Committee on World Food Security

Making a difference in food security and nutrition

22 March 2022 | Remarks by CFS Chair at the Hearing on "Food Security and Nutrition as Keys to Human Development", organized by the European Parliament Committee on Development

22 Mar 2022

Originally delivered in Spanish

Excellencies, members of the Development Committee,

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me first of all thank you for inviting me to participate in this public hearing and congratulate you for choosing such a critical subject. 

This session is taking place today in a different world than the one we found in January, when I received your invitation. The war in Ukraine adds suffering to the conflicts already existing in many parts of the world. And while thousands are dying in Ukraine, the war directly affects millions around the world through our interconnected global food system.

Rising food, energy and fertilizer prices threaten the well-being of millions of people around the world and their right to food - especially the most vulnerable, poorest and most excluded people and communities.

Dear colleagues,

Let's start from the basics.

The Right to Food means that every man, woman and child has the inalienable right to be free from hunger and malnutrition, to have access to healthy, adequate and nutritious food, every day of the year, in a stable and predictable manner, according to their preferences.

Of course, despite the forcefulness and clarity of the formulation of the Right to Food, the latest data provided by the State of Food Security in the World report are eloquent. 

Not only was the state of progress on SDG 2 not sufficient even before the pandemic; as a result of the pandemic, at least 120 million more people are suffering from it; 3 billion cannot access a healthy diet; 1 in 5 children are stunted.

Let us state it with forcefulness. This is the first of the deprivations and the most influential in the multiple dimensions of human development. Both at the time it is suffered and because of its future effects. In the case of stunted children, it compromises their capabilities and opportunities for life - predictably 20% less income and 30% more likely to live in poverty.

It is clear that there is a huge mismatch between our collective ambition and our actions for its progressive realization. 

So where should we look first?

The geography of hunger and malnutrition has changed over the years and is now largely concentrated in Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia, while obesity is rising sharply in all regions.

Coping with this level of hunger and malnutrition may seem daunting, more so at a time like the present, when some of the drivers of food insecurity are amplified.

But my call today is one of encouragement.

We rely on the agents of change, the evidence and the knowledge.

We know some of the things we must do to fully realize the right to food, end rural poverty while preserving biodiversity and achieving climate neutrality. Transformations of agri-food systems at local, national, regional and global levels - which can and must be just as well as ecological - can achieve this.

First, we know that agriculture is the sector where investment is most effective in reducing poverty, according to World Bank estimates. For example, in Africa, investment in agriculture is 11 times more effective in reducing poverty than investment in any other sector.

So, what are the keys to translating investment into impact on SDGs 1 and 2? At least three. Investment must focus on:

  • the empowerment of small-scale farmers and family farming, who produce 80% of the food the world consumes;
  • decent work throughout the agri-food chain, especially in agriculture; and
  • empowerment of women.

Secondly, and as stated in the Policy Recommendations on Agroecology and other Innovative Approaches to sustainability agreed in the Committee on World Food Security, more and better production can be achieved, environmentally and socially, on every hectare and on every farm.

Combined with support for the right agents of change, and with the right practices and technologies, there are long-term solutions that improve food security and nutrition, reduce poverty and inequalities, increase resilience, reduce dependence on external inputs and supply chains.

In short, food and agriculture are also at the heart of almost all of the 17 SDGs and agri-food systems themselves are the solution as well as the problem.

But all this will not happen on its own. Achieving the right to food will require the design and intentional adoption of appropriate policies. Allow me to suggest some of them:

Promote the empowerment and in all its different dimensions of family farms, pastoralists and small-scale farmers (priority to women), SMEs and cooperatives, and especially the most vulnerable groups.

Invest in Territorial Development to mobilize the potential of territories, articulating territorial governance and strengthening the role of governments and local actors.

Link this strengthening of family farming and territories with the expansion of social protection systems - for example, school canteens or food vouchers and public procurement.

Transform value chains and markets through the scaling up of ESG standards - environmental, social and governance - in agribusinesses, in a progressive and inclusive manner for small-scale producers. The transformation of our diets is an essential driver.

Strengthen humanitarian aid and maximize its provision from local food systems.

Strengthen the global governance of agri-food systems, as promoted by the Food Systems Summit and where the CFS is situated.

Achieving these policies will require some enablers:

  • The required approach: that of "food systems", recognizing and addressing the complex and interdependent nature of food systems; coherence in our policies.
  • Support for country-led and country-driven policies that are integrated and integrative: vertically, from territories to the national level and vice versa, multisectoral and inclusive of the voice of all stakeholders. In short, a new governance, at all levels.
  • Increased financing: mobilize 33 billion dollars a year, which is what is required, according to various studies, to end hunger and transform food systems.

Excellencies, Members of this Committee,

Before concluding, allow me to pause briefly to reflect on what we have learned that must be done and what must be avoided in a situation such as the one we are currently experiencing, in what unfortunately could be a serious world food crisis.

The most important: differentiate the urgent and immediate reaction (humanitarian) from the short and medium term action (ensuring access to productive resources for the next harvests) to the long term sustainable solutions (resilient and sustainable systems). Let us keep the north and the compass we have in the SDGs.

Let us not lose focus on the fact that long-term resilience implies the transition to sustainable and inclusive food systems. Let us not bet on short-term solutions with disastrous impact, such as land grabbing elsewhere in the world, closing borders, or abandoning the path of sustainability.

Second, let us not fool ourselves. We need to increase responsible investment, public and private, as a matter of the utmost urgency. Leveragin the most of the fiscal space available is essential, but it is far from sufficient. Most countries in the world have little or no room for manoeuvre after the pandemic.

We must make use of the full arsenal available in international cooperation to act along the right lines - some of which I have outlined - including sectoral budget support or the capitalization of multilateral funds. We urgently need clear signals, and this includes more funding. The European Union can and must make a difference, as it has always done.

Third, let us mobilize all political energy on a global scale. Coordinated action by the entire UN system and the international financial institutions will be needed. The Global Food, Energy and Financial Crisis Response Group, announced by the Secretary-General Guterres last week, is the necessary framework. It will require leadership from the G7 and G20. Global coordination will be needed in the response and the CFS is prepared to serve as a platform for this.

Dear Colleagues,

The leadership of the European Union, its Member States and its institutions in the transition of the food system and in the promotion of the right to food is certainly commendable.  It is time to reinforce this leadership, keeping firmly anchored in the UN Charter, HR and its most recent materialization in the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.

As the war in Ukraine has shown, the state of the world's food systems is fragile and interconnected. We need your leadership, politically and as the world's largest donor. Redouble your commitment to global Food Security.

Count on the CFS, which was reformed in 2009 precisely to respond to crises, to be the platform where governments come together with other stakeholders to develop policy guidelines to address crises and the long-term structural causes of hunger and malnutrition, including those I have described above.

The CFS will continue to provide its inclusive, intergovernmental platform to promote coordinated policy responses on the right to food.

Thank you very much.