16.09.2021 |

UN report calls for “repurposing” of harmful agricultural subsidies

Large farms are often the major beneficiaries of agricultural suppport (Photo: CC0)

Current support to agricultural producers is harmful for the environment and human health, while disadvantaging women and smallholder farmers, says a new UN report published on September 14. This support is steering us away from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the goals of the Paris Agreement. But we can redirect agricultural subsidies to drive a transformation towards healthier, more sustainable, equitable and efficient food systems, according to the report released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the UN Development Programme and UN Environment (UNEP). Global agricultural support currently accounts for almost USD 540 billion a year. The UN agencies estimate that 87% of producer supports are harmful to the 2030 agenda. “This report, released on the eve of the UN Food Systems Summit, is a wake-up call for governments around the world to rethink agricultural support schemes to make them fit for purpose to transform our agri-food systems and contribute to the Four Betters: Better nutrition, better production, better environment and a better life,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.

The authors write that between 2013 and 2018, net support to agricultural producers averaged almost USD 540 billion per year, representing around 15% of the total agricultural production value. More than half ($294 billion) is provided to farmers as price incentives, such as import tariffs and export subsidies, while the rest ($245 billion) is in the form of fiscal subsidies to farmers, the majority (70%) being tied to the production of a specific commodity or input. “This support is heavily biased towards measures that are distorting (thus leading to inefficiency), unequally distributed, and harmful for the environment and human health,” says the report. The authors explain that “support coupled to production can ultimately hamper sustainable market development, trigger price shocks at a global scale, incentivize the production of emission-intensive products, or penalize the availability and affordability of more diversified and nutritious food, particularly for the poorest consumers.” Since this support is often inequitable, it is putting big agri-business ahead of small farmers, a large share of whom are women. Only about $110 billion of the total amount was used to support infrastructure, research and development, and benefits the general food and agriculture sector.

The authors highlight that agriculture is one of the main contributors to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions from different sources, including manure on pastureland, synthetic fertilizers, rice cultivation, burning crop residue, and land-use change. Global support to farmers is projected to increase to almost USD 1.8 trillion in 2030 if current trends continue. Continuing with agricultural support-as-usual would worsen the planetary crisis and ultimately harm human well-being, warns the report. It therefore calls for a redirection of damaging incentives and says this can be a game changer because it offers governments an opportunity to optimize the use of scarce public resources to transform food systems in ways that make them not only more efficient, but also more supportive of the SDGs. “Governments have an opportunity now to transform agriculture into a major driver of human well-being, and into a solution for the imminent threats of climate change, nature loss, and pollution,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “By shifting to more nature-positive, equitable and efficient agricultural support, we can improve livelihoods, and at the same time cut emissions, protect and restore ecosystems, and reduce the use of agrochemicals.” For high-income countries, this means shifting support away from an outsized meat and dairy industry, which accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In lower-income countries, governments should consider repurposing their support for toxic pesticides and fertilizers or the growth of monocultures. The authors stress the importance of reconfiguring agricultural support rather than eliminating it completely. Simply removing subsidies could have adverse trade-offs, such as decreasing crop and livestock farming production, lower farm incomes and farm employment and higher food costs.

According to the report, a few countries have already begun repurposing and reforming agricultural support. The authors mention examples such as the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh that adopted a policy of Zero Budget Natural Farming; the 2006 reform of agricultural policies in China that supports decreased use of mineral fertilizers and chemical pesticides or the Single Payment Scheme in the UK that removed subsidies in agreement with the National Farmers’ Union. But the UN organisations say that action needs to be broader, bolder and faster worldwide. The report recommends a six-step approach to develop a tailored repurposing strategy for agricultural support. First, governments need to estimate the support already provided. Second, they need to understand its positive and negative impacts. Third, the approach for repurposing agricultural producer support needs to be designed and necessary reforms need to be identified. The fourth step is to estimate the future impact of the repurposing strategy and step 5 is to review and refine the strategy prior to implementation. Finally, the outcomes of the new agricultural producer support needs to be monitored. According to the authors, a transparent, multi-stakeholder approach is integral to the six-step repurposing process and smallholders are key in this process: “Smallholder farmers in particular, many of whom are women, make a significant contribution to addressing food security and nutrition and promoting resilience. Furthermore, women produce most of the food consumed locally, making small farms central for poverty reduction, gender equality and for women’s empowerment in rural areas. Small farms are found to be more productive per acre than large farms, better for spurring surrounding economic growth, and better for ecosystem and biodiversity conservation. It is therefore critical to recognize the role of these actors and include them in agricultural repurposing policy processes if the shift to healthier, more sustainable, equitable and efficient food systems is to be successful.” (ab)

06.09.2021 |

Food Systems Summit is not a people’s summit, says UN expert

Michael Fakhri
Michael Fakhri (Photo: Michael Fakhri/OHCHR)

The upcoming UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) is not the people’s summit it claims to be because key elements such as human rights, equity and accountability are not on the agenda, according to a leading UN rights expert. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, says that the summit turns a blind eye on root causes and governance issues linked to hunger and malnutrition and fails to address corporate concentration of power in food systems. In a policy brief entitled “Last chance to make the Food Systems Summit truly a people’s summit”, Fakhri shares his concerns that the “people’s summit” will fail the people it claims to be serving. The UNFSS 2021 will be held during the UN General Assembly in New York on September 23 and will discuss the future of food systems and the pathways to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. A three-day pre-summit took place in Rome at the end of July in preparation for the main event. Mr Fakhri has followed the UNFSS process since the announcement of the summit in 2019, closely monitored the pre-summit and will also report to the General Assembly in October 2021 on the Summit, drawing from a vast array of inputs received by Member States, international and civil society organisations. In his new policy brief, he shares his reflections and actionable recommendations concerning the Summit’s expected outcomes, follow-up, and review.

