Zero hunger

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Growing up in war-time Korea, I knew hunger. Food shortages were common, and we could not let a single grain to go to waste.  Since then, many countries, including my own, have taken bold steps to end hunger, unlocking their potential for exponential growth.

Today, the world produces more than enough food for everyone, yet 870 million people are undernourished. Meanwhile, one third of all food produced is never eaten.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately 1.3 billion tons is wasted each year.

That is why I am pleased that the theme for this year’s World Environment Day is “Think.Eat.Save”.  This campaign, spearheaded by FAO and UNEP, is directly in line with my Zero Hunger Challenge, which calls for zero loss or waste of food at all stages of the food chain, from farm to table.

Infrastructure and technology can reduce the amount of food that perishes after it is harvested and before it reaches the market.  Manufacturers and retailers can minimize the amount of food wasted during processing and storage.  Regulators can make sure that product expiry dates reflect the maximum shelf-life possible within the limits of food safety.  And individuals can take a tip from a leaflet put out by the United States government in 1917: “Food – buy it with thought; cook it with care; serve just enough; use what is left”.

Of course, we cannot end hunger solely by eliminating food waste.  The Zero Hunger Challenge calls on all actors to scale up efforts to create a world where everyone can enjoy the right to food and have access to adequate nutrition all year round.  It means ensuring an end to childhood stunting, and doubling the productivity and income of smallholders, who grow the vast majority of food in developing countries.  It also means building a world where all food systems are sustainable, particularly in the face of climatic and economic shocks.

This vision cannot be accomplished when we lose almost one-third of all the food we produce, and when resources are wasted in production and processing.  When food goes uneaten and is spoiled, everything that went into its production is lost – from a farmer’s time and effort, to the fuel used to transport it to market, and the land and water used to grow it.  Besides being an affront to the hungry, food waste is a drain on natural resources and damaging to the environment. 

Global hunger and the environment are intricately linked.  We must ensure that food systems do not damage the ecosystem services they depend on.  Think.Eat.Save encourages us to become more aware of the environmental implications of our food choices and find ways to reduce our ecological “foodprint”.  That requires us to think across all sectors.  Global food production is the largest single source of greenhouse gases, biodiversity loss and land-use change.  It occupies a quarter of habitable land and uses 70 per cent of freshwater -- our most precious resource – often very inefficiently.  The consequences include groundwater depletion and the salinization of arable land.  Reliance on nitrogen-based fertilizers pollutes lakes, rivers and the marine environment; monocultures and the widespread use of insecticides and herbicides threaten to disturb important ecological systems, such as pollination by bees. 

This year’s World Environment Day Think.Eat.Save campaign encourages each of us to make a difference, individually and collectively.  Governments, businesses, farmers, civil society, scientists and consumers all have an important role to play.  The current global population of seven billion is expected to grow to nine billion by 2050.  But the number of hungry people need not increase.  By reducing food waste, we can save money, minimize environmental impacts and make food production more sustainable and resilient.  Most importantly, we can move towards a world where everyone has enough to eat.

UN Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON: Zero Hunger.
Reducing food waste is an important part of the move to a world where everyone has enough to eat.

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