Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were already not on track to meet our commitments to end world hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030. Now, the pandemic has made this significantly more challenging.
After remaining virtually unchanged for five years, the prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) increased 1.5 percentage points in 2020 – reaching a level of around 9.9 percent, heightening the challenge of achieving the Zero Hunger target by 2030.
Between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020. Considering the middle of the projected range (768 million), around 118 million more people were facing hunger in 2020 than in 2019.
Compared with 2019, about 46 million more people in Africa, 57 million more in Asia, and about 14 million more in Latin America and the Caribbean were affected by hunger in 2020.
Around 660 million people may still face hunger in 2030, in part due to lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on global food security – 30 million more people than in a scenario in which the pandemic had not occurred.
While the global prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity has been slowly on the rise since 2014, the estimated increase in 2020 was equal to that of the previous five years combined. Nearly one in three people in the world (2.37 billion) did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of almost 320 million people in just one year.
Close to 12 percent of the global population was severely food insecure in 2020, representing 928 million people – 148 million more than in 2019.
At the global level, the gender gap in the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity has grown even larger in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The high cost of healthy diets coupled with persistent high levels of income inequality put healthy diets out of reach for around 3 billion people, especially the poor, in every region of the world in 2019.
Globally, malnutrition in all its forms also remains a challenge. Although it is not yet possible to fully account for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020, it is estimated that 22.0 percent (149.2 million) of children under 5 years of age were affected by stunting, 6.7 percent (45.4 million) were suffering from wasting and 5.7 percent (38.9 million) were overweight. The actual figures are expected to be higher due to the effects of the pandemic.
Africa and Asia account for more than nine out of ten of all children with stunting, more than nine out of ten children with wasting and more than seven out of ten children who are affected by overweight worldwide.
Depending on context, there are six pathways to follow towards food systems transformation: integrating humanitarian, development and peacebuilding policies in conflict-affected areas; scaling up climate resilience across food systems; strengthening resilience of the most vulnerable to economic adversity; intervening along the food supply chains to lower the cost of nutritious foods; tackling poverty and structural inequalities, ensuring interventions are pro-poor and inclusive; and strengthening food environments and changing consumer behaviour to promote dietary patterns with positive impacts on human health and the environment.
Given that most food systems are affected by more than one driver, the formulation of comprehensive portfolios of policies, investments and legislation may be elaborated along several pathways simultaneously. This will allow for maximizing their combined effects on food systems transformation, exploiting win-win solutions and mitigating undesirable trade-offs.
Coherence in the formulation and implementation of policies and investments among food, health, social protection and environmental systems is also essential to build on synergies towards more efficient and effective food systems solutions.
Systems approaches are needed to build coherent portfolios of policies, investments and legislation and enable win-win solutions while managing trade-offs, including territorial approaches, ecosystems approaches, Indigenous Peoples’ food systems approaches and interventions that systemically address protracted crisis conditions.
While 2020 was an immense challenge for the world, it may also be a warning of unwelcome events to come if more resolute actions to change course are not taken because the major drivers have their own trajectory or cyclicality and will continue to occur.
The UN Food Systems Summit 2021 will bring forward a series of concrete actions to support a transformation of the world's food systems. The six transformation pathways identified in this report are needed for greater resilience to specifically address the negative impacts of the major drivers behind the recent rise in hunger and slowing progress to reduce malnutrition in all its forms.