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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

UN highligts inequalities causing hunger, urges action for change in food systems

The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE-FSN) of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) on Thursday, June 15, 2023, launched its flagship report on “Reducing inequalities for food security and nutrition”

Bernard Lehmann
Bernard Lehmann, Chairperson, High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE-FSN)

Despite significant progress in reducing global poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition over the past decades, the world continues to grapple with the alarming increase in hunger. The launch of report comes at a crucial time and highlights the urgent need to address disparities in access to nutritious food and their devastating impact on communities worldwide.

The consequences of such inequalities are far-reaching, diminishing people’s life chances, hampering productivity, perpetuating poverty, and impeding economic growth. Unequal food security and nutrition outcomes have even sparked political unrest, eventually leading to protests and food riots.

Speaking at the launch the report, which also saw the participation of QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General, several ambassadors as well as NGO representatives, experts and researchers, Bernard Lehmann, HLPE-FSN Chairperson, explained that the release of this report calls for immediate action to address the underlying drivers of food security and nutrition inequalities. It serves as a critical resource for policymakers, stakeholders, and organizations working to eradicate hunger and improve nutrition outcomes.

The report identifies eight principles for action and a set of practical recommendations. “By embracing its findings and recommendations, we can foster equitable and inclusive food systems that leave no one behind”, he stated.

One of the major findings is that more adequately disaggregated data along social, economic and geographical groupings is required to systematically quantify and track inequalities.

“Food systems are profoundly unequal at every level and strongly constrain progress on food security and nutrition,” Bhavani Shankar, the HLPE-FSN lead author and professor in Food and Health of the University of Sheffield (UK), explained during the event.

The context surrounding food system inequalities varies across countries, making it vital to consider diverse factors that contribute to these disparities.

“Size and economic status (e.g., small vs large producers) and gender are major dimensions, but other dimensions of inequality, such as indigeneity and geographical location, are also frequent constraints,” Bhavani clarified. Inequalities relating to access to food production resources, technology, information, finance, and the availability and affordability of nutritious foods are among the aspects described in the report.

Inequalities in other relevant systems which affect food security and nutrition, such as education and health systems, contribute to inequalities in food security and nutrition outcomes. As a consequence, multisectoral governance of FSN provides opportunities to reduce FSN inequality but requires careful rules of engagement to mitigate power imbalances. The report also highlights the critical importance of understanding and addressing inequalities in the context of deep-rooted drivers such as climate change and conflict.

The release of this report has been described as a wake-up call, demanding immediate action to confront the root causes of food security and nutrition inequalities.

Main areas of recommendations for States, inter-governmental organisations, the private sector and civil society include:

  • work across sectors to enable more equitable access to resources, applying rights-based approaches.
  • facilitate the organisation of disadvantaged stakeholders and build inclusive institutions and partnerships to improve representation.
  • make equity-sensitive investments in supply chains and in disadvantaged areas.
  • plan and govern food trade, retail, processing and food environments with an equity focus.
  • ensure universal access to services and resources that have a direct impact on FSN.
  • embed an equity focus into trade, investment and debt governance related to FSN.
  • leverage SDG 10, Reduce inequalities.
  • take into account the context of climate, ecological, political and economic crises in all FSN-related actions.
  • strengthen data and knowledge systems.

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