While millions of people go hungry, vast quantities of food are lost every day, either spoiled during production or transport or thrown into the waste bins of households, retailers or restaurants. Squandering food is also a waste of the precious resources used to produce it. Up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed. Food waste is filling up the world’s landfills, where it decomposes and generates methane, a greenhouse gas that is more harmful than CO2 . Collective action across 150 countries is what makes World Food Day – being observed today – one of the most celebrated days of the United Nations’ calendar.
Hundreds of events and outreach activities bring together governments, businesses, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the media, and general public. They promote worldwide awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure healthy diets for all.
World Food Day and FAO
World Food Day is celebrated on 16 October every year to commemorate FAO’s founding on that day in 1945. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. With over 194 member states, FAO works in over 130 countries worldwide.
This year’s celebrations were officially launched with a hybrid event today in Rome. The celebrations also included a special lecture by the Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum Professor Klaus Schwab, and a Dialogue on Tea and Coffee, exploring the traditions behind these beverages.
World Food Day 2021
Events marking World Food Day are being held in around 150 countries, including at the Expo Dubai. In addition, there will be a multi-platform campaign celebrating our Food Heroes, the farmers, producers and others who provide food to their communities.
World Food Day 2021 celebrations began today, with a global event where participants noted that while the challenges of global hunger, climate crisis and COVID-19 remain formidable, there is also a new momentum and energy behind efforts to transform our agri-food systems, making them more fit for purpose.
A UN Food Systems Summit last month mapped out the broad outlines of how the world needs to move forward to reshape the structures under which our food is produced, distributed and consumed. “Together, we have been rolling up our sleeves to lead the implementation and drive the transformation,” QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said in his address to the FAO-hosted World Food Day celebration. He also pointed to the contribution made by the ground-breaking World Food Forum convened earlier this month in Rome – a global movement that seeks to harnesses the energy and creativity of young people to shape a better future for our food.
The momentous challenges humanity faces were also highlighted by Pope Francis and Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella in their messages to the World Food Day event. “We are currently witnessing a real paradox in terms of access to food: on the one hand, more than three billion people do not have access to a nutritious diet, while on the other hand, almost two billion are overweight or obese due to a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle,” the pontiff said.
“We’re facing unprecedented challenges to global food security right now,” said World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley. “We’ll only succeed in ending hunger if we ensure our global food systems are fit for the twenty-first century. That’s why, at WFP, we’re working to strengthen food systems so they support healthy diets for everyone – especially the most vulnerable communities.”
What is the theme for World Food Day 2021?
The theme of this year’s World Food Day, “Our actions are our future,” calls on everyone to be a food hero contributing to the transformation of agri-food systems for Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment and a Better Life, leaving no one behind. The transformation of our agri-food systems must start with ordinary consumers and the daily choices we make about the foods we consume, where we buy them, how they are packaged, how much we throw away – all these impact our agri-food systems and the future of this planet, Qu wrote in an opinion piece marking World Food Day 2021.
Covid-19 and food
#WorldFoodDay 2021 will be marked a second time while countries around the world deal with the widespread effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined that an urgent change of route is needed. It has made it even harder for farmers – already grappling with climate variability and extremes – to sell their harvests, while rising poverty is pushing an increased number of city residents to use food banks, and millions of people require emergency food aid. We need sustainable agri-food systems that are capable of nourishing 10 billion people by 2050.
What is an agri-food system?
The agri-food system covers the journey of food (for example, cereals, vegetables, fish, fruits and livestock) from farm to table – including when it is grown, harvested, processed, packaged, transported, distributed, traded, bought, prepared, eaten and disposed of. It also encompasses non-food products (for example forestry, animal rearing, use of feedstock, biomass to produce biofuels, and fibres) that constitute livelihoods, and all the people, as well as the activities, investments and choices that play a part in getting us these food and agricultural products.
To fix our fractured agri-food systems, collective action is needed, so that everyone has enough safe and nutritious food to eat, and the entire food supply chain is more sustainable, resilient and inclusive, with decent conditions and social protection for those who work in it. For this shift to happen, everyone must play their part. That means governments changing policies, the private sector changing business models, and all of us changing our mindsets and behaviour.
What is the FAO doing?
