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Prevalence of food insecurity globally

As part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN has a global target to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition by 2030.

The UN has said the world is not on track to achieve the SDG, with the number of people who are undernourished (meaning they are consuming insufficient amounts of food for good health) rising every year from 2015 to 2018. On this trend, it estimated the numbers may rise to 840 million people by 2030.

The impact of the war in Ukraine

Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia and Ukraine were collectively responsible for around 29% of the world’s wheat exports. The World Food Programme has warned that rising food and energy prices due to the conflict are likely to affect vulnerable people in humanitarian crises, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.

The blockade of Ukraine ports during the conflict has hindered food shipments. In July, the UN announced an agreement to resume Ukrainian exports via the Black Sea, and in October said negotiations were ongoing to continue and expand the agreement, which is due to expire in November.

The war in Ukraine is not the sole driver of food insecurity globally: Food, fuel and fertiliser prices were rising in 2020 and 2021, and around 70% of those facing acute levels of food insecurity in 2021 were in conflict-affected countries.

UK aid response

A new UK aid strategy was published in May 2022, and included a commitment to help address the underlying drivers of humanitarian crises, including extreme food insecurity. In 2021-22, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) budgeted £198 million for food assistance in bilateral aid. This does not include funding via multilateral organisations such as the World Bank or UN.

Further funding has been pledged in 2022. This included in June 2022 a further £372 million for countries affected by rising global food prices.

In July 2022, the Commons International Development Committee published a report on global food insecurity. A Government response was published on 20 October. The Committee noted that the new aid strategy did not give prominence to the issue of food insecurity. Among its recommendations were that the Government should publish a new comprehensive strategy setting out its plan to address food insecurity and to increase humanitarian funding for food assistance programmes.

The Government has said it has such a plan. This has nine main elements, which include supporting grain shipments out of Ukraine and prioritising humanitarian aid to those most vulnerable to risk of famine.

Food insecurity in the UK

In 2020, the UK imported 46% of the food it consumed, and 28% of the UK’s food imports came from the EU. Africa, Asia, and North and South America each provided a 4% share of the food consumed in the UK. 

In December 2021, the Government published a UK Food Security Report. The report highlighted that since 2010, the UK’s food system has been impacted by leaving the EU, greater climate change impacts and the Covid-19 pandemic. It suggested that these had “stress-tested” the supply chain highlighting vulnerabilities but also “the resilience and flexibility of the UK’s food supply.”

In March 2022, various agricultural stakeholders in the UK criticised the “blasé” attitude of the UK Government to the Ukraine food insecurity crisis, highlighting that food supply is likely to be affected by rising global food prices despite domestic production.

The Government published a food strategy for England on 13 June 2022. This response to the Government-commissioned National Food Strategy was originally intended to be a White Paper. It outlined several actions that the Government had, or would take, to the war in Ukraine. These included:

  • Measures to help farmers and food producers manage increased input costs, including a package on fertilisers
  • Help businesses to manage vegetable oil substitution and access more diverse supply chains where there are shortages of ingredients.
  • Work with industry to develop plans to bolster resilience of critical inputs such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and fertiliser

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