Insufficient speed and scale: Why nutrition shortcomings put United Nations’ 2030 sustainability goals at risk

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has highlighted that nutrition has emerged as one of the most pressing post-COVID-19 challenges to overcome. ©Getty Images
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has highlighted that nutrition has emerged as one of the most pressing post-COVID-19 challenges to overcome. ©Getty Images

Related tags UN Fao Nutrition Sustainability

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has highlighted that nutrition has emerged as one of the most pressing post-COVID-19 challenges to overcome for member nations to hit the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The 2030 Agenda was agreed upon by all UN member nations back in 2015, where the now-widely accepted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were charted. Six years on, the FAO believes that progress is being made, but not quite fast enough, particularly when it comes to addressing nutrition issues.

“Today, progress is being made in many places, but, overall, action to meet the [SDGs] is not yet advancing at the speed or scale required,”​ said the FAO during the launch of its latest 10-year strategic framework, to be implemented from 2022 to 2031.

“The 2030 Agenda is there to guide us. But the historic consensus surrounding its adoption must be matched by political determination to deliver it [via] fundamental transformation of our agri-food systems.”

At the formal launch event of the framework, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu highlighted that nutrition and the provision of healthy diets in particular is a crucial area that the FAO will be placing strong focus on over the next decade.

“Nutrition is so important [that] FAO has recognised this as one of the four key pillars [in the new strategic framework], simply dubbed ‘Better Nutrition’,”​ said Qu.

“Together with Better Production, Better Environment and Better Life, these form the ‘Four Betters’ of FAO’s approach.

“[Amongst these], focus on nutritional improvement is crucial as it is a challenge that requires concrete and pragmatic action – [Nearly] three billion people on the planet - more than one in three - cannot access a healthy diet; one in nine face hunger and one in three is overweight or obese.”

According to a separate FAO report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) 2021​, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased the challenges of achieving nutritional improvement, not least due to the fact that food in general and healthy diets in particular are unaffordable for many.

“Food prices are significantly higher [worldwide] in recent years than 20 to 30 years ago - Indeed, food is around 30% more expensive than in the 90s, even without considering the price spikes of 2008 and 2011,”​ said the report authors.

“This occurred despite the fact that current pricing mechanisms fail to capture the whole cost of food, including social and environmental externalities [and experts predict that] if environmental costs are accounted for, food prices may [further] increase by 30% to 35% over the next few decades.

“[In addition], the current international poverty line stands at US$1.90 purchasing power parity per day, [and] the cost of a healthy diet is much higher than this, [and] the impacts of COVID-19 have just made things even more complicated as it has triggered the deepest global recession in decades with an estimated -3.5% change in global GDP growth in 2020.”

Qu added that the FAO’s latest strategic framework has taken the challenges driven by COVID-19 and the possible impacts of these over the next decade into account, stressing that increased efficiency, digitalisation and the removal of red tape will hopefully accelerate progress and recovery.

How to achieve Better Nutrition

Under the Better Nutrition pillar, the FAO has established five Programme Priority Areas (PPAs) to guide initiatives in this area.

These are: Healthy diets for all; Nutrition for the most vulnerable, Safe food for everyone, Reducing food loss and waste, and Transparent markets and trade.

“[To achieve healthy diets for all, the key is to achieve] integrated institutional, policy and legal environments that ensure and incentivise the engagement of consumers and the private sector [in decision-making],”​ FAO said.

“[Similarly], making sure that food is safe and trade is transparent will all require multi-sectoral collaborations and coordination along with clear roadmaps and policies.

“In order to accelerate progress and [realise] the Four Betters, FAO will apply four cross-cutting/cross-sectional ‘accelerators’: Technology, Innovation, Data and Complements (governance, human capital, and institutions) in all our interventions - It is critical that [these] are inclusive and gender-sensitive, and are used to spur development.”

The other three pillars will focus on PPAs such as climate change, biodiversity, gender equality, agriculture, digitalisation and more.

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