Food security will be key to two of UN's 2030 goals
China Daily

Children queue for food at a school feeding scheme during a nationwide lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Blue Downs township near Cape Town, South Africa, May 4, 2020. (Photo: Agencies)

Global economic recovery is beset with difficulties amid the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, regional conflicts and climate change-induced natural disasters, including record-high temperatures, droughts, storms and floods worldwide.

People in many countries and regions are struggling, and hunger has started creeping upward.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, hunger rose dramatically worldwide as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020. Between 720 million and 811 million people faced severe food shortages last year-an increase of 161 million over 2019.

Evidently, UN Sustainable Development Goals 1(no poverty by 2030) and 2(zero hunger by 2030) will be missed by a wide margin unless the global community acts now with concerted efforts.

The memory of a global food crisis triggered by the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 remains fresh. The number of people who struggled with hunger exceeded 1 billion, the highest in history, triggering unrest and food riots in more than 30 countries and regions.

Farmers as well as urban and rural disadvantaged groups bear the brunt of food insecurity, which also triggers social and economic problems, has adverse impacts on basic human rights such as access to education and healthcare, and even threatens peace and national security.

The UN Food Systems Summit will take place in September, and the just-concluded Pre-Summit of the UN Food Systems Summit was held in Rome. The pre-summit reaffirmed that food security is the foundation for delivering progress on all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The key solution to food insecurity worldwide is to employ a food systems approach. That is, we should take action in all parts of the food system, covering the production, processing, transportation, storage and consumption of food.

Currently, the international community is promoting five simultaneous action tracks to tackle food insecurity worldwide: ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all, shift to sustainable consumption patterns, boost nature-positive production, advance equitable livelihoods and build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress.

The world is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century, and we must seek new opportunities amid the crisis. Compared with the two previous food security summits, held in 1996 and 2002, the UN Food Systems Summit in September should draw lessons from the past, keep abreast of the times and take a problem- and result-oriented approach.

To start with, it should include deep reflection on the sudden onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing and mapping out the transformation pathways toward a sustainable model based on a food systems approach covering the whole food value chain.

Second, amid global problems such as climate change, ecological crisis, biodiversity loss and the pandemic, the September summit should promote the building of resilient food systems in which all actors-governments, businesses, academics and civil society organizations-participate through the genuine, UN-centered multilateral mechanism.

Third, the summit should hold the vision of making the utmost of modern technology, particularly biotechnology and digital technology, to promote different types of international and regional cooperation. In particular, the summit should facilitate South-South cooperation on such issues as closing the digital divide by bringing the benefits of technology and cooperation to developing nations, remote rural areas and disadvantaged groups.

The UN Food Systems Summit has presented a precious opportunity for raising global awareness of food insecurity. Governments, businesses, academic institutions, schools and civil society organizations must be fully aware of the fact that the clock is ticking for delivering on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

The window of opportunity for achieving the "no poverty" and "zero hunger" goals is closing. All of humanity must make concerted efforts to change the way we produce and consume food, and we must change our lifestyles. As long as all stakeholders do their part, change the traditional mode of thinking and vigorously promote implementation of the five action tracks with great perseverance and concrete actions, we can look forward to a new type of food system for all countries.

As an old Chinese saying goes, "Food is the paramount necessity of the people." The basic human right to adequate food involves social stability, national security, international politics and human development. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Communist Party of China has stuck to the principle of "putting the people first "and has attached great significance to issues relating to agriculture, rural areas and farmers.

China has achieved the goals of "no poverty" and "zero hunger" 10 years ahead of target, an important contribution to the UN's 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. China has fed almost 20 percent of the world's population with just 9 percent of the world's arable land and 6 percent of fresh water, becoming the cornerstone of world food security. This is a miracle in the history of human development, with lots of experience to learn from.

That said, amid the transformation of world food systems, China is faced with numerous challenges, including land resource endowment, impacts from climate change and pressure from the ecological environment.

Recently, the flooding caused by torrential rainfall in the Central China province of Henan has posed a threat to one of China's biggest agricultural regions, a province that has been dubbed the "granary of China". This has fully demonstrated the significance and complexity of building a resilient food system.

Furthermore, the Chinese people, having solved their basic needs for adequate food and clothing, are displaying a stronger desire for a better life, with more urgent need for higher living standards, more nutritious foods and greater food quality. This has created new pressure for China's agricultural transformation and high-quality growth, and for building a beautiful countryside and realizing sustainable development.

It goes without saying that China should actively participate in preparations for the UN Food Systems Summit and take active part in the discussion of the outcomes and goals of the summit.

On the one hand, China could share with the world its successful experience in ensuring "the rice bowls of the Chinese people must be held firmly in our own hands "and contribute Chinese wisdom and Chinese approaches to addressing food insecurity.

On the other hand, at the summit, China could summarize and learn from the theory and practices on building sustainable food systems, especially modernization of agriculture and smart agriculture technology.

It should also plan for follow-up actions after the summit, including how to incorporate the idea of building world food systems into the building of a community with a shared future for humanity, as well as the action plans for Belt and Road construction, in order to provide more public goods with Chinese characteristics to the world and contribute more to world food security in the new era.

The author is a visiting professor at Peking University and former deputy director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.