The Special Rapporteur writes that the policy brief “is intended to guide Member States on how they can ensure that the Summit succeeds in making our food systems serve people and planet, as well as overcome challenges posed by hunger, inequity, and the global COVID-19 pandemic”. His objective is “to provide guidance to States in their imminent deliberations at the Summit on 23 September 2021, with a view to making it a truly transformative, rights-based and multilateral event.” The brief was completed on August 19th but it seems that Fakhri is rather pessimistic that this can still be achieved. “When I wrote I thought there was one last chance to salvage the Summit. It’s now clear that this is NOT a People's Summit,” the Special Rapporteur says in a more recent twitter post on September 4th. In this policy brief, Fakhri, shares his critical observations on four key shortcomings. First, he denounces that the COVID-19 pandemic is conspicuously absent in the summit’s deliberations: “The Summit was announced right before the COVID-19 outbreak. As the outbreak became a pandemic and the impacts on the global food systems and food security unfolded, the Summit’s objectives were not adjusted to the new reality,” Fakhri writes. The UN expert criticises that the Pre-Summit did not dedicate even one session to the pandemic despite the devastating consequences. According to the Special Rapporteur, multilateral action is needed to tackle the pandemic’s deleterious effects on everyone’s right to food, especially the poorest, most vulnerable, and marginalized persons.

Second, Fakhri condemns the UNFSS’s failure to consider the root causes of hunger and malnutrition. He highlights that hunger, malnutrition, and famine are caused by political failures and shortcomings in governance, rather than by food scarcity. But the summit’s focus has been on how to “boost production” sustainably through new technologies. “The challenges, however, facing our food systems are about ensuring better and more equitable access – questions of how food is produced, by whom, and who reaps most of the benefits from its processing and trade. Even at the peak of the pandemic, the greatest threat to food security and nutrition was not because food was unavailable,” Fakhri explains. “People had less access to adequate food because they lost their job, livelihood, or home.” In addition, the summit has not paid adequate attention to advancements made recently in agroecology and territorial markets, the Special Rapporteur added. The third point of criticism is that corporate concentration of power remains the Summit’s “elephant in the room”. Fakhri writes that transnational corporations “dominate the world market from the seeds to the supermarkets. Yet, the Summit fails to address the role and responsibility of the corporate sector in the food systems.” Power imbalance and concentration have greatly benefited transnational corporations and have undermined local communities’ tenure, human rights, and habitats. The UN expert shares the concerns raised by many that technology-driven innovation and the emphasis on a certain model of science promoted at the Summit risks to further marginalize small-holder farmers’ needs. “This approach ignores the fact that small-holders produce approximately 70% of the world’s food while preserving agrobiodiversity and promoting resilience to climate change. This approach also ignores the fact that Indigenous peoples successfully manage 80% of the world’s biodiversity on land. Farmers, farm workers, and Indigenous peoples around the world are entirely at the mercy of corporate powers, and it is not by chance that they suffer from hunger, malnutrition, and rights violations,” the policy brief states.

Fourth, the Special Rapporteur criticizes that the Summit’s multi-stakeholder approach is a smokescreen to stifle participation. “The Summit’s so-called multi-stakeholder approach has not been transparent, nor has it offered affected communities and civil society meaningful opportunities to participate. The decision-making process has been top-down and opaque. The Summit, influenced by agribusiness corporations, think-tanks and philanthropists, has not reflected the rich history of participation and inclusiveness at UN multilateral forums,” Fakhri writes. “The pre-summit lacked interactive and meaningful participation from grassroots movements, Indigenous peoples, small-scale farmers, pastoralists, fishers, and human rights advocacy groups.” For these reasons, millions of people decided to boycott the Summit through the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples Mechanism of the UN Committee on World Food Security. The thousands of people that did participate in the host of online Summit events and meetings were left feeling cynical about the entire process since there was no clear connection between people’s input and the Summit’s outcomes, Fakhri observes.

The Special Rapporteur also provides some recommendations in order to improve the UNFSS. Fakhri says that UN Member States should mobilise further and assess the Summit through the PANTHER framework, a human rights-based approach centered on the seven principles of participation, accountability, non-discrimination, transparency, human dignity, empowerment, and rule of law. He also advised against creating new institutions following the UNFSS and recommends strengthening existing UN multilateral forums for follow-up and review. “The UN Committee on World Food Security should be where the Summit outcomes are ultimately discussed and assessed, using its inclusive participation mechanisms.” Finally, the Special Rapporteur recommends that the Summit outcomes should be assessed through a human rights framework. This involves asking what contribution the outcomes and any Summit follow-up and review would make to the realization of everyone’s right to food and human rights in general. For this purpose, Fakhri has raised four questions that can be asked to check whether the four areas of criticism have been addressed. With regard to corporate concentration, the question to be asked is “How do the outcomes identify the root cause of the crisis and hold corporations and other actors accountable for human rights violations?”. And the question to be raised about participation is how the outcomes rely on an understanding of agency that puts the control of food systems in the hands of the people in their capacity as rights-holders. (ab)

