics Wendy Gexa and Mendy Ndlovu from the University of KswZulu-Natal, South Africa, warn that young people are inheriting food systems that are failing on multiple fronts and are highly vulnerable to climate change and environmental degradation: “We, as young people in our 20s, are keenly aware that our generation not only suffers from the failures of current food systems but will inherit these troubled food systems and their looming challenges. Those challenges threaten the realization of our right to food as well as other human rights, such as health, education, decent work, and livelihoods.” Currently 42% of the world’s people are under 25 years of age, and the global population of adolescents and young adults, at 1.2 billion, is the largest in history. The majority of young people live in low- and middle-income countries in south Asia, east Asia and Africa.

Many young people have little interest in farming because of a lack of support, innovation, and education and a perception that agriculture does not offer opportunities for prosperity or self-realization. Those involved directly or indirectly in food systems livelihoods are mostly living in rural areas. According to Gexa and Ndlovu, “addressing youth participation in food systems requires a holistic approach broadly focused on improving rural economies, social well-being, and service delivery. Efforts must be made to create a supportive environment for youth to pursue careers and interests in food systems.” This view is supported by David Regan: “Governments need to break down the barriers to their full participation in food systems and invest in training and education,” he said. “Agriculture and food systems must be promoted as viable and attractive livelihoods. Meaningful engagement of young people can unlock their potential as innovative agents of change and harness their energy and dynamism to transform food systems.” A major problem is that youth participation in making decisions that will affect their futures is still limited. The share of youth in formal decision-making forums is negligible, and the increased focus on youth participation in some policy dialogues has not necessarily translated into meaningful impact. „As heirs to current food systems, we deserve a stronger voice in transforming those food systems to meet our current and future needs,” Gexa and Ndlovu conclude. (ab)

15.09.2023 |

Six of nine planetary boundaries crossed, scientists warn

Bild englisch
Illustration: Richardson et al., Science Advances, 2023 (bit.ly/PIKBild, CC BY-NC 4.0, bit.ly/CCBY-NC40)

Human activities have destabilized biophysical systems and processes that regulate the functioning of life support systems on Earth, pushing the planet beyond a “safe” zone, scientists have warned. According to a study, published on September 13th in the journal “Science Advances“, six of nine planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity have already been crossed. From global warming to biosphere integrity, from pollutants and plastic to nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, from freshwater to land system change: Unprecedented human disruption has thrown the Earth system out of balance. And the international team of 29 scientists warns that the pressure on all those boundary processes is increasing. “We can think of Earth as a human body, and the planetary boundaries as blood pressure,” explains lead author Katherine Richardson from the University of Copenhagen. “Over 120/80 does not indicate a certain heart attack but it does raise the risk and, therefore, we work to reduce blood pressure.” And the results of our planet’s health check don’t look good. „Science and the world at large are really concerned about the rising signs of dwindling planetary resilience, manifested by the transgression of planetary boundaries, which brings us closer to tipping points, and closes the window to have any chance of holding the 1.5°C planetary climate boundary,” said co-author Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

The study is an update to the first and second Planetary Boundaries publications released in 2009 and 2015 in which the novel entities boundary, biosphere integrity and the boundary of atmospheric aerosol loading were not yet quantified. The recent study, for the first time, provides a complete check-up of all nine processes and systems that determine the stability and resilience of the planet. “This update on planetary boundaries clearly depicts a patient that is unwell, as pressure on the planet increases and vital boundaries are being transgressed,” said Rockström. “We don’t know how long we can keep breaching these key boundaries before combined pressures lead to irreversible change and harm.” An illustration that resembles an irregular pie chart shows the current state of the nine planetary boundaries. In the middle, there is a round green area – the safe operating space for humanity. The nine processes are shown as wedges. The boundary of atmospheric aerosol loading, e. g. through desert dust and soot from combustion or wildfires, remains in the green area and the boundary is not transgressed yet, even though regional transgressions do occur, e. g., in South Asia, where regional precipitation patterns are affected in monsoon regions. This could likely lead to significantly lower rainfall, ultimately affecting biosphere integrity. Anthropogenic ocean acidification is still in the green area but it lies at the margin of the safe operating space, and the trend is worsening since CO2 emissions continue to rise. The scientists give green light with regard to stratospheric ozone depletion which is now within the safe operating space. “The boundary for ozone depletion, for example, while not transgressed globally, was headed for increasing regional transgressions. Though it still is exceeded today over Antarctica, it is now slowly recovering – thanks to global initiatives, catalyzed by the Montreal Protocol,” highlights Richardson.

