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Earth Day Initiative: Food Systems

The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a painful reminder that the world is in urgent need of more resilient food systems. For years to come, setbacks resulting from the pandemic will threaten food security and nutrition, particularly in developing countries that were already struggling with hunger and poverty.

The World Bank Group reports that 124 million people were pushed into poverty and hunger in 2020, with 163 million more at risk in 2021.

COVID-19 impacts have led to severe and widespread increases in global food insecurity, affecting vulnerable households in almost every country, with impacts expected to continue through 2021 and into 2022,” World Bank said in a news brief.

According to the report, global food prices rose by nearly 20 percent from January 2020 to January 2021, which is consistent with trends in other commodity prices.

The brief states that the primary risks to food security are at the country level – higher retail prices combined with reduced incomes means that more households are having to cut down on the quantity and quality of their food. 

World Bank conducted phone surveys in 48 countries and found that a significant number of people are running out of food or reducing their consumption. 

“Reduced calorie intake and compromised nutrition threaten gains in poverty reduction and health and could have lasting impacts on the cognitive development of young children,” said World Bank.

“Some food producers also face losses on perishable and nutritious food as consumption patterns shift towards cheaper staples. Though current food insecurity is by and large not driven by food shortages, supply disruptions and inflation affecting key agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and seeds, or prolonged labor shortages could diminish next season’s crop.” 

“If farmers are experiencing acute hunger, they may also prioritize consuming seeds as food today over planting seeds for tomorrow, raising the threat of food shortages later on.” 

Global food insecurity was already an urgent issue before the pandemic. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that the number of undernourished people increased from 624 million in 2014 to 688 million in 2019. This trend was largely driven by extreme climate events. 

To tackle rising food insecurity, the World Bank’s International Development Association is working with a diverse coalition of partners, including UN agencies, humanitarian organizations, and research institutions.

Feed the Future, an initiative launched in 2010 by the United States government and the Obama Administration, is also working to address global hunger and food insecurity.

The agency is taking action to prevent widespread hunger, malnutrition, and poverty by helping partner countries mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. To learn more about how you can join Feed the Future in helping to end hunger, check out these volunteer opportunities.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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