31.08.2021 |

Drought threatens the livelihoods of farmers in Afghanistan

The troops are leaving, drought is coming (Photo: CC0)

The United Nations has issued an urgent appeal to scale up humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan as a worsening drought threatens the livelihoods of more than 7 million farmers. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned on August 28 that food production and agricultural livelihoods are under extreme pressure due to the combination of severe drought, COVID-19 related economic impacts and widespread displacement caused by the Taliban’s seizure of power. “If we fail to assist the people most affected by the acute drought, large numbers will be forced to abandon their farms and be displaced in certain areas,” said FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu. “This threatens to further deepen food insecurity and poses yet another threat to the stability of Afghanistan.” Currently, there are over 14 million people in Afghanistan who are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity and depend on humanitarian assistance. This is one third of the population. “Farmers and livestock owners must not be forgotten in today’s humanitarian crisis,” said QU Dongyu. “Urgent agricultural support now is key to counter the impact of the drought and a worsening situation in Afghanistan’s vast rural areas in the weeks and months ahead.”

In June, the Afghan government officially declared a drought in the country due to the effects of La Niña. Drastically reduced rainfall has caused food and water scarcity across 25 provinces, at a level not seen since the drought of 2018, which displaced a quarter of a million people, according to a recent report published by FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP). FAO now announced that the current harvest is expected to be 20% below the 2020 harvest and 15% below average due to the acute drought. Another problem is that Afghanistan’s cereal requirements - mainly wheat and flour - are already projected to be some 28% higher than last year at 3.6 million tonnes. The Rome-based agency also voiced concerns that traditional government seed distribution systems may have been severely affected by the recent crisis which might affect the next planting season. The next winter wheat planting season will be crucial to prevent a further deterioration in Afghanistan’s food security and to protect agricultural livelihoods. “If farmers cannot get the seeds they urgently need by the end of September or early October, then the winter wheat season will fail. This will be a disaster for millions of Afghans, both farmers and consumers,” said Richard Trenchard, FAO’s Representative in Afghanistan. He stressed that “the window of opportunity to provide this assistance is closing quickly. We must act before it is too late.” FAO plans to assist 250,000 vulnerable farming families - some 1.5 million people - for the upcoming winter wheat season but current funding will only enable the agency to support 110 000 families. There is still a funding gap of USD 18 million.

FAO also highlighted that Afghan herders and livestock owners urgently need assistance to counter the impact of drought during the coming winter season. Three million animals are estimated to be at risk, making livestock protection critical for herders and livestock owners across the country. The agency warned that if marginal herders and livestock owners do not receive support, they may have no other option than selling their livestock holdings because they are not able to pay for increased fodder and feed prices. This could also lead to their displacement. According to recent FAO research, farmers and herders affected by drought typically need three to five years to recover fully. This means another difficult wheat season would hit them hard. “This next winter wheat season is a tipping point. If we miss it, disaster looms,” Trenchard said. (ab)

09.08.2021 |

IPCC sounds alarm over intensifying, irreversible climate change

Droughts will increase (Photo: CC0)

Global warming has “unequivocally” been caused by human activities and many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level, climate scientists have warned. According to the latest report launched by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on August 9th, the scale of recent changes are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years. However, there is still a chance of at least reducing the impact of climate change. “Stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions. Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate,” said IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Panmao Zhai. “This report is a reality check,” added Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte. “We now have a much clearer picture of the past, present and future climate, which is essential for understanding where we are headed, what can be done, and how we can prepare.”

The Working Group I report is the first instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) and was prepared by 234 authors from 66 countries. The report of this working group deals with the physical science basis of climate change and its “Summary for Policymakers” was approved on August 6th by 195 member governments of the IPCC in a virtual session that was held over the previous two weeks. The reports of Working Group II, dealing with impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and Working Group III, dealing with the mitigation of climate change, will be finished and published in 2022. “This report reflects extraordinary efforts under exceptional circumstances,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. “The innovations in this report, and advances in climate science that it reflects, provide an invaluable input into climate negotiations and decision-making.” Governments from 197 countries will meet this November in Glasgow for the UN climate conference Cop26.

The new report dispels any doubts as to the scale of recent changes and the role humans play in accelerating global warming. “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred,” the report warns. Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach, the scientists are clear. Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for around 1.1°C of warming since 1850-1900, the report finds, and if this is averaged over the next 20 years, global temperatures are expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming. “Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, in multiple ways. The changes we experience will increase with additional warming,” said Zhai. “For example, every additional 0.5°C of global warming causes clearly discernible increases in the intensity and frequency of hot extremes, including heatwaves (very likely), and heavy precipitation (high confidence), as well as agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions (high confidence),” according to the Summary for Decisions Makers. At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health.

