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A key United Nations Sustainable Development Goal is to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. But as we celebrate World Food Day this year, how close are we to achieving this goal? Are we working towards eliminating food insecurity while leaving no one behind?

While we all feel the effects of COVID-19, climate change and other global challenges, the vulnerable in society, especially those already experiencing food insecurity, often feel the greatest impact. 

In 2021, 193 million people in 53 countries were in crisis or worse in terms of food insecurity according to the World Food Programme (WFP). The same also found that almost 26 million children in 23 of the 35 major countries with food crises were malnourished. Of these, 5 million were at risk of death. 

Another study found that in 2020, close to 12% (928 million people) of the global population was severely food insecure, with food insecurity being 10% higher among women than men. Additionally, in 2019, healthy diets were out of reach for around 3 billion people.  

The research also found that the total number of undernourished people was 768 million in 2020, with more than a third (282 million) being from Africa and more than half (418 million) from Asia.  

Ukraine and the Russian Federation are large exporters of wheat and other food commodities like vegetable oils and maize. The Russian Federation is also a global fertilizer exporter and a huge producer of hydrocarbons. However, the ongoing war between the two countries has caused disruptions to energy and global food markets thus elevating fuel and agricultural product prices.  

According to a joint statement by the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund and others, every percentage point increase in global food prices pushes 10 million people into poverty around the world. The WFP estimates that the number of food insecure people could rise to 47 million in 2022 due to the disruption to food supplies caused by the war. FAO also estimates that the number of undernourished people could rise to 13 million in 2022/23 if the conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine continues. 

Ensuring No One is Left Behind in the Fight Against Hunger and Malnutrition 

To attain sustainable food security, we need to work not only on eradicating hunger and poverty but also achieving other related sustainable development goals. These include sustainable land use, mitigating climate change, and responsible production and consumption. 

Most importantly, we need to transform our food systems. This includes fundamentally changing and enhancing the infrastructure, markets, regulations, resources, and institutions that shape food systems. They must be made equitable to ensure they sustain the lives of everyone who derives a livelihood from them and consumers who buy the food. Doing so would ensure that those producing food, whether large or small-scale farmers, get rewarded for their work and do not become vulnerable to hunger.  

We also need to reduce climate-related risks and help farmers adopt climate-smart production techniques. This includes rehabilitating and conserving natural environments to strengthen food system resilience. In areas prone to conflicts, we must provide humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable and ensure continued access to nutritious food. 

IIRR’s Commitment to Tackling Challenges in Our Food Systems 

At the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, we work in collaboration with our partners to build on the unique strengths and assets of those in rural areas. We learn what works for them, then help to implement field programs that empower and help alleviate poverty. 

We are committed to helping rural people tackle challenges that affect their food systems through our two crucial programs: 

Food Security and Nutrition: addressing malnutrition through nutrition-sensitive programs while emphasizing dietary diversity. 

Agriculture: promoting sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices while emphasizing agroforestry techniques. We use the program to encourage sustainable production of the food value chain. 

Malnutrition is a major problem affecting children in the Philippines. 2.3 million of the 13.5 million children attending public elementary schools are severely overweight, underweight, or obese. Additionally, 1 in 3 children aged under 5 suffer stunted growth and a rate of acute malnutrition that exceeds WHO’s target of 5% for all household wealth levels. 

Our project on Integrated School Nutrition Model in the Philippines aims to reduce these levels of malnutrition. IIRR worked in partnership with the Philippine government to develop the model which links nutrition education, school gardening, and supplementary feeding to deliver nutrition interventions to children in elementary schools. We not only establish bio-intensive gardens and help the development of agro-biodiversity, but we also ensure underfed children get access to indigenous vegetables and iron-fortified rice from their school gardens. 

With an estimated 5.5 million Zimbabweans facing food insecurity in 2019, the UN declared the country on the brink of starvation – a situation made worse by the drought of 2018-2019. And as climate changes accelerate, natural disasters such as drought will continue to impact rural communities that depend on agriculture.  

In our project, Bio-Intensive Gardening in Zimbabwe, IIRR partnered with Women in Communities to help farmers adopt a Regenerative Agricultural Approach to farming. Thanks to the project, farmers intensified their production and grew enough vegetables to feed their families and sell in local markets. It helped them combat food insecurity and address hunger in the community. 

IIRR is also committed to helping rural people implement climate-forward initiatives that help them improve their food security and increase incomes. Our environment programs focus on: 

Climate Change and Adaptation: implementing climate-smart villages designed to encourage the implementation of sustainable waterscapes and landscapes management. 

Disaster Risk Reduction: managing projects that promote sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices while emphasizing agroforestry techniques.  

The Climate Smart Village project in Myanmar has seen farmers build resilient farming systems, foster the economic empowerment of women, and improve food security in many households. We have partnered with the farmers to restore agrobiodiversity and regenerate agricultural land. After our combined research, farmers started planting drought-resistant crops and protein-rich legumes that could perform better on their farms while providing needed nutrition. Women and landless individuals established an economic safety net from the introduction of small livestock rearing. This gave them an alternative income source in case of crop market fluctuations.  

But we didn’t stop there in terms of economic empowerment. 

We also introduced agroforestry, encouraging farmers to plant drought-tolerant mango trees alongside seasonal crops. This agroforestry system helped to diversify income streams, improve cropland microclimate, and enhance soil health.  

Our Mission Net Zero (MNZ) initiative aims to ensure rural communities improve their food security, boost income levels, and create a better environment for future generations. All of our work is aimed at ensuring that those in rural communities are not left behind in the quest to end world hunger, improve nutrition, and eliminate food insecurity.  

On this World Food Day, we ask you to join us in helping rural communities attain sustainable food security and eradicate hunger and poverty.  

What are your thoughts on World Food Day? Do you think there’s more that needs doing in terms of ensuring everyone attains food security and nutrition? 

The International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, also known as IIRR, is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower rural people to build resilient communities and attain socioeconomic equity through creative and community-led action.   

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