In the pie chart, the length of the wedges in the nine areas symbolizes what the current state of the corresponding process is, in relation to the distance from the planetary boundary (end of the green area) and the Holocene baseline (origin of the diagram). The wedges are coloured from yellow to red according to the risks associated with each. Purple indicates the high-risk zone. Some wedges may be long but may still not be purple or at a later stage because a transgression of the planetary boundary is not yet associated with very high risks for the planet while in other cases already a “small” overshoot (short wedge) results in a big risk. The boundary of “biosphere integrity” includes the largest wedge with purple ends when it comes to the planetary boundary for changes in genetic diversity. The planetary functioning of the biosphere ultimately rests on its genetic diversity but also on its functional role in regulating the state of Earth system. „Of an estimated 8 million plant and animal species, around 1 million are threatened with extinction and over 10% of genetic diversity of plants and animals may have been lost over the past 150 years. Thus, the genetic component of the biosphere integrity boundary is markedly exceeded,” the authors write. For the second component of biosphere integrity, the functional integrity, which has so far not been quantified, a control variable was introduced. The researchers found that this boundary had in fact been crossed since the late 19th century, a time of considerable acceleration in land use globally with strong impacts on species. “Next to climate change, integrity of the biosphere is the second pillar of stability for our planet. And as with climate, we are currently destabilising this pillar by taking out too much biomass, destroying too much habitat, deforesting too much land etc.,” explains co-author Wolfgang Lucht. “Our research shows that mitigating global warming and saving a functional biosphere for the future should go hand in hand.”

The first quantification of the novel entities boundary shows that it is transgressed. Novel entities include synthetic chemicals and substances (e.g., microplastics, endocrine disruptors, and organic pollutants); anthropogenically mobilized radioactive materials, including nuclear waste and nuclear weapons; and human modification of evolution, genetically modified organisms and other direct human interventions in evolutionary processes. The scientists write that the impacts of these novel entities on Earth system as a whole remain largely unstudied. They stress that the planetary boundaries framework is only concerned with the stability and resilience of Earth system, i.e., not human or ecosystem health. For this reason, “it remains a scientific challenge to assess how much loading of novel entities Earth system tolerates before irreversibly shifting into a potentially less habitable state”. The authors write that hundreds of thousands of synthetic chemicals are now produced and released to the environment. For many substances, the potentially large and persistent effects on Earth system processes of their introduction, particularly on functional biosphere integrity, are not well known, and their use is not well regulated. They point to the fact that humanity has repeatedly been surprised by unintended consequences of this release, for example in the case of the release of insecticides such as DDT and the effect of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on the ozone layer. “For this class of novel entities, then, the only truly safe operating space that can ensure maintained Holocene-like conditions is one where these entities are absent unless their potential impacts with respect to Earth system have been thoroughly evaluated,” the scientists conclude.

Biogeochemical flows reflect anthropogenic perturbation of global element cycles and this boundary was also crossed and it has the largest purple wedge indicating a high risk. Currently, the framework considers nitrogen and phosphorus as these two elements constitute fundamental building blocks of life, and their global cycles have been markedly altered through agriculture and industry, the scientists write. Land systems change is currently coloured red: This boundary focuses on the three major forest biomes that globally play the largest role in driving biogeophysical processes, that means tropical, temperate, and boreal. On the basis of 2019 land-cover classification maps derived from satellite observations, the current state of the regional biomes is similar to that in 2015 although, for most regions, the amount of deforestation has increased since the last update of the study in 2015. Land-use conversion and fires are causing rapid change in forest area and deforestation of the Amazon tropical forest has increased such that it has now transgressed the planetary boundary, the study finds. With respect to water, the warning light shines in orange. The freshwater boundary now addresses both green water (held in soil and plants in farms, forests etc.) and blue water (rivers, lakes etc) - both boundaries are transgressed. Rockström described it as „a true breakthrough” that a safe space for humanity on Earth has now been scientifically quantified, „providing a guide for action and the first full picture of our planet’s capacity to buffer stress“. He said that having this knowledge at hand marks an important step for more systematic efforts to protect, recover and rebuild planetary resilience. This is echoed by the last sentence of the study: „Scientific insight into planetary boundaries does not limit, but stimulates, humankind to innovation toward a future in which Earth system stability is fundamentally preserved and safeguarded.” (ab)

02.08.2023 |

Overshoot: We have exceeded our natural resource budget for 2023

Earth
Earth’s biocapacity is limited (Photo: Pixabay)

We have already reached Earth Overshoot Day this year: August 2nd marks the date by which humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services has exceeded what Earth can regenerate in 2023. For the rest of the year, we will be living on resources borrowed from future generations. This is the sad message spread by the Global Footprint Network, an international research organization that calculates the date each year, using National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts data. This is done 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. “The persistence of overshoot has led to land and soil degradation, fish stock depletion, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and greenhouse gas accumulation. These symptoms are becoming more prominent every day across the planet, with unusual heat waves, wildfires, droughts, and floods, exacerbating the competition for food and energy,” the Global Footprint Network announces in a press release. “The biggest risk, apart from ecological overshoot itself, lies in complacency towards this crisis,” says Steven Tebbe, CEO of the organisation. “Entities that act now are not just safeguarding the environment but future-proofing their economy and the wellbeing of their residents,” he added.

