The COVID-19 pandemic, worsening climate impacts, and reverberating economic shocks have shown just how deeply interconnected countries are, and how global crises hit the world’s most vulnerable communities the hardest.
This is particularly true when it comes to the global hunger crisis, which has exploded in recent years. Globally, more than 828 million people go to bed hungry every night and the number of people facing acute food insecurity — meaning they get so little food they face severe health complications — has nearly tripled since 2019, soaring from 135 million people to 345 million people in 2022.
The urgency of this crisis informs the theme of this year’s World Food Day: “Leave NO ONE Behind.”
“In the face of global crises, global solutions are needed more than ever,” the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization said in a call to action. “By aiming for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, we can transform agrifood systems and build forward better by implementing sustainable and holistic solutions that consider development in the long term, inclusive economic growth, and greater resilience.”
The emphasis on leaving “no one” behind serves as a reminder that, year after year, billions of people are left behind by the global food system, which fails to prioritize the nutritional well-being of communities. Living up to this mandate means adequately investing in and supporting solutions that are available today.
Here are seven ways we can ensure that no one is left behind this World’s Food Day.
The World Food Programme (WFP) and partner organizations are working to stop famine from engulfing 50 million people in 45 countries, with the harshest situations occurring in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, where conflcits have devastated food systems.
Without adequate funding, WFP will struggle to reach its goals. In fact, WFP secured less than half of its operational budget of $22 billion for the year as of September.
Humanitarian organizations like WFP, with their extensive on-the-ground networks, are often the only things that stand between families in famine zones and starvation. Governments, corporations, and philanthropists have the opportunity to ensure no one is left behind by mobilizing WFP’s remaining budget so it can provide millions of people with rations, cash grants, and support they need to get through the year.
Smallholder farmers are the backbone of rural communities worldwide, providing abundant food, jobs, and community investment. Yet a tangle of global crises has driven up the costs of essential inputs like seeds, fertilizer, technologies, and even water, making it difficult for many farmers to stay in business, and forcing many to sell their land and property.
When a lack of resources prevents smallholder farmers from achieving their potential harvests, then hunger rates spike in surrounding areas and the entire global food system feels the disruption.
Leaving no one behind means that governments and other investing bodies have to subsidize agricultural production for smallholder farmers, whether by directly providing essential inputs, enabling access to grants and credit, or investing in broader system reforms that make farmers more resilient in the face of shocks.
Climate change is already undermining crop yields worldwide, and major crops like wheat and maize could decline by as much as a quarter compared to current levels by 2030 alone.
At the same time, the global food system is a major driver of climate change, responsible for an estimated 31% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
If countries want to both maintain crop yields and reduce emissions, then they must invest in climate-smart forms of agriculture that support the regeneration of ecosystems, protect forests, and restore the health of soil.
Transforming the food system requires both macro and micro change. On the micro level, people worldwide have to shift their diets to foods that support the health of the global environment and reduce foods that cause harm.
The “Planetary Health Diet” was developed by scientists to figure out how we can eat our way out of the climate and biodiversity crisis. Their main finding was that people, particularly Americans, need to eat less meat because industrial meat production is a leading cause of deforestation, water depletion, and soil erosion.
Shifting to other sources of protein like lentils and beans, in addition to increasing consumption of vegetables and fruits, would gradually allow environments to recover and become net absorbers of greenhouse gasses instead of net emitters.
An estimated 40% of food produced worldwide is wasted. In other words, we produce more than enough food to eliminate global hunger, yet pricing incentives and inefficient market practices render huge amounts of that food inaccessible to the communities that need it the most.
Ending this injustice requires better distribution methods, universal access to refrigeration technology, and fairer pricing mechanisms so that people can actually afford food. Instead of leaving an estimated 1.4 billion tons of food to rot in landfills annually, countries can make sure food serves its intended purpose: nourishing people.
Nearly half of the global population is unable to afford a nutritious diet, which means they often have to settle for highly processed and nutrient-deficient foods. It’s not good enough to eliminate hunger; undernutrition has to be eliminated as well.
Leading food researchers argue that this affordability gap can be closed by instituting higher wages for work, providing government safety nets to support food purchases, directly lowering the cost of healthy foods through subsidies, and investing in the production of healthy food.
Hungry students have a harder time paying attention, retaining information, and engaging in school, which ends up undermining their future productivity. Providing students with school meals is a simple way to help students do their best in the classroom and grow into healthy, capable adults. When structured right, school meal programs can also promote healthy eating, support local farmers, and free up family income for broader prosperity. In fact, for every $1 invested in school meals, communities see $9 in returns, according to WFP.
Globally, more than 73 million students lack reliable access to school meals. Ending this disparity will go a long way toward “leaving no one behind.”