This 2023 edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World has provided an update on global progress towards the targets of ending both hunger (SDG Target 2.1) and all forms of malnutrition (SDG Target 2.2). Hunger at the global level did not worsen between 2021 and 2022, but there are many places in the world where hunger is on the rise – where people are still struggling to recover income losses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, or have been hit by rising prices of food, agricultural inputs and energy, or whose lives and livelihoods have been disrupted by conflicts or extreme weather events. Progress on important indicators of child nutrition is to be celebrated, and some regions are on track to achieve some of the nutrition targets by 2030. However, rising overweight among children under five years of age in many countries portends growing burdens of non-communicable diseases.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a vision of a healthier, more just and equal world – a world without poverty, hunger and malnutrition. While these goals may seem out of reach, the lack of an increase in hunger may signal the beginning of a turnaround, and any improvement in the nutrition of children bodes well for the future. Achieving food security and nutrition goals is not only good for those suffering from food insecurity and malnutrition, it is good for everyone. A healthier, more just and equal world is better for all.
Since its 2017 edition, this report has offered an in-depth thematic analysis of the underlying causes and drivers of observed food insecurity and malnutrition trends and how food security and nutrition SDG 2 targets are related to other SDG targets. The report has repeatedly highlighted that the intensification and interaction of conflict, climate extremes and economic slowdowns and downturns, combined with highly unaffordable nutritious foods and growing inequality, are pushing us off track to meet the SDG 2 targets. While policy recommendations have been offered to build resilience against these adversities, this year the report underscores the importance of also considering other important megatrends.
Urbanization has featured as the theme of this year’s report. With almost seven in ten people projected to live in cities by 2050, this megatrend is shaping agrifood systems and, as a consequence, their capacity to deliver affordable healthy diets for all and to help eradicate hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. Urbanization also has relevance for SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 2 (Good Health and Well-Being), SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production). Therefore, the findings and policy recommendations from analysing urbanization in this report can inform efforts of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as other ongoing efforts, including those in the framework of the United Nations General Assembly-endorsed New Urban Agenda and the coalitions of action established after the United Nations Food Systems Summit.
A key conclusion is that the ways in which urbanization is shaping agrifood systems can only be understood with a rural–urban continuum lens; the simple concept of a rural–urban divide is no longer useful to understand the growing links across urban, peri-urban and rural areas. This growing connectivity across the rural–urban continuum is a key aspect today to understand the functioning of value chains. Only then can the challenges and the opportunities that urbanization creates for agrifood systems be clearly mapped onto appropriate policy, technology and investment solutions, as shown in Figure 37. Implementing these solutions requires that agrifood systems governance mechanisms and institutions cross sectoral and administrative boundaries and rely on subnational and local governments. Local governments in particular are fundamental actors in leveraging multilevel and multistakeholder mechanisms that, as shown with concrete examples in this report, have proved effective in implementing essential policies and solutions for making healthy diets available and affordable for all.
FIGURE 37 Challenges and opportunities for agrifood systems arising from urbanization, mapped onto policies across the rural–urban continuum
New empirical evidence presented in this report for 11 Western, Eastern and Southern African countries also challenges traditional thinking and reveals important food consumption patterns, including dietary convergence across the rural–urban continuum. For example, it calls into question the traditional notion that Africa’s rural farmers largely produce their own food. The affordability of a healthy diet is actually found to be a critical issue for rural households in these countries because they are more – not to say the most – reliant on food purchases. The new evidence also runs counter to conventional thinking that purchase patterns between urban and rural areas differ markedly, at least for some food groups.
In these countries, the diffusion of processed foods, including highly processed foods, associated with urban areas is now seen in rural areas as well. Unfortunately, low-income households living in peri-urban and rural areas in these countries would need to more than double what they spend on food to secure a healthy diet. Moreover, food insecurity is no longer a predominantly rural problem, as levels of both severe and moderate or severe food insecurity across urban areas (large, intermediate and small cities and towns) and peri-urban areas (less than 1 hour travel to large, intermediate and small cities) were found to be similar to or even higher than those in rural areas in some of the countries analysed. The prevalence of stunting, wasting and overweight in children under five years of age can also show important variations across the rural–urban continuum.
Unfortunately, we have learned through this report that such valuable granular analysis of food consumption patterns, affordability of healthy diets, and food insecurity and malnutrition across the rural–urban continuum cannot currently be replicated for more countries and regions of the world, and that renewed efforts in food security and nutrition data collection and analysis are needed. The analysis has relied on the newly available URCA global dataset, which provides a georeferenced mapping of the spatial and functional connectivity across urban, peri-urban and rural areas, using latitudinal and longitudinal data of households from the most recent household surveys. This combination has made it possible to work with different categories of catchment areas defined across the rural–urban continuum for the said 11 African countries. Unfortunately, georeferenced nationally representative household survey data are currently only available for a handful of datasets which have latitude and longitude information that is publicly available, and all of them are for Africa. It is then in the best interest of governments of other countries and regions that such data become available for public use, or, if the data are lacking, that governments invest in data development to bridge this important gap. Only then will decision-makers of those countries and regions be able to rely on an analysis, similar to that presented in this report, to inform their policies and investments in ways that leverage urbanization to accelerate agrifood systems transformation in the quest to secure affordable healthy diets, food security and adequate nutrition for all across the rural–urban continuum.