In 2020, World Food Day – an international celebration promoted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – will be inevitably marked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 has laid bare the extent to which the planet’s health and human health are interconnected, an issue that becomes particularly relevant in terms of agriculture and food. Given the climate crisis that today’s societies face, it is becoming increasingly pivotal to develop more resilient and fortified food and agricultural production systems, capable of withstanding climatic shocks while providing the food required to ensure a sustainable and affordable diet for the entire population of the planet.
Technology and innovation in agriculture
To strike this balance of forces within the climate imbalance, new technologies and innovation are essential to ensure that don’t wind up having to choose between health and economy. According to FAO, the digitization of agriculture would allow optimizing food production, as technological tools – such as satellite imagery or mass data analysis – would make it possible to detect fires and plagues and reducing food waste or crop failure, even to optimize water consumption or the food distribution chain itself. But digitization is not an option for the more than 3 billion people who still lack internet access, most of them in rural areas.
New technologies promise revolutionary changes for small farmers, who account for almost 80 percent of the world’s food production, according to FAO data.
COVID-19: Food insecurity and hunger
According to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 2020 progress report, eradicating hunger and achieving food security remains a challenge, more so in the wake of the COVID-19 crisisOn top of the fact that, at the global level, hunger and food insecurity have been on the rise, and malnutrition still affects millions of children, the UN warns that the situation is likely to get worse owing to economic slowdowns and disruptions caused by a pandemic-triggered recession.
But COVID-19 it is not the only pandemic that is threatening global food security. The desert locust upsurge in six Eastern African countries and Yemen – where 35 million people are already experiencing acute food insecurity – remains alarming. The UN considers desert locust the world’s most destructive plague: According to FAO, even a more modest gathering of 40 million desert locusts can eat as much in a day as 35,000 people.
Almost 690 million people were undernourished in 2019, up by nearly 60 million from 2014.
On the other end of the global food problem spectrum is childhood obesity, recognized by the WHO (World Health Organization) as a global public health concern, since it has direct consequences on the incidence of chronic and acute diseases, healthy development and the economic productivity of individuals and societies. In 2019, 38 million children under age 5 worldwide were overweight or obese.
A commitment to food citizenship
The term food citizenship was recently emerged in the world of academia to designate the right to a healthy, quality food products, and to a responsible consumption. Food citizenship seeks to raise awareness among consumers about the impact that food consumption habits have on the future of the natural environment, animal welfare or access to certain foods for future generations.
Thus, food citizenship considers food consumption a political stance, one of responsibility with the planet and society as a whole. Thus, food consumers become active individuals who, through their consumption choices, exert an influence on key issues in the fight against environmental degradation such as loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, the bioaccumulation of pollutants from waste, pesticides and chemical fertilizers or high energy consumption in agricultural production.
Food: a key element for world peace
In 2020, the UN World Food Program (WFP) received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition to its “efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict,” according to the Norwegian Committee’s announcement. The link between hunger and armed conflict becomes a vicious cycle: just as war and armed conflict cause food insecurity and hunger, hunger and food insecurity can trigger the use of violence and cause latent conflicts to flare up.
WFP’s response capacity in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has also been recognized as one of the compelling arguments for the achievement of the award. Paraphrasing the Nobel’s Committee: “Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos.”
The World Food Program (WFP) is the world’s largest humanitarian organization devoted fighting against hunger and building food security. In 2019 alone, WFP assisted nearly 100 million people in 88 countries suffering from acute food insecurity and hunger. WFP is also the United Nations’ main lever to achieving the zero hunger goal of the 2030 Agenda.