Earlier this week, the Global Hunger Index revealed that 690 million people – about 9pc of the world’s population – remain undernourished. That figure doesn’t even take into account the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has imperilled the food security of millions across the globe.
e are young activists who care about food and nutrition security. When we see hunger surging five years after global leaders pledged to achieve zero hunger, we have to ask: What have you been doing all of these years? Where is the shift?
We believe one reason for the lack of progress on hunger is similar to a lack of progress on other major global challenges – from climate change to emerging infectious disease threats like Covid-19. We are failing to listen to those who suffer the most. The world we want can only be achieved if we strike a balance between the haves and the have-nots.
We understand the Shona adage ‘Rugare tange nhamo’, which means poverty precedes prosperity. But when it comes to food-related problems, until the marginalised have a stronger political voice, hunger will continue to get worse.
That’s why the Black Lives Matter movement and the push for social justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in the United States is resonating in communities around the world. There is a need to break a cycle too many people face, where their fates are determined simply by the type of food available to eat, the amount of rain they receive or how many times they get pulled over by the police. These are not the concerns of people who have political standing.
Look at the pandemic-related food problems affecting sub-Saharan Africa. The situation highlights how poverty both defines and creates inequalities. For example, in Zimbabwe, wealthy areas are no longer very white, but they are still very wealthy. In these neighbourhoods, food is widely available today, if expensive. Meanwhile, as we go down the social pyramid in the ‘urban’ areas, not to even mention the rural areas, food availability has dwindled not so much in quantity as in quality. Covid-19 clampdowns mostly affect the informal sector that sustains this other side of town, mainly street hawkers and kiosk vendors. Now they no longer have any income and the people who rely on them for affordable, nutritious food have nowhere to go.
Food challenges as a symptom of political disenfranchisement is not unique to Africa. For example, in the United States, rates of type-2 diabetes – a disease closely linked to poor diets – are dramatically higher in black and Latino populations.
The fact that food problems today are mainly concentrated in the poor helps explain why we live in a world where global leaders can make a commitment to achieve zero hunger – and then face no consequences when the situation actually gets much worse.
But we have evidence that change is possible when there is political pressure to act. The Black Lives Matter movement has produced progress on racial justice issues after decades of inaction. And Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future energised global climate talks that appeared to be hopelessly stalled.
There are indications that some leaders in the food and nutrition sector understand the need to focus on inequality. For example, the CGIAR programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) recently supported an ambitious plan to transform global food systems, and it included a call to support social movements that address “power inequities and marginalization”.
Young activists can serve as amplifiers of these ideas, but you must be ready to accept us as equal players. We have both experienced being the token young person in the room. Webster is often asked why someone studying law is talking about nutrition. His response is that allowing someone to go to bed hungry is a grave social injustice and should be considered a crime.
He also talks about how he grew up playing sports and noticing with embarrassment how teams from rural areas were generally smaller, slower and weaker – unequal and disadvantaged from a young age because they didn’t get enough to eat.
Sophie has been in meetings where participants openly questioned how someone who lacked experience dealing with complex food and nutrition concerns should challenge their expertise. She could respond with her research into bacterial strains that can improve crop yields, but her typical answer is her passion and outrage is the most important thing she has to offer.
Today, much of the discussion around food challenges revolves around the potential of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit to provide momentum of action. Achieving the summit’s goals of unleashing the benefits of food systems so they benefit all depends on participants putting aside differences over technical solutions to acknowledge instead that food problems are fundamentally a social justice concern – and embrace a much greater degree of passion and outrage in demanding action.
Webster Makombe (20) is a SUN Youth Leader for Nutrition. He is studying law at University of Zimbabwe. Sophie Healy-Thow is co-founder of AgriKua, a global partnership empowering women through agribusiness. She is studying International Development and Food Policy at UCC.