Last year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on July 28th. However, the apparent delay by five days compared to last year isn’t all good news, as genuine advancements amount to less than one day, the Network explained in a press release. The remaining four days are owed to integrating improved datasets into the new edition of the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts that are being maintained by York University’s Ecological Footprint Initiative. The datasets now track countries’ performance up to 2022, reducing reporting lag by three years. For each edition, the Ecological Footprint and biocapacity metrics are recalculated to maintain consistency with the latest data and science which means that the annual dates of Earth Overshoot Day change accordingly. Since 1971, the date has been creeping up the calendar every year, although at a slowing rate. The first overshoot day was on December 25, 1971. In the early 90s, it was in the second half of October and in 2018, the day fell on August 1st, the earliest date so far. In 2020, the date moved back to August 16th, reflecting the initial drop in resource use in the first half of the year due to pandemic-induced lockdowns. “For the last 5 years the trend has flattened. How much of this is driven by economic slow-down or deliberate decarbonization efforts is difficult to discern,” the Network writes. “Still, overshoot reduction is far too slow. To reach the UN’s IPCC target of reducing carbon emissions 43% worldwide by 2030 compared to 2010 would require moving Overshoot Day 19 days annually for the next seven years.

The Network highlights that solutions to reverse ecological overshoot and bolster biological regeneration are at our disposal. Its “Power of Possibility platform” shows how we can improve our resource security in five key areas (healthy planet, cities, energy, food, and population) and presents technologies, governmental strategies, public policies, and best practices from civic initiatives and academia. Food is an important area since half of Earth‘s biocapacity is used to feed us. “With a growing human population, and increasing demand for healthy food, the ecological pressure of food will mount, while the capacity for producing food is increasingly challenged due to greater resource stress and climate uncertainty,” the Network projects in a blog article. “But there is also great potential – a food system based on circular principles has the potential to reduce land use for food by up to 71% and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 29% per person.” A major problem is the resource inefficiency in food production. Animal calories are significantly more resource intensive than plant calories to produce and current agriculture is also fossil fuel intensive, the Network explains. For example, it takes 5 calories of fossil fuel in Belgium to provide one calorie of meat. If we reduced global meat consumption by 50% and replaced these calories through a vegetarian diet, we would move Overshoot Day 17 days (including 10 days from reduction of methane emissions), they calculate. Another problem is food waste: About one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption (1.3 billion tonnes each year) gets lost or wasted, with high and low-income countries dissipating roughly the same quantities of food, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. If we cut food waste in half worldwide, Overshoot Day would be moved by 13 days. Changes in farming can also make a contribution. Tree intercropping is an agricultural technique where trees are grown together with other crops on the same land. It is an important method not only for increasing the yields of cropland and preserving soil quality, but also for sequestering carbon in soils. Wide implementation of tree intercropping techniques would move Overshoot Day by 2.1 days by 2050. An additional 1.2 days could be saved with improved rice production methods that reduce methane emissions by not flooding rice fields constantly. “There is immense power of possibility in the many existing solutions that are ready to be deployed at scale. With them, we can make ourselves more resilient and #MoveTheDate of Earth Overshoot Day,” the Network expresses optimism. (ab).

12.07.2023 |

Up to 800 million people in the world are suffering from hunger

Reis
Harvesting rice (Photo: CC0/Pixabay)

The number of people suffering from hunger globally has increased by 122 million since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing the world far off track to meet the goal of zero hunger. According to a report released on July 12th by five UN agencies, as many as 783 million people worldwide were chronically undernourished in 2022 – almost one in ten people. While the numbers of people facing hunger globally have stabilised after increasing sharply in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, and rising more slowly in 2021, hunger is still increasing in some world regions, especially in Africa. “Agrifood systems remain highly vulnerable to shocks and disruptions arising from conflict, climate variability and extremes, and economic contraction. These factors, combined with growing inequities, keep challenging the capacity of agrifood systems to deliver nutritious, safe and affordable diets for all,” 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 (WHO) write in their joint foreword to the report. They underline that these major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition are our ‘new normal’.

