Commentary by Daniele Fattibene, IAI Research fellow and Coordinator of T20 Italy’s Task Force 5.
Originally published on IAI’s website.

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Food security and nutrition is intrinsically linked to several sustainability dimensions, from the fight against hunger and the transition towards sustainable farming practices (SDG 2), to health (SDG 3), education (SDG 4), achieving gender equality (SDG 5), sustainable production and consumption (SDG 12), the fight against climate change (SDG 13), and the protection of biodiversity on land (SDG 15) and under the sea (SDG 14). Even before the pandemic, most countries were not on track to achieve the targets set in the Agenda 2030.

Against this backdrop, the G20 plays a crucial role in supporting the global fight against hunger and malnutrition in its multiple forms such as undernutrition and obesity. The pandemic has revealed the weaknesses of increasingly globalized food supply chains, exposing the most vulnerable population (e.g., children, women, the elderly, internally displaced people, and informal workers in urban contexts) to several forms of insecurity. Food security and nutrition is a global challenge that requires a cross-sectoral, coordinated approach involving stakeholders at local, national, regional, and international levels. Food is the first medicine for healing our ecosystems, supporting livelihoods, and ensuring thriving and more equitable societies. Malnutrition severely weakens people’s immune systems. Iron, iodine, folate, vitamin A, and zinc deficiencies are the most widespread illnesses, with over 2 billion people affected worldwide,16 and can be further exacerbated by COVID-19. In this context, it is crucial to avoid repeating the same mistakes as during the 2008–2009 food crisis that hit several regions of the world. Studies in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Mauritania assessed that the global food price crisis increased wasting (low weight for height) by 50 per cent among poor children. Other studies found evidence of a significant rise in stunting (low height for age) among both urban and rural children.18 Globally, the burden of malnutrition is unequally distributed, with many G20 countries largely suffering from high rates of overweight and obesity (e.g., 72 per cent of Americans and 63 per cent of Australians) while many non-G20 countries are exposed to hunger and food insecurity. Moreover, G20 countries use up 75 per cent of carbon emissions that the Paris Agreement allocates to food production20 and, thus, put at risk the global climate agenda.

G20 countries have a strong responsibility to create the conditions for more equitable and sustainable food systems. The G20 economies produce up to 80 per cent of the world’s total cereal production and account for a similar share of world agricultural exports. Therefore, G20 actions, both domestically and globally, are critical for promoting sustainable growth in food and agriculture, fostering better nutrition, and building the world back better and more equitably.
Access to nutritious food (both physically and economically) is an essential factor that underpins health and well-being. A healthy diet focused on a reduced intake of animal-based proteins and richer in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains and non-tropical vegetable oil (e.g. vegetable oils from sunflower or rice bran that are less harmful than palm oil) can prevent both malnutrition and non-communicable diseases. Unhealthy food habits, however, lead to 9.1 million premature deaths from cardiovascular diseases worldwide every year, which account for as much as 50 per cent of all cardiovascular deaths. The G20 can provide collective and coordinated leadership to tackle food crises, promoting an inclusive approach and coalition with all stakeholders, private and public, and ambitious initiatives across its different sectoral tracks. A key moment in this regard will be not only the final summit scheduled at the end of October 2021, but also a series of intermediate milestones, such as the Foreign Affairs and Development Joint Ministerial Meeting that has resulted in the Matera Declaration and during which the Italian Presidency has proposed the G20 members to fully endorse the FAO-led Food Coalition. This approach could help address food security and nutrition in a horizontal and cross-cutting way and could serve as a legacy for the future Indonesian and Indian G20 Presidencies in a “3 Is” (Italy, Indonesia and India) perspective.
A series of high-profile events make 2021 a crucial year to tackle malnutrition and present a unique opportunity to drive significant political commitment, regulation, and financial flows toward a more sustainable food system. First, the UN Food Systems Summit will be a key moment to discuss about solutions towards a more sustainable food system. Second, G7 hosted by the UK is likely to include a drive for global leadership on nature protection, tropical forests and deforestation-free commodity supply chains, the ocean, and food loss and waste. In the June 2021 Communiqué, G7 countries endorsed the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Crises Compact, reaffirmed leaders’ commitment to provide $7 billion in humanitarian assistance and stressed their support towards commitment to the Broad Food Security and Nutrition Development Approach launched in 2015.24 Third, the Biodiversity Conference in China in October 2021 will see nations signing up to a new global biodiversity framework, with significant commitments on food and land use. Fourth, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change climate summit (COP26) in November 2021 will bring a major focus on sustainable agriculture and tropical forest protection. Finally, the Japanese government will host the Nutrition for Growth Summit in December 2021, a crucial opportunity for governments, donors, development partners and stakeholders to renew their financial and political commitments to tackle malnutrition.