Pope Francis, United Nations Secretary-General and Italy’s President join other leaders in urging renewed efforts to tackle hunger and malnutrition
World Food Day 2022 celebrations were held in Rome today under the rallying cry “leave no one behind,” amid a deteriorating global food security crisis and all-time high numbers of people at risk of experiencing serious levels of hunger in Asia and Africa.
The annual event commemorates the founding in 1945 of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). A global ceremony at FAO’s headquarters in Rome featured messages from, among others, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Pope Francis and Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
Hundreds of related initiatives were also being held in about 150 countries around the world, with a call to action in more than 50 languages featuring on digital billboards and through creative branding initiatives, including at Kigali International Airport, Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue, the Niagara Falls and London’s Piccadilly Circus.
This year’s edition takes place at a time when global food security is facing threats from multiple directions, with soaring food, energy and fertilizer prices adding to traditional drivers such as the climate crisis and long-standing conflicts. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have knock-on effect, highlighting how interconnected our economies and lives are.
“In the face of a looming global food crisis, we need to harness the power of solidarity and collective momentum to build a better future where everyone has regular access to enough nutritious food,” FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said in his address to the ceremony in Rome.
On top of the 970 000 people at risk of famine in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, the number of people facing hunger worldwide is on the rise (as much as 828 million in 2021, according to FAO’s latest The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report) and 3.1 billion people still cannot afford a healthy diet.
As is so often the case, it is the most vulnerable who are hit the hardest: Women, youth, Indigenous Peoples and rural farmers. They are often the ones who struggle the most to gain access to training, finance, innovation and technologies.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres noted that World Food Day 2022 was taking place “at a challenging moment for global food security” and urged stakeholders to act together in order to move “from despair to hope and action.”
Pope Francis, in a message read on his behalf, urged the audience not to lose sight of the fact that people “are not just numbers, data or an endless stream of statistics.”
Italian President Sergio Mattarella said that without equitable access to food, millions of people on our planet, especially those living in the poorest countries, may not be granted a healthy life, quality education, and the opportunity for social and economic growth.
“This year, more than ever, World Food Day should be a call to ramp up action to help small-scale farmers in rural areas, who supply food to their communities and countries – through crisis after crisis – despite inequality, vulnerability, and poverty,” said Alvaro Lario, President of the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
“My gravest concern is what’s coming next: a food availability crisis as the fallout from conflict and climate change threatens to sabotage global food production in the months ahead. The world must open its eyes to this unprecedented global food crisis and act now to stop it spinning out of control,” said World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley.
World Food Day events
Afternoon events in Rome included the inauguration of an exhibit with photos from space highlighting the effects of the climate crisis, taken by European Space Agency astronaut and FAO Goodwill Ambassador Thomas Pesquet.
World Food Day is also an occasion to celebrate people whose actions are making a difference, such as FAO’s Food Heroes and the recipients of the FAO Awards, which showcase successful initiatives that support the realization of FAO’s mandate and the goals set out in its Strategic Framework 2022-31. The first-ever such award was handed to the Kirisia Community Forest Association (CFA) in Kenya, for their successful restoration of the Kirisia forest.
In addition, a Junior World Food Day event was held with a host of food heroes including Pesquet, renowned Chef Joan Roca and Lebanese media professional and FAO Regional Goodwill Ambassador for the Near East and North Africa, Darine El Khatib.
FAO-led or co-organized events designed to raise awareness about the global fight against hunger will continue to take centre stage in the coming week, with the second edition of the World Food Forum, which comprises the WFF Global Youth Forum, the FAO Science and Innovation Forum and the FAO Hand-in-Hand Investment Forum. The aim is to foster dialogue and debate among relevant stakeholders, including young people, farmers, small-scale producers, Indigenous Peoples, policymakers, agri-investors and scientists, who will be tuning in from the four corners of the world with one common goal: to move the needle of food security to achieve a better food future for all, leaving no one behind.
Call for action
Leaving no one behind means working on many fronts at the same time.
For FAO, it includes our Hand in Hand initiative, which is designed to accelerate agrifood systems’ transformations by eradicating poverty (SDG1), ending hunger and malnutrition (SDG2), reducing inequalities (SDG10), promoting decent rural employment and services, fostering gender equality, ensuring social protection, ending child labour, supporting local food production for vulnerable populations in food crisis countries, and supporting rural and Indigenous Peoples, who are the custodians of much of the earth’s biodiversity.
More should be done to assist small-scale farms, which produce more than a third of the world’s food but represent 80 percent of the world’s producers. They are one of the foundations of the world’s agrifood systems, yet they are too often trapped in cycles of poverty and food insecurity and excluded from opportunities in systems dominated by large producers and retailers.
This requires transforming current agrifood systems to provide equal opportunities for all producers and helping smallholders gain access to new markets. Investments in training, incentives, science, data and innovation can go a long way in placing smallholders at the centre of this transformation and become active and equal agents of sustainable development.
Finally, governments must integrate a pledge to leave no one behind into their strategies, plans and budgets for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.