The 2023 edition of ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’, like the two previous reports, gives a range of people suffering from hunger to reflect the uncertainty in data collection that still persists even though data reporting has begun to get back to normal. It is estimated that hunger affected between 691 million and 783 million people in 2022. Considering the middle of the projected range (735 million), the number of undernourished people has increased by 20% since 2019 when it stood at 613 million. According to the latest data, the proportion of people affected by hunger (called the prevalence of undernourishment) first went down from 12.1% in 2005 to 7.7% in 2014. Then it remained at that level before it jumped with the outbreak of Covid-19, reaching 9.2% of the world population in 2022 – or 9.8% if the upper bound is considered. “Nonetheless, the increase in global hunger observed in the last two years has stalled and, in 2022, there were about 3.8 million fewer people suffering from hunger than in 2021. The economic recovery from the pandemic has contributed to this, but there is no doubt that the modest progress has been undermined by rising food and energy prices magnified by the war in Ukraine,” the five UN chiefs write in the foreword. They add that there is no room for complacency since the situation worsened in some parts of the world.

Africa remains the worst-affected region with respect to the prevalence of undernourishment, with one in five people (19.7%) going hungry on the continent – more than twice the global average – whereas Asia accounts for the largest total numbers. More than half (54.6%) of the 735 million people who were undernourished in 2022 lived in Asia (401.6 million people), followed by Africa with 281.6 million (38.3%) and Latin America and the Caribbean with 43.2 million (5.9%). The number of people facing hunger in Africa has increased by 11 million people since 2021 and by more than 57 million people since the outbreak of the pandemic. The prevalence of undernourishment (mid-range) increased as well and the situation was especially alarming in Middle Africa, the sub-region including countries such as Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where almost a third of the population (29.1%) was undernourished last year. In Eastern Africa, 28.5% of the population faced hunger. In Asia, 8.5% of all people were affected in 2022 but the figure was much higher for the sub-regions of South Asia (15.6%) and Western Asia (10.8%). Latin America and the Caribbean as a region showed progress since the share of undernourishment fell from 7.0% in 2021 to 6.5% in 2022 – a decrease of 2.4 million people – but still 7.2 million more than in 2019. This was largely due to progress in South America while the food security situation deteriorated in the Caribbean sub-region, where the share of undernourishment went up from 14.7% in 2021 to 16.3% in 2022.

The report not only provides estimates on the number of chronically undernourished people but also on the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity. Moderate food insecurity, defined as “a level of severity of food insecurity at which people face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food” which means that they are forced “to reduce, at times during the year, the quality and/or quantity of food they consume due to lack of money or other resources”. Overall, nearly one in three people (29.6%) in the world (2.4 billion) did not have year-round access to adequate food in 2022 – an increase of almost 391 million people compared to 2019. Out of these 2.4 billion people, 900 million people (or 11.3% of all people in the world), were severely food insecure which means they ran out of food, experienced hunger and, at the most extreme, went for days without eating, putting their health and well-being at grave risk. This is an increase of almost 50 million people compared 2019. Another problem is the limited capacity of people to access healthy diets: In 2021, more than 3.1 billion people – or 42% of people globally – could not afford a healthy diet, up 134 million from 2019. The good news is that the number decreased by 52 million people from 2020 to 2021.

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 (6.8%) were suffering from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition. Affected children are dangerously thin, with weakened immunity and a higher risk of mortality. In addition, 148 million children (22.3%) 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. Globally, the prevalence of stunting among children under five has declined steadily, from an estimated 33% in 2000. Child overweight has been on the rise in many countries, driven by a lack of physical activity and increased access to highly processed foods. Globally, the prevalence of overweight stood at 5.6% in 2022, affecting 37 million children. “Malnutrition is a major threat to children’s survival, growth and development,” said Catherine Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF. “The scale of the nutrition crisis demands a stronger response focused on children, including prioritizing access to nutritious and affordable diets and essential nutrition services, protecting children and adolescents from nutrient-poor, ultra-processed foods, and strengthening food and nutrition supply chains including for fortified and therapeutic foods for children.”