The climate experts also highlight that climate change is not just about temperature but also brings multiple different changes that will differ from region to region. These include changes to wetness and dryness, to winds, snow and ice, coastal areas and oceans. For example, climate change will also intensify the water cycle. This can lead to more intense rainfall and associated flooding, as well as more intense drought in many regions. Rainfall patterns will be affected: In high latitudes, for example, precipitation is likely to increase, while it is projected to decrease in large parts of the subtropics. In coastal areas, continued sea level rise throughout the 21st century will be a problem that contributes to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion. In addition, global warming will lead to increased permafrost thawing, and the loss of seasonal snow cover, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and loss of summer Arctic sea ice. Changes in the quantity and seasonality of water due to climate change will heavily influence the food security and economic prosperity of many countries, particularly in the arid and semi-arid areas of the world including Asia, Africa, Australia, Latin America, the Mediterranean, and small island developing states, the report warns. According to the full report, whose final text remains subject to revisions following the approval on Friday, “having too much or too little water increases the likelihood of flooding and drought, as precipitation variability increases in a warming climate.” The authors warn that “changes in precipitation and glacier runoff and snowmelt influence other hydroclimate variables like surface and subsurface runoff, and groundwater recharge, which are critical to the water, food and energy security of many regions.” (ab)

26.07.2021 |

Hundreds of NGOs to boycott UN Food Systems Summit

Food Systems 4 People!

The Pre-Summit to this year’s UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) has kicked off in Rome today, accompanied by fierce criticism from hundreds of civil society organizations. More than 300 NGOs are boycotting the event that will be held from July 26 to 28 because they fear that the summit is disproportionately influenced by corporate actors and lacks transparency and accountability mechanisms. Instead, civil society and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations will gather online from 25 to 28 July for the “People’s Counter-Mobilization to Transform Corporate Food Systems”. The organisations argue that the summit “diverts energy, critical mass and financial resources away from the real solutions needed to tackle the multiple hunger, climate and health crises” our planet is facing. They demand a radical transformation of corporate food systems towards a just, inclusive and truly sustainable food system.

The three-day UN Pre-Summit brings together heads of state and delegates from more than 100 countries and will set the stage for the main global UNFSS event in New York in September where the future of food systems and agriculture will be discussed. According to the UN, the aim of the Summit is to deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals through a food systems approach, leveraging the interconnectedness of food systems to global challenges such as hunger, climate change, poverty and inequality. The UN claims that the Pre-Summit is a ‘People’s Summit’ “that will bring together youth, farmers, indigenous peoples, civil society, researchers, private sector, policy leaders and ministers of agriculture, environment, health, nutrition and finance, among other participants.” But this view is strongly contested by civil society, peasants organisations and indigenous movements from across the world. The UNFSS results from a partnership between the UN and the World Economic Forum, formed by the world’s top 1000 corporations, and was convened by UN Secretary General António Guterres without involving the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), the most inclusive intergovernmental platform for food systems issues. “In March 2020, 550 organisations (…) wrote to UN Secretary-General António Guterres to warn him that the summit is not building on the legacy of past world food summits, which were once convened by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO),” Elizabeth Mpofu and Edgardo Garcia from the International Coordination Committee of La Via Campesina explain in an article for Al Jazeera. “The FAO was given the mandate to organise these events by its member states and it allowed the active participation of civil society through parallel self-organised forums.” However, there was no such mandate given for the organisation of the UNFSS.

The UN system is being hijacked by corporate interests “to legitimize an even more detrimental, technologically-driven and crisis-ridden food system”, the organisations behind the counter-mobilisation warn in a press release. “Despite claims of being a ‘People’s Summit’ and a ‘Solutions’ Summit, UNFSS facilitates greater corporate concentration, fosters unsustainable globalized value chains, and promotes the influence of agribusiness on public institutions.” Elizabeth Mpofu and Edgardo Garcia point out that the “governance of the summit remains firmly in the hands of ‘experts’ known to be staunch defenders of industrial agriculture, and some states, which host many of these large multinational corporations, are driving the agenda.” They write that while the summit organisers have also managed to secure the participation of a small section of the global civil society and advertise that as proof of the summit’s inclusive character, the summit remains far from being that. “When it comes to defining the future of our food system, guess who gets invited by the UN to conceive and construct the plan, principles and content of the global summit. It is big agribusinesses!” This view is supported by Sofia Monsalve, secretary-general of human rights organization FIAN International that is part of the Autonomous People's Response to the Summit. She criticises that the UNFSS excludes the voices of people worst affected by hunger and environmental collapse largely caused by destructive globalized industrial food systems and has instead invited the same companies to solve food-related problems that have ironically created and perpetuated those problems themselves. “Why is it then that proposals phasing out pesticides, redistributing land ownership, or holding companies accountable for their environmental and labor abuses are not on the table?,” asked Monsalve. “It doesn’t make sense to call a dialogue open and inclusive if certain perspectives are excluded if the agenda was set from the beginning by actors representing corporate interests,” she added.

The People’s Counter-Mobilization to Transform Corporate Food Systems is the latest in a series of rejections of the UNFSS, which has been criticized from different fronts, for instance by academics and scientists, and three current and former UN special rapporteurs on the right to food. In April this year, hundreds of scientists, researchers, faculty members, and educators who work in agriculture and food systems, issued an open call to boycott the event. The organisations behind the counter-summit now write that some of the false solutions promoted by the UNFSS to solve the current crises include failed models of voluntary corporate sustainability schemes, ‘nature-positive’ solutions which include risky technologies such as Genetically Modified Organisms and biotechnology, and sustainable intensification of agriculture. “They are neither sustainable, nor affordable for small-scale food producers, and do not address structural injustices such as land and resource grabbing, corporate abuse of power, and economic inequality”, the press release states. The NGOs are calling for a real and radical transformation of food systems. Their vision is a “human rights-based and agroecological transformation of food systems” and they are highlighting the importance of food sovereignty, small-scale sustainable agriculture, traditional knowledge, rights to natural resources, and the rights of workers, Indigenous Peoples, women and future generations. Over the next three days, the alternative summit will discuss those solutions, including binding rules for corporate abuses, ending pesticide use, and agroecology as a science, practice and movement. (ab)

