Urbanisation emerging risk to global agrifood systems

Urbanisation is having a significantly negative impact on the ability of the world’s population to access food with a new report warning over 122 million more people are facing hunger in the world since 2019.

The rise is due to the pandemic and repeated weather shocks and conflicts, including the war in Ukraine, according to the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report published today jointly by five United Nations specialized agencies.

If trends remain as they are, the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2030 will not be reached, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warn.

However the report added that the move to greater urbanisation was also and emerging risk to food supply.

The report examined increased urbanisation as a ‘megatrend’ affecting how and what people eat. With almost seven in ten people projected to live in cities by 2050, governments and others working to tackle hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition must seek to understand these urbanisation trends and account for them in their policymaking.

“In particular, the simple rural and urban divide concept is no longer sufficient to understand the ways in which urbanisation is shaping agrifood systems,” it added. “A more complex rural-urban continuum perspective is needed considering both the degree of connectivity that people have and types of connections that exist between urban and rural areas.

“For the first time, this evolution is documented systematically across eleven countries.”

The report illustrates that food purchases are significant not only among urban households but also across the rural-urban continuum, including those residing far from urban centres. The new findings also show how consumption of highly processed foods is also increasing in peri-urban and rural areas of some countries.

Unfortunately, spatial inequalities remain. Food insecurity affects more people living in rural areas. Moderate or severe food insecurity affected 33 percent of adults living in rural areas and 26 percent in urban areas.

Children’s malnutrition also displays urban and rural specificities: the prevalence of child stunting is higher in rural areas (35.8 percent) than in urban areas (22.4 percent). Wasting is higher in rural areas (10.5 percent) than in urban areas (7.7 percent), while overweight is slightly more prevalent in urban areas (5.4 percent) compared to rural areas (3.5 percent).

The 2023 edition of the report revealed that between 691 and 783 million people faced hunger in 2022, with a mid-range of 735 million. This represents an increase of 122 million people compared to 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

While global hunger numbers have stalled between 2021 and 2022, there are many places in the world facing deepening food crises. Progress in hunger reduction was observed in Asia and Latin America, but hunger was still on the rise in Western Asia, the Caribbean and throughout all subregions of Africa in 2022. Africa remains the worst-affected region with one in five people facing hunger on the continent, more than twice the global average.

“There are rays of hope, some regions are on track to achieve some 2030 nutrition targets. But overall, we need an intense and immediate global effort to rescue the Sustainable Development Goals. We must build resilience against the crises and shocks that drive food insecurity-from conflict to climate, said UN secretary-general António Guterres through a video message during the launch of the report at the UN Headquarters in New York.

The heads of the five UN agencies, FAO director-general QU Dongyu; IFAD president Alvaro Lario; UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell; WFP’s executive director Cindy McCain; and WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in the report’s Foreword: “No doubt, achieving the Sustainable Development Goal target of Zero Hunger by 2030 poses a daunting challenge. Indeed, it is projected that almost 600 million people will still be facing hunger in 2030. The major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition are our “new normal”, and we have no option but to redouble our efforts to transform agrifood systems and leverage them towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2) targets.”

The food security and nutrition situation remained grim in 2022. The report found that approximately 29.6 percent of the global population, equivalent to 2.4 billion people, did not have constant access to food, as measured by the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity. Among them, around 900 million individuals faced severe food insecurity.

Meanwhile, the capacity of people to access healthy diets has deteriorated across the world: more than 3.1 billion people in the world – or 42 percent – were unable to afford a healthy diet in 2021. This represents an overall increase of 134 million people compared to 2019.

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