Ensuring food security, a vital step in achieving all the SDGs

by Felix Dodds and Jenkins Thomas

2015 seems such a long time ago. After such a successful year for multilateralism with world leaders adopting in September the 17 SDGs and their 169 associated targets and then in December  Paris Climate Agreement as the reference point for driving global efforts towards sustainable development.  What would 2016 bring?

Now as we start 2017 we know that the next four years, at least sustainable development and climate, will be tough and it seems we will need a defending strategy. A good question as the world seems upside down is who are our defensive team?

2015 had developed this shared political commitment to ensuring that no one would be left behind on the journey to sustainability. However, at that time, there was little thought, if any, on how the goals would be attained in an expeditious manner. Instead, what preoccupied the minds of many, which turned out controversial, was how financial resources for technology development and transfer and capacity building especially for poor countries would be mobilized.  

In a way, it was déjà vu 1992.  Agenda 21 had been negotiated leaving the funding, the capacity-building, and technology transfer until after Rio to be sorted out. As we know funding dropped after the 1992 Summit and technology transfer never happened and wasn’t resolved until the setting up of the Technology Facilitating Mechanism which had its first meeting in 2016 *24 years after the Rio Summit).

On capacity building the post-1992 landscape was much better with the leadership of UNDP and their Capacity 21 programme. This was unfortunately stopped in 2003 even though it had been deemed one of the successes of the first ten years of Agenda 21 implementation.

As governments, do start prioritizing the goals in their country strategies a real recognition that countries are at various levels of development. In other words, as they say, there is no one size that fits all. As bloggers on sustainable development, we have started 2017 with this reality in mind. At the same time, we have delved on candid reflection about which Goals could impact the world the most by having cascading effects.

In our view, addressing the Nexus between water-food-energy and climate will lie at the center of if we will succeed – these are four critical goals. But for this blog entry, we will focus on achieving food and nutritional security. Food is vital for growth, for strengthening our immune system and for the normal functioning of the body. Indeed what individuals become in terms of their professional careers, how they behave in terms of mental health and their contributions to the society depends on to a large extent on the quality and quantity of the food they consume.

For the new-born and toddlers who are basically in their formative stages, whatever they eat and drink within the first one thousand days of their lives matter a lot. Similarly, the old and the sick, and those with disabilities including of mental health to require adequate nutritional food to recuperate and for the brain to function properly.

Put differently, food is medicine and a healthy global citizen needs it both in sound quality and quantity. Therefore, in theory, and practice, if the world provides enough to feed its citizens, it will translate into less cost for treatment of associated illnesses, and the savings can be then be channeled to other productive sectors of the economy.

This blog was thought of as the world celebrated the last festive season of Christmas. As few ran amok with merry-making, it bothered us that not all children across the world, and indeed families, had enough to eat, sometimes because of their own reasons but mainly due to those beyond their control. And so, how can we ensure a food and nutritional secure world amidst dwindling fresh water and fertile soils? Or is the SDG on achieving food and nutritional security for all simply aspirational but unrealistic?

To start with, the SDG is both aspiration and realistic. But cannot be attained without addressing climate change, nor the impact of it on the availability of water. Water may be the new gold of the 21st century and the lack of it affects both developing and developed countries.

Attaining food and nutritional security FOR ALL are possible provided the world needs to also address the twin factors of politics surrounding the global food chain, which is, how it is produced, distributed and accessed, and the technologies involved. For, without doubt, the types of foods we grow, how we grow them and how we procure those we do not grow are determined by politics of trade, health, and the environment. Also as weather patterns change what we grow where will be critical as water for food, water for people, water for biodiversity, water for energy and water for industry start to need to be factored in.

In Africa, the population will grow by 2050 from 1.1 billion to 2 billion and it faces a number of problems such as getting access to financing with smallholders, especially, credit is often inaccessible or unaffordable. The issue of property rights according to FAO land tenure drives farmers out of business. The lack of infrastructure stops farmers from getting food to market.  In developed countries one of the critical issues is food waste is critical in America around 14 percent is just thrown away. Meanwhile even in America, one in eight people go to bed hungry every night. There is enough food for everyone if the SDGs and their targets are delivered.

So, the adjustments lie in international trade, health, and environmental concerns. While addressing these compromises, one should seek to answer the question, for example, why achieving food and nutritional security remains a big challenge in sub- Sahara Africa- the region which continues to record the highest number of malnourished children and those dying of famine. While the continent is blessed with large swathes of arable land although rainfall has become erratic, the world could address food security concerns in this region through increased investments. 

The recognition of the interlinkages between the different goals and targets is one of the successes of the SDG framework. But recognition is not enough. Even with the political challenges 2016 has given us we must all redouble our work to focus on playing our part, together to deliver the SDGs This cannot be done with a tweet but with a real commitment and to remember Martin Luther King’s warning to us:
“We are faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words ‘Too Late’.”


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