Healthy People Depend on Healthy Food Systems
Fully-functioning food systems are essential if we are to achieve zero hunger in our lifetimes. We depend on strong food systems to lead healthy and active lives. Every food system is dynamic, relying upon traditional as well as modern agriculture techniques. Healthy food systems encompass a wide range of activities from production to processing.
As we gather here today to commemorate another World Food Day, we must recognize that we are well nourished because we have the luxury of depending upon functioning food systems that provide most of us with nutritious, diverse foods that fully meet our dietary needs. Yet we must also recognize that through today’s food systems, one in eight people fail to access the necessary food and nutrition required to lead a healthy and productive life. There is some good news, however, as recent progress in reducing the number of undernourished people irrefutably proves that we can achieve the goal of Zero Hunger. Establishing effective and fair food-systems that enable everyone to access healthy diets is vital to accelerating action and progress on Zero Hunger.
Collective action to strengthen and reform food systems must fully recognize the critical role of women. Many food systems throughout the world, in both rural and urban areas, structurally impede or ignore the participation of women. This cannot continue because if we leave women out, we will not achieve our objectives. Women play almost every role in our food systems—as producers in small farms, as rural care-givers, and as food sellers—yet we know that women are those who are most denied access to resources, expertise and education. Empowering women is a must, if we are to build sustainable, healthy food systems and seriously tackle the problems of food insecurity and undernutrition. It is the just and right thing to do.
The UN Secretary-General’s Zero Hunger Challenge provides us with an overarching vision for eliminating hunger beyond 2015. Sustainable, healthy food systems are at the center of this vision. Systems that provide access to diverse foods and nutritious foods will ensure that no child is stunted, that no person goes undernourished and that food is 100 percent available and accessible. Through this vision, we can embrace the possibilities and build people’s capacities.
When food systems fail, food assistance protects the most vulnerable and save lives. Last year, WFP reached almost 100 million of the most vulnerable people in over 80 countries whose lives had been impacted due crisis, shocks and the failure of local food systems. The majority of the people who we serve live in fragile, resource-scarce and degraded environments. Most also endure seasonal hunger, year-on-year. And many more, have special nutritional needs
More than ever, we respond with specially-tailored programs that address immediate needs while building sustainable and durable household and community food security, helping the most vulnerable become more resilient to shocks and crisis. By working with government, civil society, and the private sector, modern food-assistance can strengthen food systems. For example, cash and voucher programmes can provide people with access to local markets and they also provide incentives and encouragement for food systems to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. In our Syria response, we are also strengthening host communities. As a result of the vouchers we distributed to refugees some 66 million U.S. dollars have been invested in Lebanon, 47 million in Jordan, 26 million in Turkey and 10 million in Iraq in local retail food markets. This investment is strengthening a key component of the food system.
Resilience-building activities can lay the foundations for healthy systems. Using Food for Work and Food for Assets programs, we can build market roads that give small farmers access to markets. We can develop water catchment areas that provide women with access to irrigation for livelihood enhancing agriculture production. And, we can restore environmental landscapes that prevent soil erosion. Last year, through WFP-supported projects, some 150,000 hectares of land were rehabilitated and 8,000 water points were built.
Excellencies, one-eighth of our planet continues to be in a state of food crisis. Building healthy food systems is crucial step, if we are to change this. These systems must recognize and empower women, and they must also enable the most-vulnerable to access their food needs and build their resilience to shocks. Yes, the tools exist, the knowledge exists, but what we need is the global public will to support sustained investment in the kind of country-led strategies that the evidence shows are already making a measurable difference. As Rome-based agencies, we have a special responsibility to provide comprehensive leadership, teaming up with civil society, local businesses and governments, in building food systems to fulfill the Zero Hunger Challenge.
Our collective action is essential for strong food systems that will end hunger in our lifetime for every man woman and child wherever they are born and where ever they live.