The United Nations warned Wednesday that the world is failing in its efforts to eradicate hunger, as 828 million more people had too little to eat in 2021 — 150 million more than before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2019.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition report, released Wednesday, is the collaborative effort of five U.N. agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program. Their data show that the major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition are conflict, climate change and economic shocks, combined with growing inequalities.
“The ongoing war in Ukraine, together with other extended conflicts around the world, is further disrupting supply chains and pushing up the price of food, grain, fertilizer and energy, leading to shortages and high food price inflation,” FAO Director General Qu Dongyu told a briefing of U.N. member states.
Around 2.3 billion people lacked access to adequate food in 2021. Regionally, hunger continued to rise in Africa where 278 million people were affected, in Asia where 425 million experienced it, and in Latin America and the Caribbean where 56.5 million people were affected.
Nearly 3.1 billion people could not afford to eat healthy foods in 2020 — an increase of 112 million people over 2019. The U.N. agencies say that number reflects the rise in food prices due to the economic impact of the pandemic and measures put in place to contain it.
The report urges governments to reallocate their existing resources to the agriculture sector more efficiently, arguing that better results, like more abundant healthy foods, do not necessarily need more investment. Attention must also be paid to policies, including trade and market restrictions, which can inhibit access to quality foods at affordable prices.
“Governments must review their current support to food and agriculture to reduce hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told the meeting.
She said transformative change would be the only way to get back on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating global hunger by 2030 — a target that now appears far out of reach.
“Our updated projections indicate that more than 670 million people may still be hungry in 2030, far from the zero hunger target and the level that was in 2015 — the year when the SDGs were agreed,” FAO chief economist Maximo Torero said.
Ukraine is one of the top five global grain exporters. The FAO says it supplies more than 45 million tons annually to the global market. Russia is blockading several million tons of Ukrainian grain in the Black Sea port of Odesa, while FAO estimates that 18 million tons of cereals and oilseeds are in storage awaiting export.
The organization says Ukraine is expected to harvest 60 million tons of grain this year, but since there is a backlog, there is a lack of storage in the country.
Torero said FAO simulations show the impact of the war could increase the world’s chronically hungry by 13 million people this year and 17 million next year, in part due to the rise in fertilizer prices and an expected global slowdown in wheat yields.
World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley warns that chronic and growing food insecurity is threatening to push 50 million people in 45 countries closer to famine.
“The global price spikes in food, fuel and fertilizers that we are seeing as a result of the crisis in Ukraine threaten to push countries around the world into famine,” he said. “The result will be global destabilization, starvation and mass migration on an unprecedented scale. We have to act today to avert this looming catastrophe.”