13.07.2021 |

Up to 811 million people worldwide faced hunger in 2020, UN report

Healthy diets are still unaffordable for many (Photo: CC0)

World hunger worsened dramatically in 2020 largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report released on Monday by five UN agencies, up to 811 million people, or almost a tenth of the global population, were chronically undernourished last year. After remaining virtually unchanged for five years, the so-called ‘prevalence of undernourishment’ increased from 8.4% to around 9.9% in just one year, ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’ finds. “The past four editions of this report revealed a humbling reality. The world has not been generally progressing either towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 2.1, of ensuring access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food for all people all year round, or towards SDG Target 2.2, of eradicating all forms of malnutrition,” the heads of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation write in their joint foreword to the report. It is projected that around 660 million people may still face hunger in 2030 – 30 million more people than in a scenario in which the pandemic had not occurred.

The authors of the report point out that due to the exceptional nature of the COVID-19 pandemic it was particularly challenging to produce reliable estimates for 2020. For this reason, this year's edition presents a range for the number of people facing hunger (720 million to 811 million). Considering the middle of the projected range (768 million), around 118 million more people were facing hunger in 2020 than in 2019 – or as many as 161 million more, considering the upper limit. For regional breakdowns, the number of 768 million is used. More than half (54.4%) of all undernourished people (418 million) live in Asia, followed by Africa with 281.6 million (36.7%) and Latin America and the Caribbean with 59.7 million (7.8%). Compared with 2019, the number of undernourished people increased by 46 million in Africa, 57 million in Asia, and about 14 million in Latin America and the Caribbean. Not only is the number of undernourished people on the rise, but also the share of undernourished people in the total population. The sharpest rise in hunger occurred in Africa, where the prevalence of undernourishment is now at 21% of the population, compared to 18% in the previous year. The situation is especially alarming in Eastern Africa, where more than a quarter of the population (28.1%) were undernourished in 2020 and in Middle Africa, which includes countries such as Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were 31.8% of the population faced hunger. In Asia, 9% of the population were affected while the share was 9.1% in Latin America.

The report not only provides estimates on the number of chronically undernourished people but also on moderate food insecurity, defined as “a state of uncertainty about the ability to get 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 (2.37 billion) did not have year-round access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of almost 320 million people in just one year. Close to 12% of the global population, or 928 million people, were severely food insecure in 2020 which means they ran out of food, experienced hunger and, at the most extreme, went for days without eating. This is an increase of 148 million people compared to 2019. “Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world, particularly the most vulnerable and those living in fragile contexts,” the heads of the five UN agencies write in the foreword. They add that also other important drivers are behind recent setbacks in food security and nutrition. “These include conflict and violence in many parts of the world as well as climate-related disasters all over the world. Given the past and present interactions of these drivers with economic slowdowns and downturns, as well as high and persistent (and in some countries growing) levels of inequality, it is not surprising that governments could not keep the worst-case scenario for food security and nutrition from materializing and affecting millions of people all over the world.”

The situation is also somber with respect to other indicators: Malnutrition persisted in all its forms. In 2020, over 149 million children under 5 years of age were estimated to have been stunted, or too short for their age, more than 45 million were affected by wasting and were too thin for their height; and nearly 39 million were overweight. “Child malnutrition continues to be a challenge, particularly in Africa and Asia. Adult obesity also continues to increase, with no reversal in the trend in sight at global or regional levels,” the UN heads admit.

The report authors note that the inability of food systems to provide households with adequate access to nutritious foods that contribute to healthy diets has amplified the call for a transformation of food systems to make healthy diets available and affordable to all. This urgent need for transformation has become central to a global debate aimed at addressing some of the greatest challenges to sustainable development. The report wants to contribute to this debate by outlining six “transformation pathways” that are needed to address the key drivers behind the recent rise in hunger and slowing progress towards reducing all forms of malnutrition. First, the report urges policymakers to integrate humanitarian, development and peacebuilding policies in conflict areas – for example, through social protection measures to prevent families from selling meagre assets in exchange for food. The second pathway is scaling up climate resilience across food systems. The third recommendation is to strengthen the economic resilience of the most vulnerable, for example, through in-kind or cash support programmes to lessen the impact of pandemic-style shocks or food price volatility. Fourth, the authors recommend to lower the cost of nutritious foods along food supply chains. The fifth pathway aims at tackling poverty and structural inequalities and the sixth pathway includes a shift to sustainable consumption patterns, for example by changing consumer behavior through measures such as eliminating industrial trans fats and reducing the salt and sugar content in the food supply, or by protecting children from the negative impact of food marketing. (ab)

08.07.2021 |

UN Food Systems Summit: A call for truly sustainable agriculture

A call for truly sustainable farming

More than 800 international organisations, NGOs, farming groups and food experts have issued a call for true sustainability in agriculture. They want agroecology, organic, and regenerative agriculture to top the agenda at this year’s UN Food Systems Summit and have warned against ‘greenwashing’ and the lack of transparency on the road to the summit. On July 7th, the call with the title ‘A unifying framework for food systems transformation’ was published. It was initiated by IPES-Food; organic umbrella organisation IFOAM-Organics International; Agroecology Europe; FiBL Europe and Regeneration International, and has already been signed by organisations such as WWF, Oxfam, IUCN, ECOWAS, Slowfood, Biovision and the Foundation on Future Farming, just to name a few. The signatories stress the need for a transformational change in agriculture and food systems in order to achieve true sustainability and meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and are calling on governments, private companies and civil society to adopt 13 key sustainability principles to guide this agri-food systems transformation. They also denounce ongoing attempts to co-opt sustainable agriculture. “In the run up to this UN Summit, certain groups have been playing fast and loose with the meaning of sustainability,” warned one of the initiators of the call, Emile Frison of IPES-Food, an independent panel of food system experts.

