Potato Farmer, Uttar Pradesh India. Credit: Adam Cohn via flickr CC License

Why the Global Food Crisis Needs an Emergency Meeting at UNGA78

By Wangari Kuria and Alice Macdonald

As September summitry intensifies and we barrel towards UNGA, there’s a critical global issue that’s not receiving the concerted attention it deserves: the global food crisis.

With 735 million people going hungry, a quarter of a billion people facing severe hunger and 3 billion people unable to afford a healthy diet, it should top the agenda of every world leader. But as of now, there is no major High Level Meeting scheduled specifically on the global food crisis during the opening of the United Nations General Assembly next week.

This needs to change. As the only moment when all the world’s heads of state are meant to come together, UNGA is an unprecedented opportunity to make global progress on this multi-dimensional crisis.

We’re from different areas of the world but the food crisis is one that impacts us all – albeit differently.

In the UK, food prices have soared over the last few years and food banks are experiencing higher levels of need than ever before.

In Kenya, the ordinary farmer is running on empty. They’re using all their resources to keep up with climate change and it feels futile.

We first met at the Paris Finance summit in June where some progress was made including a debt cancellation deal for Zambia. Since then, the UN Food Systems Summit stocktake in July helped unlock progress on countries’ national level plans. The Africa Food Systems Summit in Dar-es-Salaam put a spotlight on action needed on the continent. Last week, the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi saw some specific announcements on food security. There were also some positive signals from the G20 summit in India, including a commitment to building a more sustainable food system.

But whilst these are all laudable, the world needs to go further, faster with a truly holistic and joined up approach which addresses all aspects of the global food crisis. That’s why the Hungry for Action campaign recently called on world leaders to hold an emergency meeting on the global food crisis at UNGA. An unusual coalition of chefs, farmers, activists, celebrities, musicians and civil society leaders joined forces to make this call in an open letter.

This year’s agenda includes *three* High-level Meetings on global health – on pandemic preparedness, universal health coverage, and tuberculosis. So why not add one on the food crisis when 1 in 11 people are going to bed hungry every night?

This would catapult the issue to the prominence it deserves. It would bring heads of state together to discuss the solutions and commit to coordinated action.

They could start by focussing on how to fully fund the UN’s $55 billion humanitarian appeals. This year’s appeals for emergency assistance are only just over a quarter funded, lower than for the last global food crisis in 2008, and yet there are twice as many additional people going hungry as in 2008.

To help stem the impacts of climate change that are driving the food crisis, they should also double climate adaptation funding for lower income countries, while cancelling their debts and reforming the multilateral financial system to unlock vital funds.

To build resilience, they must invest in the smallholder farmers, health workers and communities on the frontlines of the food crisis, including through social protection programs.

And to fix a broken global food system, they should support more sustainable farming, diversified crops, improved nutrition, and reduced food waste.

A global plan should encompass all these measures and more, to help break the cycle of crisis and save the world billions at the same time. It would be a win-win for humanity with benefits for climate and across the Sustainable Development Goals.

There is precedent for this kind of collaboration, during the food crisis of 2008, when a High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Crisis was formed. That plan helped the world start to make rapid progress on food security and nutrition. It helped build momentum towards bold initiatives at the 2009 G8 and G20 Summits with the establishment of the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative and the Global Food Security and Agriculture Program.

But once the crisis eased, the world reverted too quickly to business as usual with many promises of investment not delivered. In the face of another food crisis, we need revitalized collaboration and that type of global plan again.

If a High-level Meeting is not an option, then leaders must ensure the food crisis is high on the agendas of key existing meetings such as the SDG Summit, and the Climate Ambition Summit.

There are other critical moments for action this year including October’s World Bank/IMF annual meetings which could see debt relief transformed into hunger relief. COP 28 in the United Arab Emirates, the International Fund for Agricultural Development replenishment conference in December, and the recently announced UK-hosted global summit on food security are further opportunities for action.

In 2024, the G7 and G20 will be hosted by Italy and Brazil respectively – we hope next year will see the food crisis back up their agendas.

Next year will also mark the fortieth anniversary of the Ethiopian famine. The world said never again. This time we must live up to that promise.

Wangari Kuria is Founder and CEO of Farmer on Fire Ltd and 2023 Global Citizen Prize winner

Alice Macdonald is Campaign Director of Hungry for Action