Move to end hunger and malnutrition by 2025: Reflections from my recent trip to Asia-Pacific

Ugandan farmer transports bananas (Source: IFPRI)

Ugandan farmer transports bananas (Source: IFPRI)

I recently returned from a two-week trip to Australia and Singapore where through various platforms, I interacted with donors, policy-makers, and researchers on how we can best work together to end hunger and malnutrition by 2025.

Ensuring food security and nutrition for all is a monumental task, but the costs of hunger and malnutrition are too large to ignore. At the Crawford Fund’s 2014 Annual Parliamentary Conference in Canberra, I delivered a keynote address, “Economics of hunger and malnutrition,” to illustrate the economic and ethical reasons for why we should aim to eliminate these elements of human suffering by 2025.

As a result of malnutrition, for example, it is estimated that the world loses 5 percent of GDP or US $3.5 trillion every year. Although these economic and social costs are large, the benefits of eliminating hunger and malnutrition are also substantial: for example, IFPRI research tells us that every dollar spent on reducing stunting in India yields $34 in returns.

But where do we begin? We must start with a clear understanding of the changing global food system. We cannot expect to achieve greater progress if we are stuck in old ways of thinking that are no longer sustainable. During my visit to the University of Queensland’s School of Economics, I gave a seminar, “Rethinking the global food system: A business as unusual approach.” To highlight one example, we must move away from intensifying production with a focus solely on output, towards sustainable intensification—the ability to produce more nutrition with less inputs and natural resources.

Resilience of the global food system is imperative with the growing number and intensity of shocks faced today. At a seminar at the University of Sydney, I discussed the critical role of resilient global food system for ending hunger and undernutrition by 2025 as well as highlights from IFPRI’s recent 2020 conference on building resilience for food and nutrition security. To create resilient food systems across the globe, we need to empower smallholders who have profit potential, promote climate-smart agriculture; prevent agriculture-related health hazards; support open, transparent, and fair trade; and leverage private sector partnerships.

The need for sustainability and resilience comes to the fore when confronted with increasingly scarce resources. We need a nexus approach that supports food security and nutrition while minimizing tradeoffs between food, water, and energy sectors. I discussed some actions required to adopt a nexus approach during a seminar at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy.

But how do we get ahead and accelerate food security and nutrition? As I shared to over 3,000 delegates from 100 countries at the International Horticulture Congress in Brisbane, promoting nutrition-sensitive value chains improves incomes for producers and increases access and availability of nutritious food to consumers. Horticultural value chains, in particular, should be leveraged for improved food and nutrition outcomes. Nutrient-dense crops, such as fruits and vegetables, improve diet diversity and reduce micronutrient deficiencies, and investments in R&D will improve the marketing chains for these perishable crops.

Leveraging value chains for nutrition is particularly important in Asia, where the majority of the world’s hungry live. When I spoke at the International Conference on Asian Food Security in Singapore, I discussed some strategies to reduce hunger and malnutrition in Asia, including promoting biofortification, reducing food losses, and improving food safety.

CGIAR, including IFPRI, has a key role to play in helping to achieve multiple development goals. During a seminar at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), I shared how CGIAR and IFPRI are well-positioned to contribute to the achievement of the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the elimination of hunger and malnutrition. CGIAR pioneers critical technology, policy, and institutional innovations that will help to achieve multiple SDGs.

IFPRI-led CGIAR research programs, A4NH and PIM, contribute to both CGIAR goals and SDGs by enhancing nutrition and health, and improving policies, institutions, and markets.

After seeing the commitment and energy of many stakeholders dedicated in large part to ending hunger and malnutrition, I am even more convinced that achieving global food security and nutrition by 2025 is possible, but we must work together to achieve such an ambitious goal.