The signatories want governments and businesses to take action and change the “damaging” status quo in global farming. “Today’s dominant agri-food systems – largely driven by an industrial logic of economies of scale, intensification, specialization, and uniformization – are providing neither food security nor adequate nutrition for all. Moving us dangerously beyond the ‘Planetary Boundaries’ within which humanity can continue to safely operate, these food systems are undermining the very foundation they rely on,” the call says. “Conventional agriculture – with its heavy reliance on chemical inputs – has failed millions. It continues to deplete soils, damage biodiversity, drive climate change, and destroy livelihoods,” Frison explains. The signatories argue that these challenges cannot be overcome alone by just making incremental improvements to the current industrial model. “Instead, a bold paradigm shift is needed to redesign our agri-food systems.” According to the call, food systems reform will prove critical to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement and Convention on Biological Diversity, and to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. “Quite frankly, nothing short of a food systems transformation will steer us to safety,” added Frison.

The signatories propose agroecology, organic, and regenerative agriculture as alternatives. “To break away from the current industrial logic, agroecology is increasingly prominent in the discourse on the future of agriculture and food systems. At the same time, steady growth of the organic market is responding to rising consumer demands for healthy, sustainably produced food,” says the text of the call. “And alternative terms, such as regenerative agriculture, ecological organic agriculture, and others are being widely taken up in different regions of the world – each seeking to transform agri-food systems in an integrated way.” According to Agroecology Europe’s Paola Migliorini, “these approaches work with nature, not against it and the international body of evidence can no longer be ignored.” These different approaches find common ground in upholding all 13 principles outlined in a 2019 landmark report published by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE), the science-policy interface of FAO’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS). The undersigned organisations and individuals are thus calling on Summit leaders to adopt all 13 principles set out by the HLPE.

The first two principles are recycling and input reduction: Preferentially use local renewable resources and close as far as possible resource cycles of nutrients and biomass, while reducing or eliminating dependency on purchased inputs and increasing self-sufficiency. Further principles are soil and animal health: “Secure and enhance soil health and functioning for improved plant growth, particularly by managing organic matter and enhancing soil biological activity” and “ensure animal health and welfare”, HLPE recommended. The fifth principle is biodiversity: “Maintain and enhance diversity of species, functional diversity and genetic resources and thereby maintain overall agroecosystem biodiversity in time and space at field, farm and landscape scales.” The sixth principle, synergy, aims at enhancing positive ecological interaction, synergy, integration and complementarity among the elements of agroecosystems (animals, crops, trees, soil and water). The seventh principle is economic diversification: “Diversify on-farm incomes by ensuring that small-scale farmers have greater financial independence and value addition opportunities while enabling them to respond to demand from consumers.” Further principles include the co-creation of knowledge, social values and diets, fairness, connectivity, land and natural resource governance, and participation.

It remains to be seen whether the UN Food Systems Summit will adopt the 13 principles as requested by the signatories. For Louise Luttikholt from IFOAM - Organics International this would be an opportunity to break the deadlock and the status quo: “If decision makers and business leaders are truly concerned about healthy soils, healthy plants, animals, and people, or even the Paris Agreement, then this is a golden opportunity to unify under one banner and adhere to these principles.” The Summit will culminate in a global event to take place in New York in September, after a pre-summit in Rome at the end of July. In the past months, the summit has been mired in controversy and has drawn criticism from civil society groups from all continents, denouncing the lack of transparency in the run-up to the event. In a new briefing note, published on July 7th, IPES-Food warns that the Summit is also being used to advance a new mode of decision-making that could exclude many voices in food systems. The paper refers to the proposal to create a new panel, an ‘IPCC for Food’, to streamline decisions on the future of food systems. The briefing note warns that such a new panel – as planned – risks imposing a narrow view of science, and shutting down democratic debate. It would also undermine the HLPE which already provides scientific guidance to governments, taking into account diverse knowledge and perspectives from across the food system. (ab)

05.07.2021 |

OECD/FAO: “Global agri-food systems need to transform to reach SDGs by 2030”

Agriculture in 2030 - the outlook (Photo: CC0)

Additional efforts in the agricultural and food sector are urgently needed in order to meet global food security and environmental targets, according to a new report released on Monday by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Although progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is expected to be made in the coming decade, the past year of disruptions from COVID-19 has moved the world further away from achieving these goals, especially the Zero Hunger goal (SDG2), the “OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2021-2030” projects. “We have a unique opportunity to set the agri-food sector on a path of sustainability, efficiency and resilience,” OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann and FAO Director-General QU Dongyu write in the foreword to the report. “Without additional efforts, the Zero Hunger goal will be missed and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture will increase further,” they warn. “We must all work together to transform the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food. An agri-food systems transformation is urgently needed.”

