FAO chief calls for public policy to step up in addressing malnutrition

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Graziano da Silva meeting with members of the Civil Society Mechanism.©Guilio Napolitano
Graziano da Silva meeting with members of the Civil Society Mechanism.©Guilio Napolitano
Food and Agriculture Organisation’s director-general José Graziano da Silva has called for legal and institutional frameworks to take the lead in addressing dietary gaps that characterise malnutrition.

Speaking at the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in Rome this week, da Silva told representatives, “As long as we continue to consider nutrition an individual problem of the people and not a state responsibility, we will not advance in the fight against hunger and malnutrition in the world,” ​he said.

"Changing the legal and institutional frameworks is fundamental to change the productive structure and ensure good nutrition for all."

Da Silva wanted to see the adoption of a multisectoral approach that involves not only governments, but also international organisations, civil society, the private sector and citizens in general.

"We often focus on increasing production, which will need to adapt to climate change and be more sustainable”.

“But we must also focus on changing food systems and in adapting the legal and institutional frameworks that condition them and this is where we are more behind," ​he added.

A’ superstructure’ focus

The FAO director-general, speaking at the annual forum of the Civil Society Mechanism (MSC), which brings together non-governmental actors in policy formulation at the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), urged for a focus on "the superstructure that conditions production"​ of food, including institutions, the academic sector and research.

Referring to the creation of trade agreements, da Silva highlighted that these deals should not hamper access to locally grown, fresh and nutritious food from family farming.

"With hunger and malnutrition on the rise and the multilateral system questioned by some states that try to impose their logic of 'whoever pays more gets to decide more', this is a very important moment of reflection for civil society and indigenous people,"​ he said.

Da Silva’s comments come as a series of reports highlight the rise of hunger and malnutrition across the world.

Of equal concern are commitments outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, appear to be moving further away in terms of actions to reduce the scourge of malnutrition.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018​,​​ released in September, revealed hunger levels were returning to those complied a decade ago.

The report warned that more had to be done if the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of Zero Hunger were to be achieved by 2030.

“The alarming signs of increasing food insecurity and high levels of different forms of malnutrition are a clear warning that there is considerable work to be done,” ​the report’s foreword said.

“We must make sure we ‘leave no one behind’ on the road towards achieving the SDG goals on food security and improved nutrition.”​

Another report​, which highlights private sector participation, called on businesses to be responsible and incentivised to reduce the 3 million deaths annually from malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies.

Malnutrition facts and figures

Latest FAO estimates​ identify 821 million people worldwide suffering from hunger. In 2017, some 150 million children under the age of five (22%) were stunted, while one in three women of reproductive age was anaemic.

In a video address at the global World Food Day ceremony on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the deaths of half of the world's infants due to hunger "intolerable"​ and called on everyone "to do their part towards sustainable food systems".

While those living in specific areas, such as conflict zones, droughts and extreme poverty, mainly experience hunger, obesity is thought to be more widespread with increases observed all around the world.

The increase in obesity growth is "absolutely out of control,"​ da Silva said, noting that eight out the 20 countries where the problem is growing fastest are located in Africa.

At the other extreme, the organisation notes the proportion of obese people in the world increased from 11.7% in 2012 to 13.3% in 2016, reaching 672 million adults.

FAO figures suggest around 2 billion people are overweight, including 38 million overweight children under the age of five, and 672 million of obese adults.

It also comes at a huge socio-economic cost, with obesity a known risk factor for diseases such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. Its global economic impact is about €1.7tn ($2tn) per year (2.8% of the global GDP).

The FAO identify current global food systems in increasing obesity and anaemia rates, having made processed and industrialised food - high in fat, sugar, salt and chemical additives - more available and accessible.

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