The outlook provided in the report is grim. 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 600 million people will still be facing hunger in 2030. 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. The current estimate of 600 million people is about 119 million more undernourished people than in a scenario in which both the pandemic and the war in Ukraine had not occurred, and around 23 million more than if the war in Ukraine had not happened. “Hunger is rising while the resources we urgently need to protect the most vulnerable are running dangerously low,” says WFP Executive Director, Cindy McCain. “As humanitarians, we are facing the greatest challenge we’ve ever seen. We need the global community to act swiftly, smartly, and compassionately to reverse course and turn the tide on hunger.” IFAD President, Alvaro Lario is still optimistic that a world without hunger is possible and that hunger can be eradicated if we make it a global priority: “What we are missing is the investments and political will to implement solutions at scale,” he said. Lario recommends investments in small-scale farmers and in their adaptation to climate change, access to inputs and technologies, and access to finance to set up small agribusinesses. “Small-scale producers are part of the solution. Properly supported, they can produce more food, diversify production, and supply both urban and rural markets – feeding rural areas and cities nutritious and locally grown food.” (ab)

02.07.2023 |

Up to 783 million people in the world are suffering from hunger

Reis
Harvesting rice (Photo: CC0/Pixabay)

The number of people suffering from hunger globally has increased by 122 million since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing the world far off track to meet the goal of zero hunger. According to a report released on July 12th by five UN agencies, as many as 783 million people worldwide were chronically undernourished in 2022 – almost one in ten people. While the numbers of people facing hunger globally have stabilised after increasing sharply in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, and rising more slowly in 2021, hunger is still increasing in some world regions, especially in Africa. “Agrifood systems remain highly vulnerable to shocks and disruptions arising from conflict, climate variability and extremes, and economic contraction. These factors, combined with growing inequities, keep challenging the capacity of agrifood systems to deliver nutritious, safe and affordable diets for all,” 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 (WHO) write in their joint foreword to the report. They underline that these major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition are our ‘new normal’.

The 2023 edition of ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’, like the two previous reports, gives a range of people suffering from hunger to reflect the uncertainty in data collection that still persists even though data reporting has begun to get back to normal. It is estimated that hunger affected between 691 million and 783 million people in 2022. Considering the middle of the projected range (735 million), the number of undernourished people has increased by 20% since 2019 when it stood at 613 million. According to the latest data, the proportion of people affected by hunger (called the prevalence of undernourishment) first went down from 12.1% in 2005 to 7.7% in 2014. Then it remained at that level before it jumped with the outbreak of Covid-19, reaching 9.2% of the world population in 2022 – or 9.8% if the upper bound is considered. “Nonetheless, the increase in global hunger observed in the last two years has stalled and, in 2022, there were about 3.8 million fewer people suffering from hunger than in 2021. The economic recovery from the pandemic has contributed to this, but there is no doubt that the modest progress has been undermined by rising food and energy prices magnified by the war in Ukraine,” the five UN chiefs write in the foreword. They add that there is no room for complacency since the situation worsened in some parts of the world.

Africa remains the worst-affected region with respect to the prevalence of undernourishment, with one in five people (19.7%) going hungry on the continent – more than twice the global average – whereas Asia accounts for the largest total numbers. More than half (54.6%) of the 735 million people who were undernourished in 2022 lived in Asia (401.6 million people), followed by Africa with 281.6 million (38.3%) and Latin America and the Caribbean with 43.2 million (5.9%). The number of people facing hunger in Africa has increased by 11 million people since 2021 and by more than 57 million people since the outbreak of the pandemic. The prevalence of undernourishment (mid-range) increased as well and the situation was especially alarming in Middle Africa, the sub-region including countries such as Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where almost a third of the population (29.1%) was undernourished last year. In Eastern Africa, 28.5% of the population faced hunger. In Asia, 8.5% of all people were affected in 2022 but the figure was much higher for the sub-regions of South Asia (15.6%) and Western Asia (10.8%). Latin America and the Caribbean as a region showed progress since the share of undernourishment fell from 7.0% in 2021 to 6.5% in 2022 – a decrease of 2.4 million people – but still 7.2 million more than in 2019. This was largely due to progress in South America while the food security situation deteriorated in the Caribbean sub-region, where the share of undernourishment went up from 14.7% in 2021 to 16.3% in 2022.

The report not only provides estimates on the number of chronically undernourished people but also on the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity. Moderate food insecurity, defined as “a level of severity of food insecurity at which people face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food” which means that they are forced “to reduce, at times during the year, the quality and/or quantity of food they consume due to lack of money or other resources”. Overall, nearly one in three people (29.6%) in the world (2.4 billion) did not have year-round access to adequate food in 2022 – an increase of almost 391 million people compared to 2019. Out of these 2.4 billion people, 900 million people (or 11.3% of all people in the world), were severely food insecure which means they ran out of food, experienced hunger and, at the most extreme, went for days without eating, putting their health and well-being at grave risk. This is an increase of almost 50 million people compared 2019. Another problem is the limited capacity of people to access healthy diets: In 2021, more than 3.1 billion people – or 42% of people globally – could not afford a healthy diet, up 134 million from 2019. The good news is that the number decreased by 52 million people from 2020 to 2021.