The Outlook is published by the two organisations each year and presents production, consumption, trade and price trends for the main farm and fisheries products at regional, national and global levels for the coming decade. At the time this year’s publication was compiled, the agricultural and food sector has demonstrated high resilience in face of the global COVID-19 pandemic compared to other sectors of the economy, the authors write. The Global Domestic Product (GDP) in 2030 is projected to remain below pre-pandemic projections. The effect of income losses and inflation in consumer food prices have already made access to healthy diets more difficult for many people. The experts say that ensuring food security and healthy diets for a growing global population will thus remain a challenge. According to the report, average global food availability per person is projected to grow by 4% over the next ten years, reaching just over 3,025 kilocalories per day in 2030. However, availability will vary among regions and countries. In low-income countries, food availability is projected to increase by only 3.7% or 89 calories per person per day. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 224 million people are undernourished, daily calorie availability is projected to increase by only 2.5% over the next decade to 2,500 kcal per person in 2030.

The composition of diets is also projected to change in the coming decade. In high-income countries, per capita consumption of meat, fish, dairy, and eggs is expected to grow slowly. The authors write that “health and environmental concerns, together with animal welfare and ethical considerations regarding eating animals are also leading to an increase in the number of vegetarian, vegan or ‘flexitarian’ lifestyles in high-income countries, and in particular among young consumers.” Consumers are also expected to increasingly replace red meat by poultry meat and dairy products. For middle-income countries, the Outlook expects a strong increase of 11% in the per capita availability of animal protein. In low-income countries, economic constraints will only lead to a limited growth in the consumption of animal products, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, per-capita consumption of animal protein is even projected to decline slightly. The composition of diets will also influence global health and there will only be a slow transition towards healthier diets. “At the global level, fats and staples are expected to account for about 60% of the additional calories over the next decade and provide 63% of the available calories by 2030,” the authors project. This trend is reinforced by a higher consumption of processed and convenience food and an increasing tendency to eat outside the home, both associated with ongoing urbanisation and rising women’s participation in the work force. Fruits and vegetables would continue to provide only 7% of the available calories by 2030. The authors point out that additional efforts are needed to increase this share so that a net intake of 400g of fruits and vegetables per person a day is possible for everyone in line with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations. In order to achieve this aim, food loss and waste that is particularly high for these perishable products, also need to be reduced.

The Outlook predicts that global demand for agricultural commodities – including for use as food, feed, fuel and industrial inputs – will grow at 1.2% per year over the coming decade. “Demographic trends, the substitution of poultry for red meat in rich and many middle-income nations, and a boom in per capita dairy consumption in South Asia are expected to shape future demand.” FAO and OECD consider productivity improvements as key to feeding a growing global population sustainably. Of the increases in global crop production expected in 2030, 87% are projected to come from yield improvements. “Regional yield gaps are expected to narrow over the coming decade, as yields of the main crops are projected to increase in India and Sub-Saharan Africa through better adapted seeds and improved crop management,” says the report. Expansion of cropland is projected to account for 6% of total growth in crop production over the next decade. In addition, 7% will come from increases in cropping intensity which will be driven by the adoption of multi-cropping and new crop varieties and by investments to expand the growing season through technological improvements, such as irrigation systems that allow cultivation during the dry season. A large share of the projected expansion in livestock and fish production is to result from productivity gains. However, in emerging economies and low-income countries, herd enlargement will also contribute to livestock production growth.

The Outlook also highlights the significant contribution of agriculture to climate change. Global greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are projected to increase by 4% over the next ten years, mostly due to expanding livestock production which accounts for more than 80% of this increase. This is despite the fact that the carbon intensity of agricultural production is expected to decline over the coming decade because direct agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are projected to grow at a lower rate than agricultural production. Thus, additional policy effort will be needed for the agricultural sector to effectively contribute to the global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as set in the Paris Agreement, the authors find. There is a strong need for investments in, and the global implementation of, solutions to improve the environmental sustainability of the agricultural sector, the Mathias Cormann and QU Dongyu point out. “While policy makers are understandably focused on overcoming the immediate COVID-19-related challenges, decisions made now will shape the future of the agriculture sector. There is thus a unique opportunity at this juncture to “build back better”, and to set the sector on a path of sustainability, efficiency and resilience,” the OECD and FAO heads stress in the foreword to the report. (ab)

14.06.2021 |

ILO: Child labour in agriculture remains a persistent problem

Many children work on farms (Photo: CC0)

Global progress against child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years. The number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide, with millions more at risk due to the impacts of COVID-19, according to new global estimates for 2020. This is reversing the previous downward trend that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016. The report, published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF ahead of World Day Against Child Labour on 12th June, indicates that 63 million girls and 97 million boys were in child labour globally at the beginning of 2020, or 1 in 10 children worldwide, an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years. 79 million children – nearly half of all those in child labour – were in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety and moral development, and the number has risen by 6.5 million since 2016. “The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

The global estimates mask large variations across regions and continued progress against child labour in Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean. In both regions, child labour trended downward over the last four years in percentage and absolute terms. In sub-Saharan Africa, population growth, recurrent crises, extreme poverty, and inadequate social protection measures have led to an additional 16.6 million children in child labour over the past four years. In absolute terms, there are now nearly 87 million children in child labour in sub-Saharan Africa, more than in the rest of the world combined. The report warns that globally, 9 million additional children could be pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional economic shocks and school closures caused by pandemic mean that children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under worse conditions, while many more may be forced into the worst forms of child labour when their families lose jobs and income. “We are losing ground in the fight against child labour, and the last year has not made that fight any easier,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Now, well into a second year of global lockdowns, school closures, economic disruptions, and shrinking national budgets, families are forced to make heart-breaking choices,” she added. “We urge governments and international development banks to prioritize investments in programmes that can get children out of the workforce and back into school, and in social protection programmes that can help families avoid making this choice in the first place.”

