The numbers released last week by a collaboration of UN agencies that lead international efforts to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security were incredibly disheartening. In fact, their report, State of Food and Nutrition in the World 2022 (SOFI), showed that after years of seeing global hunger numbers drop, it is back – and at record levels and rising.
The report shows that an unprecedented count of up to 828 million people went hungry in 2021, an increase of 46 million on the previous year and a leap of 150 million people since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is ironic that in a world of plenty, where enough food is produced to feed everyone on the planet, hunger is still widespread. The number of people unable to afford a healthy diet around the world rose by 112 million, to almost 3.1 billion in 2020, the report says.
While hunger should be a thing of the past, conflict, disasters, inequality and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic mean one person in nine globally is still going to bed hungry and famine looms for millions.
But a growing constant behind the decline in food supplies is climate change. The destructive phenomena has unleashed record drought across the world, including here in the American West. Nearly the entire state of California, which has the nation’s largest agricultural economy by far (and is ranked in the top 10 in the world) is currently in the “severe” drought category or worse, and three-quarters is experiencing “extreme” to “exceptional” drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. California’s agricultural economy last year shouldered $1.2 billion in direct costs due to drought.
Growers elsewhere in recent times also have been slammed by unprecedented rainfall and violent weather. Thunderstorms that spun off at least 63 tornadoes across Iowa in December (21 of the tornados carried winds of up to 150 mph) were part of the first derecho ever recorded in the United States in that month.
Another effect of the shifts in climate is often a change in the length and timing of growing seasons, which producers are still catching up with in some areas of the country.
The SOFI study painting the grim food insecurity picture was published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
The report follows a WFP red alert in June of “catastrophic hunger,” with hard-earned development gains in recent years being reversed as the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine is felt across continents. Organization officials, who then reported 50 million people in 45 countries being just a step away from famine, correctly predicted that those numbers would climb even higher in the months ahead.
World leaders fear global price spikes in food, fuel and fertilizers, attributable primarily to the war in Ukraine but driven by climate change, will lead to widespread famine, prompting global destabilization, starvation and mass migration on an unprecedented scale. They say action is needed immediately, in the words of a WFP executive, “to avert this looming catastrophe.”
SfL continues to be actively involved in finding answers to the ongoing global food security issues. This Friday, SfL Farmer Envoy Adrienne Mollor, a second-generation cranberry grower in Massachusetts, will represent the private sector arm of FAO Committee on Food Security (CFS) in a high-level, UN-sponsored event in New York City being held to explore policy solutions to the growing global food and nutrition security crisis.
Being held in collaboration with the CFS and the Global Crisis Response Group, the event is the latest in many a growing number of international forums SfL has joined in an aim to advance pragmatic agricultural solutions to the challenges and often dilemmas the world faces. Mollor’s participation also delivers
SfL is grateful that our farmer, rancher and forester leaders recognize the importance of engaging at events like this and then proactively promote pathways that will deliver the outcomes the world seeks. The old adage, “the world is run by those who show up,” reminds us of the need to do just that. SfL invites our aligned and collaborating partners to join us as we actively participate in platforms where the future of agriculture is being debated and shaped.