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 (6.8%) were suffering from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition. Affected children are dangerously thin, with weakened immunity and a higher risk of mortality. In addition, 148 million children (22.3%) 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. Globally, the prevalence of stunting among children under five has declined steadily, from an estimated 33% in 2000. Child overweight has been on the rise in many countries, driven by a lack of physical activity and increased access to highly processed foods. Globally, the prevalence of overweight stood at 5.6% in 2022, affecting 37 million children. “Malnutrition is a major threat to children’s survival, growth and development,” said Catherine Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF. “The scale of the nutrition crisis demands a stronger response focused on children, including prioritizing access to nutritious and affordable diets and essential nutrition services, protecting children and adolescents from nutrient-poor, ultra-processed foods, and strengthening food and nutrition supply chains including for fortified and therapeutic foods for children.”

The outlook provided in the report is grim. 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 600 million people will still be facing hunger in 2030. 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. The current estimate of 600 million people is about 119 million more undernourished people than in a scenario in which both the pandemic and the war in Ukraine had not occurred, and around 23 million more than if the war in Ukraine had not happened. “Hunger is rising while the resources we urgently need to protect the most vulnerable are running dangerously low,” says WFP Executive Director, Cindy McCain. “As humanitarians, we are facing the greatest challenge we’ve ever seen. We need the global community to act swiftly, smartly, and compassionately to reverse course and turn the tide on hunger.” IFAD President, Alvaro Lario is still optimistic that a world without hunger is possible and that hunger can be eradicated if we make it a global priority: “What we are missing is the investments and political will to implement solutions at scale,” he said. Lario recommends investments in small-scale farmers and in their adaptation to climate change, access to inputs and technologies, and access to finance to set up small agribusinesses. “Small-scale producers are part of the solution. Properly supported, they can produce more food, diversify production, and supply both urban and rural markets – feeding rural areas and cities nutritious and locally grown food.” (ab)

16.06.2023 |

HLPE report calls for action to reduce inequalities in food systems

Vietnam
Farmer in Vietnam (Photo: CC0 Pixabay)

The world is characterized by considerable inequalities that are particularly stark within food systems, where they exacerbate already alarming conditions of hunger and malnutrition, presenting a serious impediment to achieving global goals and national policy promises. This is the message of a new report released by the UN Committee on World Food Security’s High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE), a body for assessing the science related to world food security and nutrition. “Reducing inequalities for food security and nutrition”, the 18th thematic report of the panel, was presented at an event in Rome on June 15th. “The report shows that fundamentally food security and nutrition outcomes display huge variations across regions but it is also true that no single region is exempted from some burden of malnutrition or the other so every region is suffering from at least one aspect of malnutrition. But within regions there is a lot of disparity,” explained Bhavani Shankar, HLPE drafting team leader and professor in Food and Health at the University of Sheffield. “Inequalities within countries are profound, in many cases they are increasing, and that’s a huge part of the problem. And those groups that fare consistently worse with regard to the food security and nutrition outcomes are women, those with less education, indigenous peoples and poor people,” he said during the launch of the report. This message is underlined by Bernard Lehmann, Chairperson of the HLPE: “Food security and nutrition inequalities exist throughout the food system, from farm to fork. They include inequalities in access to food production resources and market opportunities for small-scale producers, unequal power dynamics between large food corporations and food producers, as well as unequal access to adequate and nutritious food among consumers,” he wrote in the foreword to the 200-pages report which will be presented at the 51st plenary session of the CFS in October.

The report is organized around six chapters. Chapter one is dedicated to the conceptual framework. The authors explain why it is important to address inequalities. Inequalities threaten progress on food security and nutrition (FSN) and tackling them is mandated in global goals and human rights covenants and corresponds to a natural sense of human justice and fairness that is embodied in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The report defines inequalities in food systems “as the observed differences in FSN outcomes, or related food systems factors (such as access to food production resources), between individuals and groups (when disaggregated by social, economic and geographical position).” The conceptual framework is illustrated in a diagram which shows how food security and nutrition can be improved by addressing inequalities within food systems and in other related systems such as health, education or infrastructure which are all important for food security. The authors write that sustainable change requires understanding and addressing the systemic drivers and root causes of inequity.

