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Publication | 2022

Critical, emerging and enduring issues for food security and nutrition - HPLE

This note identifies seven key issues affecting food security and nutrition:

  1. Building resilient and equitable supply chains for food security and nutrition
  2. Strengthening urban and peri-urban food systems in the context of urbanization and rural transformation

  3. Conflicts and the fragility of food systems

  4. Revitalizing climate policies for food security and nutrition

  5. Recognizing the role and rights of food system workers

  6. Building a meaningful interface for diverse knowledge systems, technologies and practices for food security and nutrition

  7. Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases and other biological hazard events challenging food security and nutrition

The HLPE-FSN Steering Committee noticed that several of the critical concerns have been persistent or recurrent issues for FSN, such as climate change, natural disasters and conflicts. To express this reality, the Steering Committee added the term “enduring” to the title of the note.

The Steering Committee also acknowledges that the critical, emerging and enduring issues outlined in this note overlap and intersect in important ways. For example, climate change, natural disasters and conflicts can undermine the goal of building more resilient and equitable food supply chains. Climate change is also a contributing factor to emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, and it exacerbates conflicts.

The intersection of the seven topics reinforces the conceptual approach that is central to the work of the HLPE-FSN and the CFS in mapping out appropriate pathways for food system transformation. This includes the centrality of a human rights-based approach to addressing all six dimensions of food security as an essential element of the “individual and collective” right to live “fulfilling and dignified” lives (Ziegler, 2008).

All six dimensions of food security, as highlighted in past HLPE-FSN work – availability, accessibility, utilization, stability, agency and sustainability – are reinforced by taking a human rights-based approach (HLPE, 2020). The 2021 United Nations (UN) Food Systems Summit further reinforced the need to understand FSN challenges within a systems framework, rather than separating food security and nutrition outcomes from food systems (UNSG, 2021a).

There are also several cross-cutting issuesand external conditions that affect all seven themes in ways that resonate with the work of the HLPE-FSN and the CFS. These considerations include conflict, climate change, environmental degradation, natural disasters, migration, inequality, gender disparity, pandemics and emerging technologies. Moreover, these pervasive concerns relate to the disparate impacts of FSN policies on vulnerable groups, such as children, racial and ethnic minorities, Indigenous Peoples, rural communities, migrants and displaced persons, small-scale farmers, herders and artisanal fishers, recognizing that women in all these communities are often the most severely affected.

Historically restricted from fully realizing the right to food, these groups often continue to have the least access to adequate and appropriate food, despite the fact that they live and work primarily in the food and agriculture sector. These disadvantaged groups have also suffered from the negative impacts of global crises such as economic volatility, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

This note was prepared in the context of an emerging global food crisis of enormous proportions, greatly magnified by the war in Ukraine, further accentuated by closely following upon the COVID-19 pandemic. These developments caused serious disruptions to food supply chains around the world, threatening the food security of millions of people. These latest crises only intensified the already worsening global FSN situation, which, since 2021, has been aggravated by the onset of inflationary pressures, leading to dramatically higher food prices. Many of the countries most seriously affected by rising hunger and malnutrition have already spent scarce resources to bolster social protection spending and access to food during the pandemic. Changing economic policies around the world, including higher interest rates to quell inflation, are exacerbating the debt problems of the world’s poorest countries, and these countries are finding it difficult to finance necessary food imports, especially given rising global food prices.

Climate change has resulted in ever more frequent and severe extreme weather events, as well as ongoing internal and international conflicts. Moreover, growing social, economic and political polarisation also deepens the current crisis, leading to an acute series of challenges.

Against this background, it is increasingly apparent that sound governance, a robust research agenda, a strong science-policy interface and appropriate financial resources are necessary to facilitate the much needed transformation of food systems in a manner that is equitable and sustainable (HLPE, 2020). Yet while there is wide agreement on the need to transform food systems and the elements required to support such transformation, there are often conflicting views on how best to achieve this goal. Questions of power asymmetry, inequality, diverging economic and political interests and geographic variability are intertwined in debates about how best to evaluate, manage and implement food systems transformation. These questions inevitably make food systems governance complex and challenging, but nevertheless require consideration, if not resolution. The UN Secretary General’s remarks at the 2021 Food Systems Summit provide us with a suggestive line of guidance: “We need to re-think how we see and value food – not simply as a commodity to be traded, but as a right that every person shares” (UNSG, 2021b). In keeping with this guidance, and pursuant to its mandate, the HLPE-FSN takes this opportunity to provide balanced assessment and advice to the CFS for meaningful dialogue and deliberation on the most promising policy pathways going forward.