Food insecurity and the urgency to find concrete solutions to a complex issue

, by Claudia D’Antonio, Franca Filipik

All the versions of this article: [English] [italiano]

Food insecurity and the urgency to find concrete solutions to a complex issue
ZeroHungerMural#2, 2C2KPhotography,, CC BY 2.0 DEED. Zero Hunger Mural, Located on the back side of the Hampton Inn & Suites. Downtown Houston, TX. 10-24-21. Mural Artist: @dragon76art.

The issue of food insecurity, which until ten years ago was considered of minor concern, is now a real problem. European and world leaders talk about it, including at COP28, but specific actions are lacking.

With the start of the war in Ukraine, the fear that food insecurity could also threaten Europe is starting to spread. A Proof of this is the fact that, for some years now, this issue has started to play a major role in debates between European leaders.

However, it hasn’t always been like this. In 2011, Valentin Zahrnt, in a paper written for the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE), ridiculed the issue of food insecurity to such an extent as to consider it as much of a threat as an alien attack or an invasion of killer mummies.

Nevertheless, after little more than a decade, Zahrnt’s prophecy has been largely disproved by events such as the Covid 19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which have put global food security under immense strain. These events, more than being the root cause of food insecurity, have helped to shed light on the fragility of our food production systems. The production chains, other than not being very diverse, aren’t capable of handling shocks such as conflicts and climate change. In this sense, food insecurity is a symptom of the structural problems inherent in the global food system. Many low-income countries producing food exclusively for export, are not only unable to satisfy domestic demand, but also find themselves in an extremely precarious position by relying nearly entirely on imports of basic goods from other countries, such as Russia and Ukraine. If for the countries of the European Union the shock of the war has resulted in a steep increase in prices, for the states of the global South, it has exacerbated food insecurity. Figures provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) seem to confirm this trend, reporting that between 2019 and 2022, the number of people who found themselves in a state of ‘acute hunger’ rose by 2.6 times. Therefore, the number of people experiencing severe food insecurity stands at 345 million.

Moreover, if one considers that food insecurity is occurring in a context of geopolitical tensions, one understands why it might be a trigger for migration to the countries of the global North. As a consequence, one might expect that the countries most affected by the issue of migration, primarily those of the European Union, would play a crucial role in resolving this challenge. At the moment, one of the strategies identified within the European institutions to deal with these problems – as highlighted by Francesco Petrelli, policy advisor for food security at Oxfam Italy – has been to increase agricultural production, an approach which does not, however, contribute to resolving the problem. The question therefore arises as to what strategy should be taken to respond to this global issue.

The strategic priority represented by the development of policies that – as stated in the 2022-2031 strategic framework produced by the FAO – are able to ‘develop long-term solutions to address the structural causes of food insecurity’ is evident. It also emerged in the report that the challenge is unprecedented and cannot be solved without a joint effort. Cooperation should therefore be sought not only with countries outside Europe, but also with regional and sub-regional governments as well as non-government and civil society organisations. Only like this can we make significant progress in reaching the second objective of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda, that is, zero hunger, which is closely linked to the concept of food security.

The food issue turned out to be one of the most significant problems on the political agenda at COP28, the United Nation’s international climate conference taking place in Dubai, which attempts to arrive at diplomatic agreements to fight climate change. Here, political leaders of more than 130 countries signed the Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action, which is a step towards adapting and transforming food systems as part of wider action on climate. However, as undeniable as the importance given to food systems during the negotiations is, what is just as evident to many experts is the fact that – as highlighted by Lim Li Ching, chair of IPES food and part of the international panel of experts on sustainable food systems – “the language used in the declaration is too vague. It lacks reference to specific actions and measurable objectives.” As a matter of fact, there is no mention in the declaration either of legally binding objectives, or of a commitment to adopt sustainable practices which could help entire communities to adapt to climate change and become more resilient.

According to the experts, this was yet another missed opportunity to reflect on the problems in our food systems which cause injustice, vulnerability and climate change. COP28 gives a lot to think about in terms of the lack of ability (or willingness) to break down the barriers which impede a global transition towards resilient food production models that would ensure sovereignty and independence for the most disadvantaged communities. The outcomes of this meeting are the empty promises of a short-sighted international politics, incapable of formulating solutions to address complex issues. Once again then, the challenge of guaranteeing global food safety is put on the back burner.

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