NEW YORK – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley has called on world leaders to make food security a reality for all and to build a stronger, healthier planet through better food systems.

Excerpts from David Beasley’s remarks at the Food Systems Summit in New York, September 23, 2021

“Now is the time to roll up our sleeves because, you know, children can’t eat empty promises. It’s up to us to deliver and make food security and nutrition a reality.”

“If we’re struggling today to reach the 7.7 billion people, imagine having 10, 11, 12 billion people on earth. […] It’s a lot cheaper to address root cause and give the people the resources they need to empower them, helping indigenous populations, empowering and inspiring the youth, all of this coming together to make this a stronger, a healthier, a better planet.”

“There is 400 trillion dollars’ worth of wealth on the earth today, and the fact that 9 million people die from hunger every year… Shame on us. In the height of COVID-19, billionaires’ net worth increase was $5.2 billion per day. At the same time 24,000 people die per day from hunger. Shame on us. Every hour the net worth of billionaires during the height of COVID-19 was a substantial $216 million per hour. Yet 1000 people per hour were dying from hunger… Shame on us.”

“When the Nobel Peace Prize Committee awarded the U.N. World Food Programme the Nobel Peace Prize, it was a call to action for all of us. My goal is to put the U.N. World Food Programme out of business. But how can we do that with the direction that we’re now going?”

“As Rome-based agencies, we’re not just leaders, we’re cheerleaders to empower the private sector, inspire those in civil society and individuals to make certain that we love our neighbor as our equal so that a child in Niger is just as important as a child in New York. Imagine… children around the world dying unnecessarily […] We’ve had 4.7 million people die from COVID-19.  At the same time, we had 16 million people die from hunger.”

“You see we got the expertise. We got the dedication of the United Nations. I do believe that this call for action will be heard by leaders around the world.”

Download photos of the U.N. World Food Programme’s work to improve and consolidate food systems here.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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Africa posting biggest jump. World at critical juncture, must act now for 2030 turnaround.

Rome – There was a dramatic worsening of world hunger in 2020, the United Nations said today – much of it likely related to the fallout of COVID-19. While the pandemic’s impact has yet to be fully mapped , a multi-agency report estimates that around a tenth of the global population – up to 811 million people – were undernourished last year. The number suggests it will take a tremendous effort for the world to honor its pledge to end hunger by 2030.

This year’s edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World is the first global assessment of its kind in the pandemic era. The report is jointly published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Previous editions had already put the world on notice that the food security of millions – many children among them – was at stake. “Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world,” the heads of the five UN agencies[1] write in this year’s Foreword.

They go on to warn of a “critical juncture,” even as they pin fresh hopes on increased diplomatic momentum. “This year offers a unique opportunity for advancing food security and nutrition through transforming food systems with the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit, the Nutrition for Growth Summit and the COP26 on climate change.” “The outcome of these events,” the five add, “will go on to shape the […] second half of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition” – a global policy commitment yet to hit its stride.

The numbers in detail

Already in the mid-2010s, hunger had started creeping upwards, dashing hopes of irreversible decline. Disturbingly, in 2020 hunger shot up in both absolute and proportional terms, outpacing population growth: some 9.9 percent of all people are estimated to have been undernourished last year, up from 8.4 percent in 2019.

More than half of all undernourished people (418 million) live in Asia; more than a third (282 million) in Africa; and a smaller proportion (60 million) in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the sharpest rise in hunger was in Africa, where the estimated prevalence of undernourishment – at 21 percent of the population – is more than double that of any other region.

On other measurements too, the year 2020 was sombre. Overall, more than 2.3 billion people (or 30 percent of the global population) lacked year-round access to adequate food: this indicator – known as the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity – leapt in one year as much in as the preceding five combined. Gender inequality deepened: for every 10 food-insecure men, there were 11 food-insecure women in 2020 (up from 10.6 in 2019).

Malnutrition persisted in all its forms, with children paying a high price: in 2020, over 149 million under-fives are estimated to have been stunted, or too short for their age; more than 45 million – wasted, or too thin for their height; and nearly 39 million – overweight.[2] A full three-billion adults and children remained locked out of healthy diets, largely due to excessive costs. Nearly a third of women of reproductive age suffer from anaemia. Globally, despite progress in some areas – more infants, for example, are being fed exclusively on breast milk – the world is not on track to achieve targets for any nutrition indicators by 2030.

Other hunger and malnutrition drivers

In many parts of the world, the pandemic has triggered brutal recessions and jeopardized access to food. Yet even before the pandemic, hunger was spreading; progress on malnutrition lagged. This was all the more so in nations affected by conflict, climate extremes or other economic downturns, or battling high inequality – all of which the report identifies as major drivers of food insecurity, which in turn interact.[3]

On current trends, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World estimates that Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger by 2030) will be missed by a margin of nearly 660 million people. Of these 660 million, some 30 million may be linked to the pandemic’s lasting effects.