Chapter two describes patterns and trends of inequality in food security and nutrition. “While inequalities in food security are particularly seen to affect populations in Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean, inequality in nutritional status exists globally,” the authors explain. Despite gains made in reducing undernutrition in low- and middle-income countries, the global rise in overweight and obesity among both adults and children undermines the past progress made in nutrition. In addition, since 2015, food insecurity has worsened in most regions of the world. Within each of the major regions (Africa, Northern America and Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia), the highest burden of severe food insecurity is found in Middle Africa (37.7 %), Southern Europe (2.8 %), the Caribbean (30.5 %) and Southern Asia (21 %). Gender differences in food insecurity trends are consistently noted both globally and between regions; a gap that has further widened. Around the world, more women than men are experiencing food insecurity, and women experience more severe food insecurity than men. People with disabilities are at greater risk of food insecurity given they are also more likely to be living in poverty. Studies show that indigenous adults in Australia have a five to seven times higher risk of experiencing food insecurity than their non-Indigenous counterparts. In North America, Black non-Hispanic households have a higher proportion of food insecurity (22.7 %) compared to White non-Hispanic households (8.7 %). The researchers find that more qualitative and adequately disaggregated data along gender, location, economic status, ethnicity, other social group and physical ability is required to systematically quantify and track food system and nutrition inequalities.

Chapter 3 examines the proximate drivers of inequalities within food systems and related systems. Within food systems, it explores three broad areas: inequalities in food production resources, in food supply chains and in food environments and consumer behavior. Large inequalities in access to food-production resources exist and persist. A prominent example is seen in the high and increasing inequality in land ownership globally. Globally and in most regions of the world other than Africa, land inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient has been on an increasing trend since 1975. In food supply chains, unequal access to financial services is another driver of inequalities: Small-scale food producers and small businesses have long faced significant obstacles in accessing or taking up credit, insurance and other financial products, or they lack access to information and technology. They also have limited ability to engage with and gain from modern value chains and markets, storage, processing and distribution, and international food trade. “Large traders, processors and retailers prefer not to incur the transaction costs of buying small quantities from many smallholders. Thus, they often stipulate minimum volume requirements and/or quality standards that small producers may struggle to meet, especially if upgrading and investment in inputs requires financing and better information.,” the authors explain the dilemma. Third, food environments provide highly unequal opportunities for food security and nutrition, with low-income populations and minority groups particularly impacted by the inequalities.

The fourth chapter takes a broader social and historical perspective and examines the underlying systemic drivers and root causes of food security and nutrition inequalities. Many drivers that act on food systems have underlying drivers within food systems themselves, the report finds. For example, climate change and environmental decline harm food system workers and are a threat to food security and nutrition, particularly where people and places are most vulnerable to change. However, food systems themselves are major drivers of climate change. The same holds true for biodiversity loss, water and soil depletion, and pollution. Other root causes are economic and market drivers which have fundamentally transformed global food systems by shaping market dynamics, flows of finance, and patterns of global trade to consolidate decision-making power and ownership. Most notable has been the shaping and scale of international trade, and the influence of a small number of private actors increasingly in control of market making. “These changes have altered dietary patterns in complex ways and curtailed the agency of most food system workers. While some nutritional benefits accrue, there are concerns about the impacts of a transition towards a Western obesogenic diet that exacerbate FSN outcomes, initially affecting the wealthiest in society but then gradually becoming a problem for the most marginalised or socio-economically disadvantaged sections of society.” But there are also political and institutional drivers, like violence and armed conflict and policies and governance (e.g. land policy, agricultural policy or labour market regulations). In addition, sociocultural drivers like cultural norms or gender-based violence produce and reinforce existing inequalities. Historical inequities will therefore persist if they are not addressed explicitly with equity-sensitive policies and practices.

Chapter five focuses on actions that can be taken within food and other systems to improve food security by presenting priority areas that hold significant potential for reducing inequalities. The proposed actions are grouped into four broad categories: food production; food supply chains; food environment and consumption; and enabling environment, broader context and governance. First, within food production, options to reduce inequalities in the area of food security and nutrition include: enabling more equal access to land, forests, livestock and fisheries, applying agroecological principles across production and broader food systems, establishing inclusive producer organizations, and investing in equity-sensitive public agricultural and food- systems research and other rural public investments. The latter includes, for example, incorporating gender equity into strategic prioritizing, which may lead to new areas of emphasis, such as on crops or livestock particularly important for household food security, or investments in crops and livestock for marginal environments and low-potential rain-fed areas, as well as climate-resilient technologies for smallholders. Second, the action areas in food supply chains mentioned in the report are adopting inclusive value chain approaches; developing labour-protection policies, strategies, and programmes for food-system workers; considering territorial approaches in food system and regional development planning; investing in equity-sensitive storage, food processing and distribution infrastructure; and investing in improved information systems, leveraging digital technologies. With regard to food environment and consumption, the main action areas include food-environment planning and governance; incorporating behavioural insights into policymaking and programming; and strengthening social protection. Within the last category, the authors mention food- and nutrition-sensitive policy and planning and addressing corporate power asymmetries in governance, just to name two aspects.

