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Opening Remarks by Dr. Babatunde Ahonsi at International Forum - 7 September 2020, Beijing

Dear colleagues from CICETE, China Grain Business Association, Beijing Municipal Grain and Reserves Bureau and National Grain and Reserves Administration,

 

Excellencies,

My fellow colleagues from the UN system,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Morning!

 

Let me begin by thanking colleagues for organizing this important discussion at China International Fair for Trade in Services.

 

It is generally acknowledged that hunger is both a violation of human dignity and an obstacle to social, political and economic progress. And this is why the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development gives such a prominent position to the goal of “zero hunger”. As the second SDG, “Zero Hunger” aims to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people, especially children, have sufficient and nutritious food all year.

 

This forum is being held at an exceptional time. UNCTAD statistics reveal that around 80% of global trade is transported by commercial shipping, which moves the world’s food, energy and raw materials, as well as manufactured goods and components. The spread of COVID-19 has severely impacted these global supply chains and challenged food security due to travel restrictions, border closures, quarantines and market and trade disruptions. I will therefore share with you a few thoughts on how the world can achieve sustainable food availability through enhanced international cooperation and innovation, including modern food supply chains.

 

It is an unfortunate reality that although there is enough food in the world to feed everyone, around the globe 1 person in 9 goes to bed hungry at night. According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2019, more than 820 million people suffer from daily hunger and this number has been slowly increasing in the past three years. And almost 2 billion people face some form of food insecurity, meaning they lack access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. Women, children and indigenous groups remain particularly vulnerable to hunger. The 2020 Global Report on Food Crises facilitated by the Global Network against Food Crises and Food Security Information Network pointed out that in 2019, an estimated 135 million people – the highest in the four years of the report’s existence – across 55 countries and territories experienced acute food-insecurity and are in need of urgent humanitarian food and nutrition assistance. They are the most vulnerable to the consequences of the COVID-19 as they have very limited or no capacity to cope with either the health or socioeconomic aspects of the shock.

 

We cannot allow this alarming reality to continue, and I hope that today’s forum will provide an opportunity to think more about what real actions we can implement together towards overcoming this inequality of access.

 

Achieving SDG 2, will involve promoting sustainable agriculture, supporting small-scale farmers and equal access to land, technology and markets. It will also require strengthened international cooperation to ensure investment in infrastructure and technology to improve agricultural productivity. Access to food is an important issue that can be helped through many factors, including the development of supply chains. But, many food supply chains only reach large, urban areas. The United Nations is committed to the guiding principle of leaving no one behind, but we cannot achieve this vision alone. Developing “last mile” supply chains is a difficult task that requires investment from a number of players, from the government – both central and local levels, the international community, and the private sector.

 

The United Nations, as the world’s foremost proponent and facilitator of multilateralism and South-South Cooperation, can play a key role in this endeavour.

 

We are increasingly engaged in partnering with China in finding new and innovative solutions to address existing and emerging development challenges, both domestically and globally. There is a growing international interest in documenting and learning from China’s development experience, including poverty reduction experience and sharing through South-South and trilateral cooperation. Food security is definitely one of our priorities in our collaboration with China and the UN remains committed to joining hands with all our counterparts, including those present here today.

 

Many United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, such as WFP, FAO, CSAM and IFAD, have expertise in food supply chains and, in particular, last mile delivery to reach those left furthest behind.  In addition, all these organizations have recognized the profound importance of South-South and Trilateral Cooperation towards achieving the goal of sustainable agriculture and zero hunger. Sharing China’s wealth of knowledge, experiences, skills, resources and technological know-how, and its own successes in overcoming food security challenges with the rest of the developing world, is just one example of the sort of collaborative efforts that should be explored further to rid the world of hunger.

 

As part of the UN-China joint response to the global pandemic, the WFP global humanitarian hub was launched in Guangzhou in April 2020, to support the global COVID-19 emergency response for the international community, including the UN, national governments and other humanitarian partners. I trust my colleagues from WFP will provide a detailed account of the hub; my point is that how the hub is being operated and managed, could be a good reference for us to further international cooperation on humanitarian aid and South-South Cooperation.

 

Last week, FAO convened the 35th session of the regional conference for Asia and the Pacific. Specifically on food supply chain, there were dedicated discussions on building sustainable and resilient food systems in the region. One topic caught my special attention. The traditional approach, characterized by many of the policies and measures implemented to pursue food security to ensure the availability of food supply so that consumers may have access to more affordable food, in combination with broad-based economic growth, have enabled many countries in the region to reduce hunger and achieve food security. However, recent evidence suggests that progress toward the ultimate goal of zero hunger has stalled, partly because the traditional approach to food security neglects developments in the wider food system and does not adequately address the crucial need to enhance agricultural productivity and food supply. I hope there could be immediate follow up on the above topics that can bring our discussions to the next level, focusing on a food systems approach, which can provide a more effective basis for action toward a sustainable food system that reduces food loss and waste, is nutrition-sensitive, equitable and resilient. This new approach requires collaboration between public and private institutions and I encourage all of you present at today’s forum to herald specific policies and measures in that direction.

 

Looking out over the participants at this forum here today, I’m not only very happy to see experts in food supply chains from the United Nations and from the Government of China, but also key representatives from leading regional private sector actors in the food industry. Governments, international organizations, and the private sector must come together and recognize that we all share equal responsibility and must pool our resources to overcome the problem of global hunger that in a large part stems from problems of distribution, waste, and mismanagement. It is only by sharing knowledge and expertise between us, that we can improve and develop our food supply chains, and realize food security.

 

Distinguished Ladies & Gentlemen,

 

As emphasized by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, “At this time of immense global challenges, from conflicts to climate shocks to economic instability”, we must “redouble our efforts to defeat hunger and malnutrition”. The right to adequate food is the right to dignity and life. It is central to the idea of the SDGs that all our goals for a better tomorrow are interconnected, and achieving one should not come at the cost of another. We count on all of you for concerted efforts to achieve food security, an important and indispensable goal for achieving sustainable development for all, making sure that no one is left behind, especially the most vulnerable.


Thank you!

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