Millions of mouths that were getting fed began starving for food as food supply chains disrupted, jobs were lost and economies collapsed the world over.
By Aziz Haider,
The end of 2015 was set as the target for achieving the Millennium Development Goals [MDG 1c], which included halving the proportion of undernourished people in developing countries. The year 2015 came and gone! Whatever progress was achieved globally to achieve these targets dissipated in the aftermath of the havoc created the world over due to COVID-19. Millions of mouths that were getting fed began starving for food as food supply chains disrupted, jobs were lost and economies collapsed the world over. Today, in 2021, we are talking about Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] with 2030 as another target to achieve the herculean tasks at hand. However, unless the global community sensitizes itself to the problem of hunger and malnutrition, the glimmer of hope and smile is still long away. 2030 too would come to pass if, and only if, the governments of the world, including India, gear themselves up to meet the targets way before 2030 arises on the horizon.
As said, the hunger target of MDG 1c was to halve the proportion of undernourished people in developing countries by 2015. Though some significant progress was achieved as regard to reducing the number of undernourished people, the world was far off track to achieve the more stringent World Food Summit [WFS] target of halving the number of undernourished people, when 2015 came to pass.
Those targets are still to be achieved as the world sits on September 23, 2021 at the Food Systems Summit, being convened by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, with an aim to set the stage for global food systems transformation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] by 2030.
It is being claimed that the UN Food Systems Summit will serve as a historic opportunity to empower all people to leverage the power of food systems to drive our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and get us back on track to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] by 2030.
Much hype is being generated prior to the Summit. According to their official statement: “For the past 18 months, the Summit has brought together all UN Member States and constituencies around the world – including thousands of youth, food producers, Indigenous Peoples, civil society, researchers, private sector and the UN system – to bring about tangible, positive changes to the world’s food systems. As a people’s summit and a solutions summit, it has recognized that everyone, everywhere must take action and work together to transform the way the world produces, consumes, and thinks about food.”
It is being claimed that the Summit will culminate this inclusive global process, offering a catalytic moment for public mobilization and actionable commitments by heads of state and government and other constituency leaders to take this agenda forward.
The Summit is banking on five action tracks to achieve the desired objectives. These are: Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all; shift to sustainable consumption patterns; boost nature-positive production; advance equitable livelihoods; build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress.
However, the key point is whether the call for everyone and everywhere to take action and for public mobilization and, in particular, actionable commitments by heads of state and government and other constituency leaders to take this agenda forward will fall on receiving ears. For if we look at the historical events in the near past, causes of hunger and malnourishment in most countries have been man-made (and not natural). Cases of Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Serbia, Croatia, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and many countries in Africa can be cited as examples.
Talking of India, India’s transformation of its food system from a highly deficit one to a self-reliant and marginally surplus food system now is a story of success and holds lessons for many small holder economies of the world. Having lived a situation of hand to mouth, India has emerged as the largest producer of milk, spices, cotton and pulses; second largest producer of wheat, rice, fruits and vegetables; third largest producer of eggs; and the fifth largest producer of poultry meat. It is also the largest exporter of rice, spices and meat. All this became possible with infusion of new technologies, innovative institutional engineering and right incentives.
However, this is still not the reason to become complacent as we have to deal with an increasing number of hungry mouths to feed. As India looks towards 2030 and beyond to achieve “zero hunger”, its food system faces many challenges ranging from increasing pressure on natural resources (soils, water, air, forests) to climate change, to fragmented land holdings, increasing urbanization and high rates of malnutrition amongst children. To meet these challenges successfully, India needs a right mix of policies – from subsidy driven to investment driven, and from price policy to income policy approach, promoting agricultural diversification towards more nutritious food. It also needs to incentivize its private sector to build efficient and inclusive value chains, giving due importance to environmental sustainability. More innovative technologies, increasing digitalization, and use of artificial intelligence would be needed to ‘produce more from less’ to feed the would-be most populous nation on this planet.
Unfortunately, serious conversation on this most important subject is arguably yet to begin in India. The World Food Trust [WFT] has taken the initiative and is going to set the ball rolling through a seminar: Sustainable Agriculture and India towards Total Food Security. Department of Fisheries and Department of Agriculture [Government of India], some state governments including the Agriculture Department of Government of Andhra Pradesh, institutions like NABARD, NAFED, NIFTEM, BIS, IRCTC, perhaps even Ministry of Tourism, National RainFed Area Authority and ICAR-Indian Institute of Horticultural Research, besides experts, academicians and representatives from the private and public sectors are likely to join heads to discuss and culminate on a result-oriented approach to lead India towards achieving SDGs prior to 2030. Some other countries have also been invited to share their stories.
The objective is also to generate significant action and progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainability in rural areas. The seminar hopes to succeed in identifying solutions, people and issuing a call for action at all levels of the agriculture, tourism, food system, including national and local governments, companies and citizens.
On the other hand, the UN Food Systems Summit, set to take place on September 23, will surely lead the debate to the next level for India to formulate and begin executing a national plan to achieve the desired targets. A clear cut agenda, focused and pin-pointed and result-oriented approach is the need of the hour. Hopefully, no further targets will be required to be made, after 2030, with hunger and malnourishment as the subjects. Call for action has been given since long, it is high time now to fasten the belts and take the much-needed plunge towards achieving a hunger free and malnourishment free India and the world.
(The author is an Independent Analyst. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)