Cooperation needed to solve hunger
One of the sustainable development goals for 2030 is to end hunger and improve nutrition. But a lot still needs to be done to achieve this. On 30 and 31 August, Wageningen University & Research will be hosting the international SDG Conference: Towards Zero Hunger. The aim of the conference is to launch new initiatives to bring us a step closer to Zero Hunger.
In 2015, all the United Nations countries pledged joint support for sustainable development. They promised to work hard to end hunger and poverty, to protect the Earth, safeguard human rights and promote equality between men and women. The agreements followed on from the millennium goals.
Ample expertise at Wageningen
Much of the research at Wageningen is linked to sustainable development goals. The Wageningen conference at the end of August focuses on the second of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 2): end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. ‘We had two reasons for choosing this goal’, says Jelle Maas, co-organiser of the conference. ‘One: WUR has a lot of expertise in this field and we advocate a comprehensive approach. Two: it’s a sustainable goal that links in with numerous other goals, such as health and well-being, good jobs and economic growth, tackling climate change and sustainable production and consumption.’
The Netherlands is already playing a significant role in the fight against hunger and malnutrition and improving agricultural production throughout the world. For instance, the Netherlands aims to have found a permanent solution to malnourishment for at least 32 million people by 2030, intending, for example, to set up coordinated programmes relating to food security, water and climate in and around small-town growth centres in the Sahel. This intention is laid down in the ‘Investing in Perspective (In Dutch)’ policy document devised by Minister Kaag of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation (BHOS).
The second Sustainable Development Goal (End hunger) also entails supporting sustainable food systems and maintaining genetic diversity in seeds, cultivated crops and bred and domesticated animals and their wild counterparts, such as wolves.
According to organisations such as the World Food Programme, after seeing a drop for several years, the number of people suffering from hunger is once again rising, with changing climate conditions and conflict among the main causes. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is concerned about food security and malnutrition, particularly in Africa and Latin America. A business-as-usual attitude will do nothing to alleviate the situation, says the FAO.
In the Netherlands, around eight percent of the population lives in poverty, and the life expectancy for people living from an income that is below the low-income limit is lower than that for people with a higher income, with fewer years of good health. One in 5 of the children born to parents in this low-income group are overweight, which is almost twice as many as in families with a higher income. In addition, 2017 saw 132,500 Dutch people relying on food banks.
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In a report compiled in 2017, the OESO claimed that the Netherlands was lagging behind in terms of food (SDG 2). The second Dutch SDG report (In Dutch) (May 2018) shows that in terms of SDG 2, slightly more than fifty percent of the Dutch population is overweight, which is more than the EU average. The Netherlands scores well in terms of production volume from agriculture, but not so well in the area of environmental pollution. ‘Other sustainable development goals are based on healthy ecosystems, including clean water, clean air, pleasant living conditions and food production. But the natural system as a whole is under pressure from the agriculture sector, traffic, industry, and the high population density’, say the authors.
So the sustainable development goals are about you, the choices you make and the actions you undertake. From buying organic, Fair Trade or slave-free chocolate and bananas, and grass-fed milk or products that reduce wastage, to helping children to do sports or exercise at local level or tackling malnourishment among elderly people.
The sub-heading for the Wageningen conference is ‘Partnerships for impact’. This emphasises the importance of partnerships (SDG 17). Sustainable goals can only be achieved if governments, NGOs, researchers and companies work together. Joint principles and values, shared visions and goals are needed at global, regional, national and local level. The main focus must be on technology, knowledge transfer, trade, data, policy coherence and financial flows.
It is the job of the public sector, for example, to create the basic conditions for improving the diet of vulnerable groups, through physical infrastructure (such as roads), information, schooling and healthcare, writes Ruerd Ruben, Professor (by special appointment) of Impact Assessment for Food Systems at Wageningen University & Research (WUR) in a blog. But the production, processing and trading of food are business matters. If we are to improve diet and food security, cooperation is essential.
The SDG Conference at the end of August will revolve around three themes: measuring (Evidence), pleasures and responsibilities (Synergies and trade-offs) and implementation (Governance). Important first steps towards achieving the SDGs in 2030 have already been taken, but these are areas in which problems that may interfere with achieving them have been identified.
- Measuring: many strategies for tackling hunger and malnutrition have already been developed, but how do you measure their success?
- Pleasures and responsibilities: it is important to see hunger within the context of the other sustainable goals. Otherwise, it would be like pushing down on a water bed: the water disappears in one place and bobs up somewhere else. The conference delegates will discuss how to address the negative effects of intervention.
- Implementation: the goals were set in an international framework, after consulting with people worldwide. But as mentioned previously, you cannot just work on them at international level. There is also plenty to do at the local, regional and national levels. How do you organise this?
During the SDG Conference, there will also be an e-conference for students and young professionals, to enable them to put their knowledge about sustainable development goals into practice. One of the activities is a 36-hour Foodathon (video), in which participants in mixed teams devise local solutions to global food problems. Wageningen has also developed a free online course (MOOC) about Feeding a Hungry Planet.
- Programme for SDG Conference 30-31 August Wageningen
- E-conference for students and young people
- News item: Dutch development policy demands investment in knowledge
- Online education: MOOC Feeding a Hungry Planet: Agriculture, Nutrition and Sustainability
- PBL report: Perspectives on sustainable food
- Infographic: Towards nutritious and safe food for all
- Dutch version of this blog: Honger oplossen vraagt samenwerking