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UN summit takes aim at global food dysfunction amid spike in hunger, malnutrition

Billions of people are overweight, millions are hungry, one third of food is wasted and the way the world produces, processes and consumes food generates one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday at the first global summit on the future of food.

'We need to re-think how we see and value food,' secretary-general says

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the global community needs 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.' (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

Billions of people are overweight, millions are hungry, one third of food is wasted and the way the world produces, processes and consumes food generates one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday at the first global summit on the future of food.

The aim of the summit is to deliver progress on 17 sustainable development goals, created by the United Nations in 2015 as a wide-ranging "to-do" list including ending hunger and poverty, achieving gender equality and taking action on climate change.

Guterres told the summit — held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic on the sidelines of the annual high-level UN General Assembly — that food systems need to support the health and well-being of all people, protect the planet and support prosperity.

"As a global community, we need to shift our approach on agricultural subsidies, and employment support for workers," he said. "And 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."

World food prices soar

After remaining virtually unchanged for five years, world hunger and malnutrition rose last year by around 118 million people to 768 million, with most of the increase likely caused by the pandemic, according to a UN report.

On internationally traded markets, world food prices were up 33.9 per cent year-on-year in June, according to the UN food agency's price index, which measures a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar.

A worker carries a sack of wheat flour at a World Food Programme food aid distribution centre in Sanaa, Yemen, in February 2020. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

"We must grow food where the environment supports it best and where emissions efficiency is greatest, while minimizing the barriers to trade and efficient distribution," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the summit.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that Washington would spend $10 billion US to end hunger and invest in food systems at home and abroad. U.S. officials said half of that money would fund Feed the Future over the next five years, a U.S initiative that aims to reduce poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.

The World Bank Group, International Food Policy Research Institute and the Food & Land Use Coalition introduced a roadmap at the summit that aims to show how capital can be shifted from a high-carbon, unequal, extractive food system and into models that add value for people, planet and the economy.

The said the roadmap could unlock $4.5 trillion in new business opportunities every year by 2030 and ensure a more sustainable food system.

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