Observing World Food Day: Toward zero hunger

On October 16, the day on which the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) marks the anniversary of its founding, the world observes World Food Day.  Last year, the UN’s World Food Programme was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize for its “efforts to combat hunger, contribute to peace in conflict areas, and for playing a leading role in stopping the use of hunger in the form of a weapon for war and conflict.”  Yet, for many countries including the Philippines, the war against hunger continues even in the absence of war or armed conflict.

In 2020, the Philippines ranked 69th among 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI).  Hunger worldwide, represented by a GHI score of 18.2, was at a moderate level, down from a 2000 GHI score of 28.2, classified as serious. The Philippines’ GHI at 19.9 was worse than the world average, although normatively, it falls within the upper limit of the moderate hunger range and just a shade below the serious hunger range from 20.0 to 34.9.

The 2020 GHI had not even factored in the severe impact of the coronavirus pandemic that triggered severe recession, created massive unemployment and exacerbated the hunger situation among the poorest and marginalized sectors in each affected country.  On the second year that the observance of World Food Day is overshadowed by the pandemic scourge, this year’s theme appears to be extremely optimistic: "Our actions are our future: Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life.”

To appreciate the global context of hunger in the Philippines, consider the following stark realities.  “About 821 million people are chronically undernourished, more than 785 million recorded in 2015. Nearly 99 percent of undernourished people live in developing nations. About 60 percent of the hungry people in world are women. Nearly 20 million infants are born each year with low birth weight, of them, 96.5 percent are in developing countries. About 50 percent of all deaths in children are under 5 years due to under-nutrition.”

A Cabinet-level Task Force on Zero Hunger has adopted a comprehensive framework that is aligned with the attainment of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.  Three priority programs are underway: first, production and distribution of iron-fortified rice through school feeding to prevent micro-nutrient deficiencies; second, implementation of forecast-based financing in calamity-prone areas to sustain quality food and nutrition in anticipation of climate change challenges; and third, organization of a Scaling Up Business Network (SBN) composed initially of 13 major private business organizations committed to invest in improving nutrition.

Tapping into its comparative advantage in logistics and supply chain management, WFP is supporting government efforts in moving food, health items, and other non-food essentials amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indeed, “our actions are our future.”  By demanding only sustainably produced nutritious food and by responsibly reducing food loss and waste, we help ensure a future where zero hunger would cease to be a formidable goal.