By Sara Joy
As the clock is ticking towards 2030, the designated year for meeting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), urgent action by stakeholders across the globe has become necessary to recalibrate efforts to accelerate the progress being made in various areas, to ensure no one is left behind. The lingering effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, reinvigorated by the geopolitical tensions, continued to impede the progress towards the achievement of SDGs.
A pragmatic approach to mobilize financing, enhance national implementation of support programmes, and strengthen national and international institutions become the need of the hour. Of all the SDGS, SDG 1 of no poverty and SDG 2 of zero hunger are the most basic of all, having interlinkages to all other SDGs. The unequal pattern of economic recovery among countries, along with severe balance of payment crises in several low-income countries have aggravated the problem of food security in recent times.
It is estimated that around 768 million people in the world faced hunger in 2021, i.e., 42 million more than in 2020 and 150 million more people since 2019, before the pandemic, with more than half of the world’s undernourished in Asia (425 million) and more than one-third in Africa (278 million). One in five people in Africa (20.2% of the population) was facing hunger in 2021, compared to 9.1% in Asia, 8.6% in Latin America and the Caribbean, 5.8% in Oceania, and less than 2.5% in Northern America and Europe.
Mapping the World Hunger in 2021
Additionally, the burgeoning inflationary pressures across countries have pushed up the average cost of a healthy diet for all regions and at the global level. The FAO has estimated that the average cost of a healthy diet globally in 2020 was USD 3.54 per person per day; 3.3% and 6.7% more than in 2019 and 2017, respectively. Accordingly, around 3.1 billion people were not able to afford a healthy diet in 2020, an increase of 112 million more people than in 2019. This was mainly driven by Asia, where 78 million more people were unable to afford a healthy diet in 2020, followed by Africa (25 million more people).
Around 63% of the world’s poorest people work in agriculture, the overwhelming majority on small farms, which produce 50% of all food calories on 30% of the world’s agricultural land. Worldwide, 500 million small-holder farms produce about 80% of the food consumed in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa and provide livelihoods for more than 2 billion people.
Climate change has exacerbated the already extreme vulnerability of agriculture and as per Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it would lead to an expected decline in crop yield by 10-25% by 2050. The pandemic and the ongoing geopolitical tensions have further exposed the weakness in global food systems, as showcased by the agri-supply chain disruptions. Therefore, achieving SDGs and food security remain paramount for the global economies, especially the low income and lower-middle income economies.
India’s Role in Ensuring Global Food Security
In this critical juncture, where global economies are passing through a polycrisis situation, with rising food security concerns amidst spiralling energy and commodity prices, which could plunge millions more into poverty and hunger, leading global economies including India have a substantial role to play.
India, ever conscious of its role in advancing global food security, following its guiding principle of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, is supporting several developing economies in their times of need. India’s commitment to global food security is evident from India’s humanitarian support in terms of food aid to several countries in recent times and working together with like minded countries in international organisations.
India has been trying for a permanent solution on public stockholdings of food grains in the WTO 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) by seeking to allow exports of food grains from public stocks on a government-to-government basis for humanitarian purposes. India’s role in declaring 2023 as the International Year of Millets by the United Nations General Assembly is expected to create international recognition for these nutrient-rich crops and their suitability for cultivation under tough climatic conditions.
On the domestic front, India has made tremendous progress over the years towards achieving the SDGs as measured by important indicators of economic growth, poverty reduction, significant food production, adoption of technologies, including climate smart approach and self-sufficiency in food grains. Over the last 75 years, India has gone from food aid dependency to becoming a consistent net exporter of food, while simultaneously having the world’s largest Public Distribution System, providing subsidized food to millions.
Foodgrains production in the country at 314.5 million tonnes in 2021-22, touched record levels for the sixth consecutive year. While India’s globally appreciated mid-day meal programme tackles the undernourishment in school children, its flagship Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana ensures food security to around 800 million people during the pandemic. India has also diversified into high value commodities, and become the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses, horticulture, and livestock as well as the top exporter of shrimp and spices globally.
India has also a long and varied experience in understanding financing needs of the agricultural sector and has a proven track record of providing a range of financing products suitable for different sections of population. The success story of India in strengthening farm produce value chain and mobilizing private capital in the agricultural sector may be replicated across other developing countries. India could lead the way in ensuring collective and concerted efforts by all stakeholders concerned in alleviating food security challenges, both in terms of affordability and access to food grains. This would go a long way towards putting on track the SDG 2030 targets.
(Sara Joy is an economist with India Exim Bank. Views expressed are author’s own.)