The sixth chapter provides recommendations to support a fundamental transformation of food systems. As Bhavani Shankar outlines during the presentation of the report, there are ten broad recommendations grouped into four cluster but within these ten broad recommendations, there are many sub-recommendations, i.e. more sharp and precise recommendations. For example, cluster A focuses on addressing inequalities within food systems. The first broad recommendation is thus that “states, intergovernmental organizations, the private sector and civil society should work across sectors to ensure more equitable access to land, forests, aquatic resources and other food-production resources, applying rights-based approaches”. A related sub-recommendation is to bolster the land and resource rights of women, peasants, Indigenous Peoples and other marginalized groups, including legal recognition and inheritance rights. Cluster B looks at inequalities in related systems and one recommendation is that States should ensure universal access to services and resources that have a direct impact on food security and nutrition. More precisely, states should ensure universal access to FSN-relevant services, including primary healthcare, immunization, nutrition education, sanitation and safe drinking water, just to name on example. Cluster C focuses on tackling social and political drivers of inequality while cluster D includes recommendations related to strengthening data and knowledge systems to enable improved understanding and monitoring of equity in domains relevant for food security and nutrition. All recommendations can be found in the report and or the executive summary of the report. (ab)

25.05.2023 |

Fertiliser firms tripled their profits in 5 years and drive food prices

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Foto: James Baltz, Unsplash, bit.ly/JBaltzUnsplash

While people grappled with a severe food crisis and farmers saw their costs increase, the world’s largest fertiliser companies tripled their profits during the past five years. The profits of the big nine fertiliser companies grew exponentially from an average of around US$14 billion before the Covid-19 pandemic to US$28 billion in 2021 and then to an astounding US$49 billion last year, a brief published by GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) reveals. The document released on May 23th presents the latest data on fertilizer industry profits and is an update to the report ““The Fertiliser Trap”, published by the two organisations in November 2022. GRAIN and IATP look at how these companies have contributed to the current food crisis by increasing prices far beyond increases to production costs and thereby boosting their profit margins by a massive 36% in 2022. “To deal with fertiliser cartel’s profiteering, actions must focus on supporting farmers to reduce or eliminate their use of chemical fertilisers”, they write in the brief. Such actions would not only help to bring the costs of fertilisers down, but could also help address the climate crisis and its impacts on food production due to the greenhouse gas emissions caused by chemical fertilisers.

The two organisations say that there are shocked by the scale of profiteering. Given the sky high fertiliser prices of 2022, it was expected that fertiliser companies would generate large profits but GRAIN and IATP were surprised by the record revenues the firms earned. A graph compiled by the organisations depicts the total profits of the big nine fertiliser companies over the past five years, rising from $14 billion dollars before the pandemic to US$28 billion in 2021 and then to US$49 billion in 2022. The report says that international agencies like the World Bank argue that the Russian war in Ukraine is responsible for the spike in fertiliser prices because the war lead to high natural gas prices (used to produce nitrogen fertiliser) due to shortages and trade disruptions. But another graph presented in the report shows that the problem also has to do with the monopoly power of the fertiliser companies. The big nine fertiliser companies increased prices far beyond the increases in production costs and boosted their profit margins to a massive 36% in 2022.

According to the report, “fertiliser prices are coming down from their stratospheric heights earlier this year, but the effects of the price spike are still being felt. The high prices and lack of supply in some countries caused farmers to cut fertiliser use, thereby reducing production levels and contributing to an alarming rise in global food insecurity.” The NGOs argue that the high prices have also pushed many farmers deeper into debt: “Farmers from Cameroon to the U.S. say they are still spending three times as much on fertilisers as they were a few years ago. And in countries where fertilisers are heavily subsidised, the price spike has saddled governments with huge debts.” The report cites India as an example where the central government’s expenditure on fertiliser subsidies last year skyrocketed from US$9.8 billion to US$17.1 billion. The organisations denounce that “people are paying the price for the fertiliser industry’s price gouging.” Not only people but also the planet is paying a high price. Chemical fertilisers are a major source of environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, with nitrogen fertilisers alone accounting for one out of every 40 tonnes of annual emissions.

IATP and GRAIN say that bold new approaches are urgently needed to reign in corporate power in the food system and turn the food crisis around. When it comes to fertilisers, policy actions like windfall taxes and price controls could be a solution. But to deal with both profiteering and environmental catastrophe we need to transition food production to rely far less on chemical fertilisers. “The fertiliser industry will be pushing for the opposite when it gathers for its annual meeting in Prague this week, yet around the world there are farmers and rural movements already leading a transition away from chemical fertilisers, with plenty of successful examples to learn from,” they write. What’s holding us back is the structural political change needed at all levels to address the excess profiteering from the fertiliser industry, and chart a new path toward more resilient food systems, the brief concludes. (ab)

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