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Food: The centre of our lives and futures

"Food is a need we all share, yet too many go without." Former President of Ghana John Kufuor on ending global hunger on the occasion of World Food Day 2015

This article was orginally published on All Africa

Food often brings us together—whether it is working to harvest crops, preparing traditional recipes or over joyous celebrations. While what we eat varies, food is constant across families and across national lines. It is a need we all share, yet something too many go without.

This week, we mark World Food Day, a time to highlight the important role of food in our lives and re-commit to alleviating the hunger and malnutrition that rob millions of their health, potential and even lives each year. This day for action falls just weeks after international leaders adopted new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to guide investment in health and development over the next 15 years. One of the ambitious targets is to end malnutrition and hunger, while increasing focus on sustainable agriculture.

This goal, while indeed ambitious, is also achievable: Awareness and commitment to opportunities at the nexus of nutrition, agriculture and food systems have never been higher. We have seen this in the African Union’s commitment to the Malabo Declaration. We see it in the continued growth of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement. And we see it as national leaders and international partners prepare to recommit to eliminating malnutrition in all its forms at the 2016 Nutrition for Growth summit to be held on the sidelines of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

But this potential for progress is threatened by the realities of climate change.

Climate change

We are already seeing the effects of a shifting climate—severe drought, flooding and increasingly erratic weather. With these changes, agricultural output is projected to fall by two per cent per decade in coming years while at the same time, the demand for nutritious foods is expected to rise by 14 per cent per decade. The most significant impact of climate change is expected to be in areas of Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia—regions already heavily burdened with malnutrition and hunger.

The potential impact on the lives of billions of people is dire, but there are actions we can take now to help farmers, fisherpeople—all of us—adapt to climate change in ways that sustain individuals, while also promoting sustainability of resources.

Most critically, we need continued leadership to drive this change. Last year, nations of the African Union committed to the Malabo Declaration, aiming to improve nutrition and food security and increase agriculture productivity by 2025, while building resilience to the effects of changing climates. With Malabo goals targeted at 2025—five years before the SDGs targets—Africa is leading the way.

Partners across the continent have been working toward Malabo for a year. As other regions now develop roadmaps toward the SDGs, let’s strengthen our collaborations and share what we’ve learned in the year since Malabo. Together, we can identify new opportunities to most efficiently and effectively push toward these ambitious goals, as well as individual goals for progress in our own nations.

Climate-safe agricultural policies

There are key areas where leaders can integrate smart actions on food security and diet quality into climate-safe agricultural policies. Doing so will help us hold ourselves accountable. Tools such as the Global Nutrition Report have emerged as strong accountability tools in nutrition. Let’s work to instill this same accountability across agriculture and food security. We should also diversify investments in agriculture as regional variances and local opportunities allow, and look across systems to make the most of both human and natural resources. As countries step up to show leadership and political will for change, I look for the global community to recognise and support these national efforts.

Beyond leadership, we can apply what we learned from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to accomplish even more in the 15 years. The MDGs were a new approach to health and development, and implementation was at times challenging. But we’ve learned from these challenges, and are rapidly working collaboratively to outline actionable, implementable plans to achieve the global goals—engaging national leaders, global partners, farmers, funders and others.

We all have a role to play. Just as our families gather around food in our homes, issues of food, nutrition and agriculture must bring our global community together in coordinated action to adapt to climate change.

When global leaders meet in Paris at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in a few weeks, we must again come together around food. We must look at the systems around the world that grow, produce and deliver our food and work to optimise these systems for both nutrition and our changing climate. Only a well fed, well-nourished society can drive the innovation and change needed to achieve the SDGs, the Malabo Declaration and other goals we aspire to.

By John Agyekum Kufuor

John Agyekum Kufuor is a former President of Ghana (2001-2009), Chairperson of the African Union (2007-2008) and founder of The John A. Kufuor Foundation. He currently serves as the UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, as well as co-Chair of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition.

Image: Jason Finch