The report also provides statistics on the sectoral composition of child labour: Most child labour continues to occur in agriculture. 70% of all children in child labour, 112 million children in total, work in agriculture. “This is especially the case among younger children, for whom agriculture often serves as an entry point,” says the report. “Child labour takes place in family subsistence and smallholder farming, commercial plantations and other forms of commercial farming, agro-industrial complexes, capture fisheries, aquaculture, postharvest fish processing and forestry.” Services and industry account for smaller but still substantial shares of children in child labour. Around 31.4 million children work in services, which includes domestic work and work in commerce, transport and motor vehicle repair. Another 16.5 million children work in industry, e.g. in construction, mining and manufacturing.

Child labour is much more common in rural areas. There are 122.7 million rural children in child labour compared to 37.3 million urban children and the prevalence of child labour in rural areas (14%) is close to three times higher than in urban areas (4.7%). “It is necessary to promote “adequate rural livelihoods and resilience, including through supporting economic diversification, investing in basic services infrastructure, extending social protection and devising agricultural extension policies for crop diversification. Family farms and enterprises that depend on the (mostly unpaid) labour of their children need greater support to improve their livelihoods and end that dependence,” according to the report. “Inclusive social protection allows families to keep their children in school even in the face of economic hardship. Increased investment in rural development and decent work in agriculture is essential,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “We are at a pivotal moment and much depends on how we respond. This is a time for renewed commitment and energy, to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labour.” (ab)

08.06.2021 |

Global food prices rise to highest level in a decade

Global cereal prices increased by 6% in May (Photo: CC0)

World food prices jumped in May by nearly 40% compared to the same period last year, reaching their highest value since more than a decade, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has warned. The FAO Food Price Index, which measures monthly changes in international prices of a basket of food commodities, averaged 127.1 points in May. This is an increase of 5.8 points or 4.8% compared to April and the sharpest month-on-month increase since October 2010, the UN body said last Thursday. Food prices rose for the twelfth consecutive month in a row to its highest value since September 2011, bringing the Index only 7.6% below its peak value of 137.6 points registered in February 2011. The prices for the average of five main commodity groups (cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar) were 39.7% higher than in May 2020 and the index climbed by 36.1 points compared with a year ago. Increasing demand for cereals in China along with an ongoing drought in Brazil and growing demand for vegetable oil for biodiesel are blamed for the soaring prices. “China has continued to buy, but with Brazil’s drought proving to be more severe than expected, everyone has to pray that the weather in the US is going to be good,” Abdolreza Abbassian, senior economist at FAO, told the Financial Times.

Soaring food prices will especially hit low- and middle-income countries which depend on food imports. People in poorer countries who already spend a large share of their income on food and are struggling with rising food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and weather uncertainties, could be hit hard by exploding food prices. “We are not in the situation we were back in 2008-10 when inventories were really low and a lot of things were going on,” Abbassian told Bloomberg. “However, we are in sort of a borderline. It’s a borderline that needs to be monitored very closely over the next few weeks, because weather is either going to really make it or create really big problems,” he is quoted by Bloomberg. According to Abbassian, “any of those things could push prices up further than they are now, and then we could start getting worried.”

With respect to the different commodities the FAO Food Price Index consists of, the largest month-to-month increase was registered for vegetable oil. This index increased by 7.8% in May compared to the previous month, mainly reflecting rising palm, soy and rapeseed oil quotations. “Palm oil prices rose due to slow production growth in Southeast Asian countries, while prospects of robust global demand, especially from the biodiesel sector, drove soyoil prices higher,” FAO said in a press release. The FAO Sugar Price Index increased by 6.8% from April. This was mostly related to harvest delays and concerns over reduced crop yields in Brazil, the world’s largest sugar exporter. However, large export volumes from India contributed to easing the price surge. The FAO Cereal Price Index increased 6% from April. Among the major cereals, international maize prices rose the most, increasing by 8% compared to April. International maize prices averaged 89.9% above their value in May 2020, reaching their highest level since January 2013. Meat prices increased by 2.2% from April, with quotations for all meat types rising due to a faster pace of import purchases by China, as well as rising internal demand for poultry and pig meats in the leading producing regions. The Dairy Price Index rose by 1.8% in May.

FAO also published its first forecast for world cereal production in 2021. According to the latest Cereal Supply and Demand Brief, current prospects for world cereal production point to the third moderate growth in a row. World cereal output in 2021 is projected to reach a new record of 2,821 million tonnes, up 1.9% compared to 2020. World cereal utilization in 2021/22 is predicted to expand by 1.7% to 2,826 million tonnes. “Total cereal food consumption is forecast to rise in tandem with world population, while an increased use of wheat for animal feed is also anticipated,” FAO said. Based on those forecasts, world cereal stocks at the close of crop seasons in 2021/22 are anticipated to increase by 0.3% to 811 million tonnes. FAO’s first forecast for world trade in cereals in the new season also indicates also an increase of 0.3% from the high level estimated for 2020/21, when trade is expected to expand by as much as 6.3 percent to a peak level of 468 million tonnes. However, much will depend on the volume of cereals to be imported by China. (ab)


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