This most recent report on the state of food security and nutrition in Asia and the Pacific tells a grim story. An estimated 375.8 million people in the region faced hunger in 2020, almost 54 million more than in 2019. In this region alone, more than 1.1 billion people are lacked access to adequate food in 2020, an increase of nearly 150 million. people in just one year. The high cost of healthy diets and still high levels of poverty and income inequality continue to keep healthy diets out of reach for 1.8 billion people in this region.
The pre-existing food security and nutrition situation in Asia and the Pacific in 2019, described in last year’s report, was already quite daunting. Progress has stalled in reducing the number of undernourished people and the prevalence of some nutritional indicators, such as stunting in children under five, is far too high.
The situation has worsened since then. While it is not yet possible to fully quantify the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it is clear that it has had a serious impact across the region. Even countries that initially reported a limited number of COVID-19 cases have suffered the negative effects of containment measures, combined with human health concerns, which have resulted in a major contraction in economic activity around the world. The disruption of food supply chains has only compounded the problems. The situation could have been worse without the response of governments and the impressive social protection measures they put in place during the crisis.
By rebuilding better, future agrifood systems will need to provide better production, better nutrition, a better environment and better livelihoods. Our attention must focus on the needs of small family farmers in the region, as well as the needs of other vulnerable groups such as indigenous peoples, women and youth. These are the people who produce the nutritious foods that everyone needs to eliminate malnutrition.
Most of you reading this post probably take the wide variety of foods we eat for granted. However, the authors hope you can stop and think about how miraculous it is that so many different foods are available to us. We have rice that comes from one of the millions of family farms in the countryside, cultivated through centuries of accumulated wisdom and transported over rugged roads during the rainy season; orchard fruits which require years of investment before the trees bear fruit, and are also subject to many different risks which could put a strain on the grower at any time; fish caught by fishermen braving rough seas in the early morning darkness while most of us are sleeping; meat and eggs which provide protein and micronutrients essential for healthy growth; nutritious vegetables; and spices that add variety and flavor to our favorite dishes. Really, we have to thank for all the work done by family farmers in the area. Where would we be without them?
This year, there are opportunities to start the hard work to advance food security and nutrition by transforming agrifood systems such as the United Nations Summit on Food Systems, the Nutrition for Growth Summit and the United Nations Conference. on climate change 2021, also known as COP26. We must build on the commitments made during these events to achieve the second sustainable development goal and eradicate food insecurity and malnutrition.