It is difficult to envisage a report with more critical implications. By focusing on diets and nutrition across the world, and the food systems that deliver them, it has profound implications for countless millions who endure inadequate diets, and for the world’s environmental systems on which every person and every nation depends.
Today, roughly three billion people are unable to afford even the cheapest, locally available, healthy diets. This represents a crisis, not just in terms of health, but also the mental and physical development of children, and the prosperity of families and growth of countries. Worse, it can lead people into lifetime, and even intergenerational, inequality.
This report shows that the underlying problems run deep. Our food systems are failing to produce the foods essential for healthy diets in sufficient quantity and at affordable prices. They are also driving degradation of the natural environment – soil, water and air quality, biodiversity loss and climate change – and dangerously undermining our future well-being.
Since this report was commissioned in 2018, COVID-19 has highlighted just how fragile and precarious the world’s food systems have become. The situation is unsustainable.
All of these interlinked crises can be traced back to failures of policy. Put simply, the policies that fed the world in the twentieth century are no longer fit for purpose. Therefore, a key aim of this report has been to set out how to turn the situation around – to promote and protect human and planetary health, and jobs and prosperity.
Using the latest science and evidence, the Global Panel sets out clear steps which need to be taken – by governments, the private sector, development partners, civil society, and citizens.
But, while this report is about action, it will fail at the first hurdle without the political will and courage to reform outdated policies and a sustained commitment to act. The Global Panel therefore urges world leaders to capitalise on forthcoming events in 2021 – the United Nations (UN) Food Systems Summit, the Nutrition for Growth Summit, and the 26th UN Climate Change Conference COP.
It is essential that these meetings are harnessed to catalyse change. The Global Panel hopes that this report will help contribute to a strong foundation for preparing the critical decisions which need to be agreed at those and subsequent events.
Today, there are 690 million chronically undernourished people around the world.
Nearly 3 billion people are unable to afford a healthy diet and poor-quality diets are linked to 11 million deaths per year. Despite increased interest in nutrition in recent years, progress to reduce malnutrition and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal targets is still too slow.
Undernutrition remains concerningly high in the poorest regions of the world, and overweight and obesity are on the rise in almost all countries worldwide. All indications are that the wider impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are exacerbating undernutrition.
People who face malnutrition in its various forms are also more likely to be severely affected by COVID-19. We have seen people losing their jobs and incomes, and shifting the quality of what they eat. We continue to see disruptions in the production, supply and sale of nutritious foods, highlighting the inherent weaknesses in global food systems and the need to build these back stronger and more resilient.
Food systems are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions (25%-30% of total) and at the same time, the impacts of climate change will affect the way food is produced and the quality of our diets. A shift towards more sustainable, healthy diets could, for example, reduce GHG emissions by 41 – 74%, while boosting health, productivity, growth and resilience to climate shocks – reducing the number of climate induced diseases and deaths.
The UK remains committed to addressing poor nutrition as part of our ambition to end the preventable deaths of newborns, children and mothers by 2030. We know that healthy and well-nourished people are more resilient to shocks and also more likely to grow into productive members of society. Poor quality diets are a key driver behind all forms of malnutrition and the biggest contributor to the global disease burden.
We welcome the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition’s new Foresight Report. It sets out how food systems can be transformed to provide healthy diets for all, while mitigating climate change, boosting biodiversity and delivering new jobs in low- and middle-income countries. We need to build back better post COVID-19 and ensure food systems are delivering triple wins for people, the planet, and prosperity.