The stark findings of a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) show that COVID-19 has set back progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) enshrined in the UN's Agenda 2030, undermining decades of development efforts.
"It's an alarming picture, in which progress on many SDG targets has been reversed, with a significant impact on all aspects of sustainable development and making the achievement of the 2030 Agenda even more challenging," said FAO Chief Statistician, Pietro Gennari.
The analysis, "Tracking progress on food and agriculture-related SDG indicators 2021" focuses on eight of the SDGs (1, 2, 5, 6, 10, 12, 14 and 15), which were adopted at a UN Summit in New York in 2015. It's FAO's third assessment of its kind, based on the latest data and estimates available.
Among the areas in which the world is falling behind or making negligible progress:
- The COVID-19 pandemic might have pushed an additional 83-132 million into chronic hunger in 2020, making the target of ending hunger even more distant.
- An unacceptably high proportion of food (14 percent) is lost along the supply chain before it even reaches the consumer
- Agricultural systems bear the brunt of economic losses due to disasters
- Small-scale food producers remain disadvantaged, with women producers in developing countries earning less than men even when more productive
- Food price volatility has increased, due to the constraints placed by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns
- Progress remains weak in maintaining plant and animal genetic diversity for food and agriculture
- Gender inequalities in land rights are pervasive
- Discriminatory laws and customs remain obstacles to women's tenure rights
- Water stress remains alarmingly high in many regions, threatening progress towards sustainable development
But the report also points to several areas in which progress is being made. These include: implementing measures against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; sustainable forest management; eliminating agricultural export subsidies; investment to boost agricultural productivity in developing countries; and duty-free access for developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) particularly for agricultural products.
FAO's report coincides with this week's UN Food Systems Summit, which aims to raise global awareness and spur actions to transform food systems, eradicate hunger, reduce diet-related diseases and heal the planet. The report also includes a special chapter on measuring the contribution to the SDGs of the private sector, which FAO regards as playing a key role.
What can be done?
The report stresses the need to: scale up investment in agriculture, improve access to new agricultural technologies, credit services and information resources for farmers; support small-scale food producers; conserve plant and animal genetic resources for food and agriculture; adopt measures to counter food price volatility, and prevent potentially hazardous events from devolving into full-blown disasters.
It also calls for more action to use water more efficiently in regions most affected by high water stress; better targeted interventions to reduce food losses and waste; more protection of terrestrial and forest ecosystems. Finally, it suggests much more progress is needed both on the legal and practical aspects of women's land rights and to combat the threat of IUU fishing to the sustainability of global fisheries.
Finally, the report makes an urgent call for more and better data. "As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, and the world moves further off track in meeting the 2030 SDG deadline, timely and high-quality data are more essential than ever," Gennari said.