Several trade-offs impede Zero Hunger goal. A UN report explains why, and how

Achieving SDG2 will require new investments, smoothly functioning trade and changes in consumption patterns, flags UN

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 04 August 2021

The United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2 of achieving ‘Zero Hunger’— ending hunger and ensuring access to nutritious and sufficient food for all — has been hit in the wake of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The zero hunger goal works in tandem with many others: Poverty elimination (SDG1); good health and well-being (SDG3); and the need for clean drinking water (SDG6).

The challenges are aplenty. The success of achieving SDG2 will require new investments, smoothly functioning trade and effective markets, as well as changes in consumption patterns, the United Nations flagged in one of its recent reports ahead of the Food Systems Summit in September 2021.

Relation with other SDGs

The relation between SDG 2 and SDG 1 (poverty elimination) is highly synergetic. Food security does not only rely on food availability, but also on food access, the report said.

It said if food security and poverty can be seen as part of the same battle, reduction of poverty should not only be sought through lower food prices but also through higher income.

It noted that in short term, food price rises could be seen as detrimental for the poor; sustained food prices could be the best way to reduce rural poverty and improve food security in the long term.

Nutrition is key to good health, so the relation between SDG 2 and SDG 3 (good health and well-being) is also synergetic, the report observed.

Environmental health through a more sustainable agriculture also establishes a link between SDG2 and SDG 3. Agricultural activities substantially contribute to global pollution: Biomass burning cause air pollution and land clearing contribute to fuel combustion emissions.

Agriculture ammonia emissions also impact human health. They are behind several hundred thousand premature deaths per year globally, the report said.

Similarly, education (SDG4), gender equality (SDG5), decent work and economic growth (SDG8), reduction of inequality (SDG10), sustainable cities and communities (SDG11), peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG16), and partnership for the goals (SDG17) also influence consumption patterns and healthy diet choice.

Gender inequality makes several women food insecure: Female workers are a substantial share of the agricultural workforce, but face difficulties in accessing land, livestock, education, extension and financial services.

Decent work and economic growth (SDG8) and reduction of inequality (SDG10) can also support better nutrition by going beyond SDG1 and bringing economic resources.

Challenges to nature-based solutions

One of the most widely studied adverse environmental impacts of the food system is its contribution to climate change. The food system contributes 34 per cent of the anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, the report said.

Overconsumption of water resources is another critical challenge faced by agriculture. Irrigation represents about 70 per cent of global water withdrawals, and this demand is expected to continue to increase in the coming decades.

Excess use of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) is harmful fir terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Excess of N causes acidification of soils and freshwater; Nitrous oxide (N2O) causes climate-warming emissions and stratospheric ozone depletion.

Therefore, global food systems need changes. These include:

  • Investment, research, and innovation for sustainable agriculture
  • Reducing food waste and losses
  • Changing our consumption patterns to leverage considerable benefits on SDG outcomes by relieving pressure on natural resources and fostering the health benefits

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