(click to watch the video of the speech)
Director General XIE Jian,
Dr Shenghan Fan
Distinguished guests and colleagues:
My sincere thanks to the leadership of FAO, UNICEF, WFP, WHO and IFAD for this very important initiative. This echoes the vision of the UN Secretary General Mr Antonio Guterres of the UN delivering as one in support of the countries we work in.
Ladies and gentlemen, through my work and experience in South Sudan, Darfur, Somalia and some of the more fragile parts of the world, I have seen first-hand the egregious effects of severe food insecurity and malnutrition. I have also seen its unwelcome effects in more stable and middle- income countries too.
I recall the child soldiers we demobilized in South Sudan, some as young as 7, many lacked the cognitive skills as we worked with them to get them back into an education and the older ones to vocational skills. My boss, at UNICEF then, Dr Sharad Sapra, explained to me that a lot of these kids had completely missed out on the micronutrients necessary to open up their neural pathways which allows for the development of the child’s brain in their first 5 years of life.
The damage alas is permanent. Imagine transitioning to adulthood without the cognitive skills necessary to be productively employed.
There is more than enough food produced today to feed every one of us. Yet, hunger is the leading cause of death in the world today.
After decades of steady decline, the number of people who suffer from hunger began to increase again in 2015, and – since then – the situation has been worsening year after year.
The global Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the problem: it is estimated that an additional 70 to 160 million people are likely to suffer hunger as a result of the pandemic in 2020. It is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has eroded in a few years decades of progress in food security.
Current estimates show that up to 811 million people remain chronically undernourished: that is 1 in 10 persons. 1 in 3 don’t have access to food year around.
The fact is that millions of people are food insecure and malnourished in all its forms because they cannot afford a healthy diet. Among the drivers, deepening inequality, further exacerbated by the pandemic, as well as the prohibitive cost of nutritious foods – in the realms of food production, food supply chains and food environments, as well as consumer demand and the political economy of food – are a major cause for the food systems deficit, if not a crisis.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been immense and deleterious for the world, it may also be an ominous sign of events to come if we do not commit to swift and concrete actions. I have also witnessed first-hand internecine conflicts due to food insecurity, lack of pasture and access to water.
Malnutrition is taking a heavy toll across developing and developed nations. While stunting – low height for age – is slowly decreasing, more than two billion adults, adolescents and children are now obese or overweight. The consequences are severe for public health, for national wealth, and for individuals' and communities' quality of life.
These worrying trends coincide with the diminishing availability of land; increasing soil and biodiversity degradation; and more frequent and severe weather events. The impact of climate change on agriculture compounds the situation.
At the same time, a profound change of the global food and agriculture system is needed if we are to nourish the more than 800 million people who are hungry today – and the additional 2 billion people the world will have by 2050. Increasing agricultural productivity and sustainable food production, reducing food loss and waste are crucial to help alleviate the perils of hunger – as it was pointed out in the recent International Conference on Food Loss and Waste in Jinan two weeks ago, and during the UN Food System Summit last week.
The situation may not be as alarming in China as in other developing countries – yet, food security remains among the top Government priorities, particularly after the Covid-19 pandemic. Obesity is a growing problem for many Chinese adults and children, putting the public health system under pressure. And, increasingly, the country is experiencing vulnerabilities to climate change impact.
Most importantly, ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture – the Sustainable Development Goal 2 – is a global commitment that requires concerted efforts from all parties.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report – or SOFI Report – is a report issued annually by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization. It presents the latest estimates on food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition at the global and regional levels, and it examines the emerging and/or persisting challenges to achieve food and nutritional security globally.
Most importantly, it discusses possible solutions, and the required policy changes and investments, to transform our food systems, improve nutrition, and provide affordable healthy diets for all.
In fact, Chapter 4 of the SOFI Report points to the solution going forward. Given that the major drivers that negatively affect food security and nutrition through their impacts on food systems, the solution lies in the transformation of these systems, and in fact there is already momentum to do so.
Policy makers are taking note that food systems are central to the goal of eradicating hunger and malnutrition in all its forms and ensuring that everyone can afford a healthy diet.
The UN Secretary General’s important initiative and call to action through the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 will hopefully bring forward a series of concrete actions that people from all over the world can take to support a transformation of the world’s food systems. The SG reminded delegates at the Summit that nearly one-third of all food that is produced is lost or wasted and stated that changing food systems can drive the post-pandemic global recovery.
Today, we will present the SOFI Report, its findings, and discuss the implications and possible lessons for China. Food security, sustainable food production, healthy nutritional status for all the population represent important priorities in the Government agenda.
We must also end the terrible culture of food waste globally.
We must all heed the clarion call by Chinese President Xi Jinping who has on many occasions called for practicing thrift and ending food waste. He has said’ “Efforts should be made to enhance legislation and supervision, take effective measures, and establish a long-term mechanism so as to stop food waste”.
I hope the discussion will provide useful insights on how the world can get back on track towards the goal of ending hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition in all its forms – and the role that China can play in that regard.
I wish you all fruitful discussions.