Helping the poor get access to food

Finance chiefs from the world’s biggest economies ended their two-day meeting in Indonesia without full consensus, but they agreed to act on the worsening global food insecurity, which they blamed on Russia. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the Putin regime had used food “as a weapon of war,” adding that Russia’s actions have prompted “a global crisis of food insecurity as prices spiked for food, fertilizer, and fuel.”

Sustainable Development Goal 2 is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations in 2015, which aims to achieve “zero hunger.” SDG 2 seeks sustainable solutions to end hunger in all its forms by 2030. The aim is to ensure that everyone everywhere has enough quality food to lead a healthy life.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022 is the latest annual report jointly prepared by FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO to inform on progress towards ending hunger, achieving food security and improving global nutrition. FAO said: “This year’s report should dispel any lingering doubts that the world is moving backwards in its efforts to end hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms. We are now only eight years away from 2030, but the distance to reach many of the SDG 2 targets is growing wider each year.”

The report said almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020. This is 112 million more than the previous year, reflecting the inflation in consumer food prices stemming from the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report explained that food prices have increased in the past year due to bottlenecks in supply chains, soaring transport costs and other disruptions caused by the pandemic. Furthermore, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, involving two of the biggest producers in agriculture and staple cereals, is disrupting supply chains and further affecting global grain, fertilizer and energy prices, leading to shortages and fuelling even higher food price inflation.

From the Associated Press: “Long lines are back at food banks around the US as working Americans overwhelmed by inflation turn to handouts to help feed their families. With gas prices soaring along with grocery costs, many people are seeking charitable food for the first time, and more are arriving on foot. The food banks, which had started to see some relief as people returned to work after pandemic shutdowns, are struggling to meet the latest need even as federal programs provide less food to distribute, grocery store donations wane and cash gifts don’t go nearly as far.”

In Britain, there has been a 57 percent jump in the proportion of households cutting back on food or missing meals altogether in just three months, according to new data published by The Food Foundation. The report said soaring food prices are making it increasingly difficult for families to afford the food they need. There is also concern that prices of ‘budget’ ranges of staple foods may have increased at a faster rate, so the impact on low-income families may be worse. The increasing cost of living and rising food prices are likely to mean that people become more reliant on lower cost foods which tend to be calorie-dense and nutrient-poor, further increasing obesity and other diet-related diseases, according to The Food Foundation.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained the effect of the global food crisis on the poor: “Every year, 11 million people die due to unhealthy diets. Rising food prices mean this will only get worse.  WHO supports countries’ efforts to improve food systems through taxing unhealthy foods and subsidizing healthy options, protecting children from harmful marketing, and ensuring clear nutrition labels. We must work together to achieve the 2030 global nutrition targets, to fight hunger and malnutrition, and to ensure that food is a source of health for all.”

In the Philippines, it seems plausible that the deteriorating quality of people’s diets is partly due to the high prices of food. As prices for healthy food, particularly fruits and vegetables, soar beyond the reach of ordinary Filipinos, they have no choice but to buy the cheapest food in the market, like instant noodles. At the height of Covid lockdowns, we have seen the proliferation of community pantries, which symbolized unity born out of necessity. With the threat of hyperinflation in so many countries, including the Philippines, it would do well for the Marcos administration to show how it stands with poor Filipinos by setting up food banks for them, which include nutritious food products.

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