Road to Zero Hunger in a Post-Pandemic World

Dr. Ranjan Roy

24th May, 2021 12:08:44 PM printer

Road to Zero Hunger in a Post-Pandemic World


World hunger is on the rise. Achieving a world without hunger is therefore a major part of the global development agenda. “End hunger, attain food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” (SDG 2) has been adopted by the UN. The SDG 2 aims to end hunger and under-nourishment and ensures access to enough safe and nutritious food. ‘Global Report on Food Crises’ indicates key reasons for suffering acute food insecurity are conflict (77 million), climate change (34 million) and economic crises (24 million people).

The Covid-19 pandemic doubles the number of people facing food crises unless immediate actions are taken, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimates. Hunger is one of the greatest challenges of Bangladesh; currently, about 40 million people still suffer from hunger and malnourishment whereas 11million people suffer from acute hunger, although this country has made remarkable improvements in reducing poverty.

Poverty causes hunger. People suffer from hunger and malnourishment, because they cannot afford to buy and/or manage enough foods or nutritious foods. Hunger is considered as a dimension of extreme poverty. In other words, hunger is a critical manifestation of poverty.

Under-nourishment is one of the critical factors that perpetuate poverty. In this regard, Bangladesh has made ‘some’ progress, the SDG Progress Report 2020 indicates. From 2016 to 2018, prevalence of under-nourishment among population was decreased by about 2 per cent. One third of the population experience moderate or severe food insecurity, as per FAO (2019). This country has made notable progress in reducing the percentage of stunted children below 5 years, the report points out.

In contrast, other figures are observed in poverty hotspots, since the incidence of hunger is distributed unevenly. In the northern Rangpur division, during 2010-2016, about three-fourths of the population lived in poverty, about half of the population lived in extreme poverty, and one-third of children suffer from stunting.

Obesity among children along with stunting and wasting is a rising concern. Report states some problems are “endemic” to leading an urban life which are lack of food safety and growing obesity, especially among women.

The ‘agriculture orientation index’ has gone down to 0.4 from 0.5, indicating agriculture has been receiving lesser priority in government investment compared with its contribution to the economy’s GDP. Governments almost failed to provide reasonable product prices to the farmers. Likewise, they cannot control the prices of the most common commodities, like rice, oil, sugar, fish and meat. These phenomena instigate poverty and hunger.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented health, economic and social crises that compound poverty and hunger. The WFP’s chief economist said, Covid-19 pandemic is “a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage.” Climate change with consequences like sea level rise, salinity intrusion, water logging, riverbank erosion and others is a big challenge for hunger. Land degradation, groundwater depletion, and fragile rural infrastructure have been exacerbating poverty and hunger.

To combat hunger, governments must instigate proactive measures. To do so, some rapid assessments are significant. For example, evaluating the amplification of structural gender inequalities caused by the Covid-19 pandemic; measuring the health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the farmers’ economic conditions, livelihoods, social safety nets and hunger; and determining the specific and systemic barriers the poor and marginalised groups faced during and following the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘Investing in agriculture’ to boost productivity is the main strategy of ending hunger as advocated by the FAO, World Bank and International Fund for Agricultural Development. Productivity is an essential determinant of increasing farm income and securing foods. Key areas of investments are producing stress-tolerant crop varieties (e.g., rice and wheat), agricultural mechanisation, agro-industry development, post-harvest loss minimisation, climate-smart soil and water management, and climate-smart fisheries and livestock development.

 Leverage ‘private invest’ in rural areas is vital. However, governments must increase investment in public goods such as developing rural infrastructure, building strong institution, effective local governance, health and education to enhance food security and nutrition as well as sustainable development. Implementing the plans of flagships report like Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, 8th Five Year Plan (2021-2025) and Prospective Plan (2021-2041) would be a quantum leap for achieving food security, eliminating poverty and ending hunger.

An ‘effective social safety’ net is a useful instrument to rapidly reducing hunger. Consistently, the government have adopted the Perspective Plan and 8th Five Year Plan that aim to ‘leave no one behind’ and to promote inclusive development. Moreover, government is espousing the ‘whole of society’ approach to SDGs that focus on ‘endeavour to reach the furthest behind first.’ These initiatives entail diverse means and measures (e.g., increasing public expenditure and removing social and gender exclusion) of strengthening social protection schemes.

The Covid-19 pandemic draws the rationales for gender-sensitive social protection, since women are at the “core” of the fight against Covid-19 crisis, that is, women make up almost 70% of the healthcare workforce, exposing them to a greater risk of infection, OECD shows.

Three-fourths of the poor and hungry live in rural areas. ‘Accelerating rural transformation’ is thus significant to diversify the sources of rural income and livelihood, as the 8th FYP stipulated. Firm policy measures and financial investments are essential for rural transformation through accelerated non-farm services such as expansion of ICT services, mobile financial services, rural infrastructure, rural electrification, and better communication.

A number of strategies identified to be undertaken during the 8th FYP for rural transformation. Many growth centre/markets are planned to be developed near the ‘economic zones’ to revitalise rural economy with available jobs, high growth, and standard rural livelihood. These growth centre/markets are stated to promote special localised products such as fruits and vegetables, e-commerce, food processing, and agricultural value-chain creation. These strategies are ground-breaking, indeed while aficionados cautioned that ‘the devil lies in materialisation’ and hoped the plan get translated into action on the ground.

Ensuring economic, physical and social access to food and nutrition-related services are essential to end hungry. Economic access to food can be improved through increasing income/employment opportunities and keeping commodity prices stable. Institutional innovations are crucial to improve access to food, particularly for rural ultra-poor and other marginalised groups.

More innovative project like “Strengthening Women’s Ability for Productive New Opportunities” (SWAPNO) are needed to create employment opportunities, improve human capital, and diversify livelihood. Governments should invest more in ‘public food distribution’ through Open Market Sale (OMS) and Fair Price Card (FPC). During the Covid-19 crisis, these measures evidently enhance social access to food.

Achieving sustainability in agriculture, including crop, fish and livestock farming is indispensable to attain the SDG 2. Proactive measures are required for adopting sustainable agricultural practices (green manure), conserving natural resources (land, soil, and water) and developing modern agricultural advisory services.

Specific invest are crucial for adopting and mainstreaming climate-smart agriculture (i.e., climate-smart crop production system, climate-smart livestock, climate-smart fisheries and climate-smart forestry) that serve to accomplish triple goals: productivity, adaptation and mitigation. Governments require particular attention to disseminate climate-smart water management practices and technologies, such as stress-tolerant rice varieties, alternative wetting and drying method, system of rice intensification, solar irrigation systems and drip irrigation systems.

Ending hunger significantly hinges on pro-poor growth and development. To this end, the maximum participation of the poor and marginalised group in the growth process is crucial. Governments must invest in agriculture and rural areas so that the poor earn enough to overcome hunger.

Development strategies, which are based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive approaches, are useful to leverage investment in reducing poverty and hunger. Evidence indicates policies that promote pro-poor and inclusive structural transformation are effective and efficient to minimise vulnerability, ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition while leaving no one behind.

“Hunger in a world of plenty is not just a moral outrage; it is also short-sighted from the economic point of view.” Against a backdrop of prevailing hunger and poverty, the economic and social costs of the Covid-19 pandemic are underestimated. Strong political will and visionary leadership can be a panacea for ending hungry in a post-pandemic world.

The writer is a Professor, Department of Agricultural Extension and Information System, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Dhaka.