After decades of decline in its numbers, the amount of people subjected to hunger has been growing for the past five years, says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). On the other hand, millions of people are affected by obesity and other non-communicable diseases associated with unhealthy diets and consumption patterns. This inequality also shows the need to reduce food waste, and improve healthy and sustainable food and agricultural practices.
The second SDG aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by the year 2030. The UN has defined 8 Targets and 13 Indicators to track whether these Targets are achieved. The targets for this SDG include:
- Universal access to safe and nutritious food
- End all forms of malnutrition
- Double the productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers
- Sustainable food production and resilient agricultural practices
- Maintain the genetic diversity in food production
- Invest in rural infrastructure, agricultural research, technology and gene banks
- Prevent agricultural trade restrictions, market distortions and export subsidies
- Ensure stable food commodity markets and timely access to information
The importance of this SDG is evident as hunger and malnutrition means less productive individuals, who are more prone to disease and thus often unable to earn more and improve their livelihoods. Proper nutrition, in addition to adequate caloric intake, concerns healthy diets and availability of micronutrients. Micronutrient deficiencies can lead to long term developmental impacts in children, while unhealthy diets are a direct cause of non-communicable diseases, both in developed and developing countries.
With regard to the progress at a global level, with the exception of some countries in Central, Southern and Western Asia as well as North Africa that faced reduced domestic availability of staple foods and scenarios of currency depreciation, the number of countries and territories affected by high food prices decreased from 2014 to 2019. In addition, the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement has made progress in incorporating strategies that link nutrition to agriculture and other areas of SDGs. The Zero Hunger Challenge launched at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development aims to end hunger and eliminate the worst forms of malnutrition and has garnered support from member states and other entities. Yet, the basic obstacles of hunger and malnutrition remain global issues to this day and the UN foresees that the world is still not on track to achieve this goal by 2030.
After decades of steady decline, the number of people who suffer from hunger began to slowly rise again in 2015. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic set in, around 8.9% of the world population were estimated to be in hunger and roughly 2 billion people suffered from food insecurity. Major reasons for this global food insecurity include man-made conflicts, climate change and economic downturns. At present, the ongoing pandemic has added to this issue and exacerbated it by almost twofold with the disruption of food supply chains and economic slowdowns accompanied by income losses and price hikes. People in the world facing hunger in 2020 increased by around 161 million from 2019. Short term actions can be implemented to counter this, but the UN mentions how increasing agricultural productivity and sustainable food production are crucial to help alleviate the perils of hunger.
Sri Lanka’s Progress
In terms of the progress in the local scenario, rain-fed and irrigated agriculture contributes to 83% of domestic food availability (other than fish). The national level food availability in Sri Lanka is on the rise due to increased domestic food production. Accordingly, the proportion of the population suffering from hunger and number of under-nourished people shows a continuously decreasing trend over the years since the early 2000s. However, there has been an increase in the number of children with stunted growth since 2012 and also a steep increase in the number of overweight children in the same time period. This shows the inequalities and a decline in child nutrition, showing that despite the growth in the availability of food there is also concern over the quality and safety of food. It culminates in the currently imposed ban on inorganic chemical fertilizer which can be expected to reduce the current yield but create long term benefits with improvements in soil health.
On a broader national level, achieving food security requires a multi-dimensional approach – from social protection to safeguarding safe and nutritious food especially for children – to transforming food systems to achieve a more inclusive and sustainable world. On an individual level, a few of the contributory actions include changes in lifestyle and improving on good practices already being carried out; from supporting local farmers or markets and consuming organically home grown produce whenever possible, to supporting good nutrition, sharing food with others in need and fighting food waste. It is evident that we as individuals have a role to play in achieving this goal. In the words of the UN, “It is time to rethink how we grow, share and consume our food.”
– Rtr. Senadie De Alwis
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