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The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021: Improved nutrition and affordable healthy diets for all.

In recent years, several major drivers have put the world off track to ending world hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030. The challenges have grown with the COVID-19 pandemic and related containment measures.

This report presents the first global assessment of food insecurity and malnutrition for 2020 and offers some indication of what hunger might look like by 2030 in a scenario further complicated by the enduring effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • It also includes new estimates of the cost and affordability of healthy diets, which provide an important link between the food security and nutrition indicators and the analysis of their trends.
  • Altogether, the report highlights the need for a deeper reflection on how to better address the global food security and nutrition situation.
  • To understand how hunger and malnutrition have reached these critical levels, this report draws on the analyses of the past four editions, which have produced a vast, evidence-based body of knowledge of the major drivers behind the recent changes in food security and nutrition.

These drivers, which are increasing in frequency and intensity, include conflicts, climate variability and extremes, and economic slowdowns and downturns – all exacerbated by the underlying causes of poverty and very high and persistent levels of inequality., in addition to frequent extreme climate events (mainly droughts and floods).

In recent years, appropriate action has been taken as, for example, in response to drought-induced large-scale food insecurity and malnutrition that affected up to 6 million people during 2017–2019, including acute malnutrition among 900 000 children.

In addition, millions of people around the world suffer from food insecurity and different forms of malnutrition because they cannot afford the cost of healthy diets. From a synthesized understanding of this knowledge, updates and additional analyses are generated to create a holistic view of the combined effects of these drivers, both on each other and on food systems, and how they negatively affect food security and nutrition around the world.

  • This year, this report estimates that between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020 – as many as 161 million more than in 2019.
  • Nearly 2.37 billion people did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of 320 million people in just one year. No region of the world has been spared.
  • The high cost of healthy diets and persistently high levels of poverty and income inequality continue to keep healthy diets out of reach for around 3 billion people in every region of the world.
  • Moreover, new analysis in this report shows that the increase in the unaffordability of healthy diets is associated with higher levels of moderate or severe food insecurity.
  • While it is not yet possible to fully quantify the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, we are concerned by the many millions of children under 5 years of age who were affected by stunting (149.2 million), wasting (45.4 million) or overweight (38.9 million).

Child malnutrition continues to be a challenge, particularly in Africa and Asia. Adult obesity also continues to increase, with no reversal in the trend in sight at global or regional levels. Efforts to eradicate malnutrition in all its forms have been challenged by disruptions in essential nutrition interventions and negative impacts on dietary patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the health front, the interaction between the pandemic, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases has underlined the urgency of ensuring access to affordable healthy diets for all. Such myriad setbacks hide some important achievements – such as the increasing prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding of infants under 6 months.The situation could have been worse without governments’ responses and the impressive social protection measures they have put in place during the COVID-19 crisis.

However, not only have measures to contain the spread of the pandemic resulted in an unprecedented economic recession, but also other important drivers are behind recent setbacks in food security and nutrition. These include conflict and violence in many parts of the world as well as climate-related disasters all over the world.

Given the past and present interactions of these drivers with economic slowdowns and downturns, as well as high and persistent (and in some countries growing) levels of inequality, it is not surprising that governments could not keep the worst-case scenario for food security and nutrition from materializing and affecting millions of people all over the world.

There are six possible recommended pathways through which food systems could be transformed to address the major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition and ensure access to affordable healthy diets for all, sustainably and inclusively. These are:

1) integrating humanitarian, development and peacebuilding policies in conflict-affected areas;

2) scaling up climate resilience across food systems;

3) strengthening the resilience of the most vulnerable to economic adversity;

4) intervening along the food supply chains to lower the cost of nutritious foods;

5) tackling poverty and structural inequalities, ensuring interventions are pro-poor and inclusive; and

6) strengthening food environments and changing consumer behaviour to promote dietary patterns with positive impacts on human health and the environment.

As many countries are affected by multiple drivers, several pathways will apply simultaneously, calling for coherence among these pathways to ensure efficiency in implementation. Comprehensive portfolios of policies, investments and legislation are therefore are central to enabling the transformation of food systems through these pathways

In turn, the evidence informs an in-depth look at how to move from silo solutions to integrated food systems solutions. In this regard, the report proposes transformative pathways that specifically address the challenges posed by the major drivers, also highlighting the types of policy and investment portfolios required to transform food systems for food security, improved nutrition, and affordable healthy diets for all.

The report observes that, while the pandemic has caused major setbacks, there is much to be learned from the vulnerabilities and inequalities it has laid bare. If taken to heart, these new insights and wisdom can help get the world back on track towards the goal of ending hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition in all its forms.

Examples from


In India, a 2012–2016 land restoration and crop intensification project used traditional water storage systems (haveli) i n combination with infrastructure investment and technology transfers, with positive effects on degraded and rainfed lands: crop yields increased by 10 to 70 percent, and average household incomes grew by 170 percent.9 7,1 2 2 This approach also enabled groundwater recharges, resulting in improvements in water-use sustainability.

In Guatemala, the Maya Ch'orti' Indigenous Peoples living in the Dry Corridor (Corredor Seco) have subsisted on farming in a dry environment for years, but increasing drought fuelled by climate change has led to increasing rates of food insecurity and malnutrition. A reforestation and water management project is now bringing renewed impetus to the use and conservation of endemic vegetal and animal species that are well adapted to the dry environment. The Maya Ch'orti' have benefited from this support, which has led to a reduction of stunting by 51 percent following improved food consumption and diet quality.9


The Great Green Wall project in the Sahel represents another territorial approach: an ambitious 11-country project that seeks to transform the lives of 100 million people by focusing on the agro-ecological potential of landscape restoration,while also producing food, increasing food security, creating jobs and promoting peace in a politically fragile region.257 In a context of climate change and desertification, the project creates opportunities for increasing biodiversity and reversing land degradation in ways that create “green jobs”. Focusing on enhancing the ability of small-scale producers to cope with climate change, the project also invests in improved access to markets and strengthened value chains, expanding the use of solar energy, and capitalizing on agroforestry and community-led efforts to achieve food security and improved nutrition.258

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