Basic rights and Equality

GlobalDev on Food Insecurity

5 min


Catherine Otayek

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, millions of people around the world are facing problems of access to food. GlobalDev has published a series of columns on the challenges of food insecurity and the potential technological, institutional and policy innovations that can transform food systems, promote better nutrition, and end hunger.

The 2022 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations on the state of food security and nutrition in the world states that there should be no more ‘lingering doubts that the world is moving backwards in its efforts to end hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms.’

According to an FAO-World Food Programme report, 222 million people in 53 countries/territories are expected to face acute food insecurity and be in need of urgent assistance over the period from October 2022 to January 2023. The Covid-19 pandemic coupled with the war in Ukraine have exacerbated problems of access and availability of food around the world, and the distance from reaching the “zero hunger” targets of the Sustainable Development Goals seems to be growing every year.

At the end of this week, 16 October, it is World Food Day 2022, commemorating the founding of the FAO in 1945. We are marking the occasion by looking back at articles we have published on food insecurity. Here is what we have learned.

Innovations in food systems: the key to human and planetary health

In his article ‘Innovations in food systems: the key to human and planetary health’, Shenggen Fan, former director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), talks about the role of innovation in reshaping food systems for better nutrition, health, inclusion, and sustainability.

As he explains, ‘food systems use nearly 85% of the world’s fresh water, and almost a quarter of all global land is degraded. Food systems contribute around one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions. Yet food systems have the unique potential to fix many of these problems – and they can also help to meet broader development goals, such as employment and women’s empowerment.’

Fan argues that innovations in technologies, policies, and institutions will be critical for preserving human and planetary health. He gives examples of several technological innovations that have proven their efficiency in improving food systems, but he insists on the importance of considering the impact of these technologies on smallholders, children’s nutrition, and employment. Fan also talks about policy innovations that prioritize humans, health, and the environment.

Lastly, he mentions institutional innovations that will give space for technologies and policies to have a considerable impact on food systems. He concludes his piece calling for global cooperation as key to disseminating these different types of innovations.

The role of youth in transforming food systems in Africa

Technological innovations are also the focus of Olga Mapanje and Rodney Mushongachiware’s article, ‘The role of youth in transforming food systems in Africa’. In particular, they point to the important role of tech-savvy youth in transforming food systems in Africa, as agricultural solutions increasingly lie in digitalization, automation, and artificial intelligence.

‘Despite initiatives to promote agricultural production and the engagement of youth in agriculture, agricultural production in the African continent remains low compared with the rest of the world.’ This is exacerbated by the limited adoption of modern technologies, which can be countered by greater participation of young people in food systems, as they are more inclined to adopt new technologies.

The authors call on African policy-makers to incorporate youth aspirations into future endeavors and interventions in the agricultural sector as well as to ‘address the challenges associated with access to resources, such as land and credit.’

Diversity for farm resilience and food security: evidence from Finland

In their article ‘Diversity for farm resilience and food security: evidence from Finland’. Helena Kahiluoto and Janne Kaseva talk about a different kind of innovation. They debunk a persistent myth, explaining that the paradigm of streamlined efficiency has spread the mistaken belief that diversity in farming leads to inefficiency. In a study on Finnish farms, they prove that ‘farms with greater diversity of land use – more diverse crops – are no less efficient in their resource use than farms with less diverse crops.’

The authors conclude that ‘careless specialization’ has made ‘food supply unnecessarily fragile in our era of global ecological and social instability’, calling for changes in farming practices for the sake of sustainability and resilience.

Food security in megacities: climate migration and informal food systems

In his article, ‘Food security in megacities: climate migration and informal food systems’, Mohammad Moniruzzaman makes the case for a policy innovation: he calls on governments of megacities to consider ‘informal provisioning’ as part of the solution to reduce food insecurity and to integrate informal food systems into the urban food system.

He cites the example of the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, which each year receives half a million migrants moving from coastal and rural areas. ‘As a result, the number of people living in urban slums without access to basic services and amenities has increased by 60% since 2000. The informal food systems of Dhaka have become a dense and diverse network of informal markets, mobile traders, hawkers, retailers, street vendors, suppliers, and transporters.’

These systems make food more accessible and affordable to low-income migrants: one study shows that in Dhaka, ‘every second city dweller depends on these informal markets for their food procurement.’ For Moniruzzaman, integrating informal systems is key to making ‘megacities more resilient to the combined impacts of climate change and rapid population growth.’

Lessons from a life in food policy

Finally, we cannot talk about food security on GlobalDev without mentioning Shenggen Fan’s article ‘Lessons from a life in food policy’. In this piece, which we highly recommend you read, Fan shares the lessons he has learnt after working for more than 40 years in the field of food policy (including 10 years as the director general of IFPRI).

Here are the main lessons he learned from his experience:

  • Start with the local context.
  • Improve access to well-functioning markets.
  • Work in partnership.
  • Food alone is not enough.
  • Use a food systems lens.

Food security was a big concern during the pandemic. Here are some articles that we have published:

Covid-19 and the food crisis in Bangladesh: a proposal for action, by Asad Islam and Firoz Ahmad 

Food insecurity during Covid-19, by Firoz Ahmad, Asad Islam, Debayan Pakrashi, Tabassum Rahman, and Abu Siddique

Panic could cause a global food crisis under Covid-19, by Shenggen Fan

Catherine Otayek
Blog Manager, GlobalDev