FAO’s support for the transformation of agri-food systems is rooted in agro-ecology – focusing on sustainable natural resource management coupled with social aspects that must be addressed if the system is to be fair and inclusive. The more diverse an agricultural system, the greater its ability to adapt to climate change and other shocks. Different combinations of integrated crop-livestock-forestry-fishery systems can help farmers to produce a variety of products – food, energy, fibre, timber and non-timber forest products – in the same area, at the same time or in rotation.
The FAO Green Cities Initiative aims to improve the livelihoods and well-being of urban and peri-urban populations in at least 100 cities in the next three years.
FAO Green Cities activities include:
– promoting urban agriculture to shorten supply chains;
– encouraging healthy diets to reduce nutrition-related disease;
– reducing and managing food waste;
– boosting green spaces for healthier environments; and
– reconnecting cities with rural areas for better food system planning.
FAO initiatives around the globe
1) Reversing the degradation of land, soil and forests is at the heart of an FAO project aimed at restoring the critical role of Nepal’s degraded Churia region in the country’s food security. Work to maintain landscapes is benefiting 200 000 households and improving long-term food production prospects for many more.
2) In Angola, Honduras and Peru, FAO is partnering with governments to introduce fish into school feeding programmes. This strategy is providing a rich source of protein, vitamins and micronutrients for children, and revenue for fishers, aquaculture producers and processors.
3) In Cambodia and Ghana , FAO is teaming up with children to ensure that school food aligns with their right to a nutritious diet.
4) A public-private initiative spearheaded by FAO is targeting food waste in Turkey’s hospitality sector. Working together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and wholesale company Metro Turkey, FAO is developing guidance on how to reduce food waste for people working in hotels, bars and restaurants. The guidelines include advice on using food surplus, such as making donations and recycling leftovers and non-edible food waste to produce animal feed, compost or bio-energy. Kitchen/service staff are receiving training from chefs in preparing ‘zero waste menus’, learning how to store products safely and to repurpose residual food.
5) In Kyrgyzstan, FAO has launched the Cash+ programme, which provides agricultural inputs and assets, technical training for organic and climate-smart practices, extension services and nutrition education.
6) On the terraces of the Pasil River Valley in the Philippines’ Cordillera highlands, FAO’s Mountain Partnership Products certification and labelling scheme is helping 500 women to preserve and market their traditional Ulikan red rice variety to conserve agrobiodiversity, while providing a sustainable source of income.
7) As well as loss of life, a decade of conflict in Syria has brought financial hardship and food insecurity. An FAO initiative has set up food processing units fitted with equipment to process fresh seasonal products, together with facilities and training to enable women to launch small-scale agrifood enterprises and market their goods.
FAO in India
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has enjoyed valuable partnership with India since it began operations in 1948. It continues playing a catalytic role in India’s progress in the areas of crops, livestock, fisheries, food security, and management of natural resources.
Below are two recent success stories of the FAO in India.
Saad, a remote village in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh with 350 households largely relied on farming as their sole source of income generation. The FAO supported SAPPLPP project came as a boon to these families because they were introduced to alternative source of income through backyard poultry. Selling chicken in the local market started fetching them good money and soon many families joined in keeping backyard poultry.
FIMSUL in Tamil Nadu
In Tamil Nadu’s Pudukottai district on India’s east coastline, the rivalry between traditional fishermen and owners of mechanized trawlers is growing. The culprit is the push nets that trawlers use, scraping the bottom of the sea. Besides juvenile fish it nets a whole range of life forms found on the seabed, including seaweeds. Precious fish breeding habitat is destroyed and diminishing the catch size. The push nets that the traditional boatmen use are “mini trawls”.
Yet, across Pudukottai’s 32 fishing villages, they have decided to stop its use, thanks to FAO’s co-management process through its Fisheries Management for Sustainable Livelihoods (FIMSUL) project. By agreeing to save the marine ecosystem in the shallow Palk Bay waters, they will be safeguarding the source of their future sustenance.
What can we do as consumers?
The food we choose and the way we prepare, cook, store and dispose of it make us an active part of the way in which an agri-food system works. Everyone is a consumer, and it is time to shift old patterns so as to transform agri-food systems for the better. We can influence the market by opting for nutritious and environmentally and socially responsible products. This will pressure governments to design more sustainable policies, promote improved agricultural methods and motivate greater investment in sustainable healthy diets.
At a practical level, we can start by adding new locally grown and seasonal foods to our diets, reducing food waste, refusing to buy foods with excessive packaging, and reading up on the environmental and social impact of the foods we eat.