What can (still) be done

As outlined in last year’s report, transforming food systems is essential to achieve food security, improve nutrition and put healthy diets within reach of all. This year’s edition goes further to outline six “transformation pathways.” These, the authors say, rely on a “coherent set of policy and investment portfolios” to counteract the hunger and malnutrition drivers.

Depending on the particular driver (or combination of drivers) confronting each country, 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;
  • Scale up climate resilience across food systems – for example, by offering small-scale farmers wide access to climate risk insurance and forecast-based financing;
  • Strengthen the resilience of the most vulnerable to economic adversity – for example, through in-kind or cash support programs to lessen the impact of pandemic-style shocks or food price volatility;
  • Intervene along supply chains to lower the cost of nutritious foods – for example, by encouraging the planting of biofortified crops or making it easier for fruit and vegetable growers to access markets;
  • Tackle poverty and structural inequalities – for example, by boosting food value chains in poor communities through technology transfers and certification programs;
  • Strengthen food environments and changing consumer behaviour – for example, by eliminating industrial trans fats and reducing the salt and sugar content in the food supply, or protecting children from the negative impact of food marketing.

The report also calls for an “enabling environment of governance mechanisms and institutions” to make transformation possible. It enjoins policymakers to consult widely; to empower women and youth; and to expand the availability of data and new technologies. Above all, the authors urge, the world must act now – or watch the drivers of hunger and malnutrition recur with growing intensity in coming years, long after the shock of the pandemic has passed.

Read the full report and the In-Brief report here.


[1] For FAO – Qu Dongyu, Director-General; for IFAD – Gilbert F. Houngbo, President; for UNICEF – Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director; for U.N. World Food Programme – David Beasley, Executive Director; for WHO – Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General.

[2] Social distancing rules made nutrition data exceptionally hard to collect in 2020. Some numbers – especially for wasting in under-fives – may be higher than these estimates.

[3] The more drivers a country has, the worse the undernourishment and malnutrition, the greater the food insecurity, and the more prohibitive the cost of healthy diets to its citizens.

ROME – High food prices, driven by conflict, economic fragility and the impacts of La Niña, are making nutritious food unaffordable for millions of families already struggling to cope with income losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today.

Broadcast quality footage for this story available via this link

“High food prices are hunger’s new best friend. We already have conflict, climate and COVID-19 working together to push more people into hunger and misery. Now food prices have joined the deadly trio,” said U.N. World Food Programme Chief Economist Arif Husain. “If you’re a family that already spends two thirds of your income on food, hikes in the price of food already spell trouble. Imagine what they mean if you’ve already lost part or all of your income because of COVID-19.”

Latest food price data from the U.N. World Food Programme’s Market Monitor shows that the average price of wheat flour in Lebanon – where economic turmoil has accelerated over the last year – was 50 percent higher in March-May 2021 than in the previous three months. Year-on-year, the price has risen by 219 percent. Meanwhile, in Syria the price of cooking oil has increased by 58 percent over the same time period, and by a staggering 440 percent year-on-year.

But there are also high food price hotspots in Africa. In Mozambique, which is ravaged by conflict in the north of the country, the price of cassava flour went up by 45 percent in March-May 2021 compared to the previous three months, the U.N. World Food Programme’s data shows.

On international markets, after rising for 12 straight months, food prices dipped slightly in June according to the Food Price Index of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization – which measures price changes in international markets. The index stood at 124.6 in June, just below the peak of 136.7 in 2011. Meanwhile, over the last three months the cost of a basic food basket has gone up by more than 10 percent in 9 countries where U.N. World Food Programme works.

New evidence on the impact of the pandemic on chronic hunger worldwide will be published next week in the annual State of Food and Nutrition Security in the World (SOFI) report, which focuses on complementary food system solutions that address the key drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition: conflict, climate change and economic downturns.

The recent price hikes directly impact the people the U.N. World Food Programme serves, but also millions of families on the edge of hunger whose incomes have been decimated by the pandemic. The World Bank has estimated that the pandemic could push as many as 97 million people worldwide into extreme poverty by the end of 2021.

Countries more likely to experience high food price inflation are those that depend on imports for food, those where climatic or conflict shocks could disrupt local food production, and those suffering from macro-economic fragility – with the Middle East witnessing some of the highest price increases. In many countries, currency depreciation has further driven up local food prices, affecting people in places such as Zimbabwe, Syria, Ethiopia and Venezuela.

For the U.N. World Food Programme, high food prices have two effects. Firstly, they drive up the number of people around the world who need food assistance. Secondly, they increase the cost of buying the commodities needed for food assistance operations. In the first four months of 2021, the U.N. World Food Programme paid 13 percent more for wheat than it did in the previous year.

A record 270 million people are estimated to be acutely food insecure or at high risk in 2021 – a 40 percent jump from 2020, driven by conflict, economic shocks, natural disasters, the socio-economic fallout from COVID-19, and now food price hikes. In 2021, the U.N. World Food Programme is undertaking the biggest operation in its history, targeting 139 million people worldwide.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

Follow us on Twitter @WFPUSA and @wfp_media

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