The Scale of the Problem
Continuing our series discussing each of the SDGs, we recently created a video on SDG 2. These videos are short, and the issues that the SDGs are trying to tackle are so large that it is impossible to go over each and every point that is required to do the topic justice. That is what this blog is for, elaborate further on many of the points discussed in the video. Let us start by setting the scene of the problem.
According to the UN, approximately 1/3 of all food produced globally gets wasted every year, equal to nearly 1.3 billion tonnes of food.
In addition to this, over 690 million, or 9% of the global population, go hungry every single year.
The combination of this biblical level of hunger and food waste requires urgent action. This is exactly the issue that SDG 2 is up against and what it is trying to solve. So, will it work?
SDG 2 – Ending Hunger
It will be difficult to end hunger by 2030, maybe even impossible. As discussed in the video, there are millions of people suffering from acute food insecurity from causes well outside the control of the UN or any authority in the world for that matter. The example of civil war causing hunger is relevant here. There are dozens of conflicts raging around the world, such as in Syrian or Yemen, that cause huge levels of hunger and instability. War is one of the major drivers of hunger and is a near ever-present force through history. There is nothing indicating that this is likely to drastically change by 2030, allowing us to fundamentally achieve SDG 2 in the timeframe laid out.
There are multiple targets within SDG 2. Targets 2.1 and 2.2 want to end hunger and malnutrition, target 2.4 and 2.5 focus on sustainable food production and genetic diversity. Targets A, B, and C focus on investment, trade barriers, and commodity market reform to prevent food-price volatility. Of all the targets though, target 2.3 especially caught my eye, namely the idea of doubling small-scale food production.
Although this is a seemingly strange and arbitrary goal, there is a particularly good long-term idea behind it. A big cause of hunger is poverty, and the inability to afford essential food. The strategy of promoting community grown food to create local economies that prevent hunger is a strong one. This may be one of the best strategies for tackling hunger. My major question of this goal is how would the UN achieve this, and why are we arbitrarily doubling food production?
There are many examples of governments and central authorities in history who have said they want more of something and have failed miserably. Examples of the 5-year plans in the USSR or Maoist China to industrialise and increase agricultural productivity ring in my mind here.
I don’t believe that the UN has it in its power to have a significant effect on small-scale food producers. It will be communities, individuals, and businesses that drive the growth in small-scale food production, not super-state organisations.
Further to this, I seriously question if many of these goals are in direct contradiction with each other. For target 2.3 to work, we need local production, local consumption, and strong domestic markets. That is what supports small scale producers. Target 2.B though wants to eliminate export subsidies and open up global agricultural markets. Will this have the opposite effects on small-scale food producers? Will global markets suffocate small scale producers as multinationals flood the market with low-cost food, putting them out of business? I must state explicitly here that I am not an international trade expert and only have a basic understanding of economic policy. That is my ignorance. Despite this, I can see that these goals are wanting outcomes that are in direct contradiction to each other.
Will it Work?
It is very difficult to talk about a subject as huge as ‘ending hunger’ in a 5-minute video, or a follow-up blog for that matter. The proverb that ‘only the dead have seen the end of war’ made me realise that these problems may be with us for as long as humans are here. We have never, and may never, understand how to keep the worst of humanity in Pandora’s box. For that reason, these issues may remain unsolvable. However, this does not mean that one should give up and stop trying to make a difference. The true meaning is in making that difference, no matter how small or how few people are affected. ‘To save a life is to save a world’. This Talmudic passage is powerful and illustrates the impact of small changes in the world. The UN is trying to make a difference. For that, it should be praised. However, its interventions are flawed and contradictory at times. These have the potential to do more harm than good. We must also remember that.