Ukraine conflict highlights urgent need to build resilient food systems with people at their heart

WFP

ABIDJAN – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is today calling for a massive expansion of proven solutions that help fix broken food systems and make communities affected by land degradation more resilient to shocks.

Desertification – both a consequence and a major contributor to climate change – is one of the most insidious and overlooked threats to food security, nutrition, and sustainable food systems. Alongside conflict and economic crises, it contributes to the unprecedented growth in the number of food insecure people worldwide.

“The steeply rising food, fuel and fertilizer costs linked the crisis in Ukraine further compound already fragile situations across the world,” said Volli Carucci, WFP’s Director of Resilience and Food Systems.

“That is why it is more urgent than ever to tackle the root causes of food crises alongside responding to immediate needs. We must help create more resilient food systems and build the resilience of communities affected by land degradation.”

In the Sahel, for example, WFP supports communities across the region in rehabilitating land for crop and fodder production, and linking it to school meals, nutrition programmes and support for smallholder famers. In just three years, around 110,000 hectares of barren land have been brought back to life, benefiting over 2.5 million people in more than 2,000 communities.

WFP’s call to action comes as negotiations around land restoration and drought resilience at the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) enter their final phase.

There are currently over 276 million people facing acute hunger according to WFP, and the Ukraine crisis may drive an additional 46 million people to severe food insecurity. A large proportion of food insecure people worldwide inhabit degraded areas facing accelerated desertification – generating competition and tensions over scarce resources.

“Changing food systems starts with land and how we use it. Healthy soils are a key part of the foundations to build and sustain our food security and resilience. Now is the time to multiply our efforts,” noted Carucci.

According to WFP, immediate actions needed at large-scale to transform our current food systems include:

  • Ramp up the rehabilitation of degraded lands, enabling local production for local consumption, job creation and income opportunities.
  • Link the above to increased production of local foods (e.g. Sorghum, Millet, Cassava, Cowpeas, Sweet potatoes, local oil seeds, etc.) and the promotion of more resilient supply chains, including local procurement for social protection programmes.
  • Scale up the production and use of organic fertilizers such as compost to buffer reduced availability of fertilisers on global markets and to increase yields in a sustainable manner.
  • Reduce crop losses by scaling up improved post-harvest handling and storage – generating transformation and jobs for the youth.
  • Promote the use of local and indigenous foods such as edible oil extracted from high-yield Sahel trees such as Balanites Aegyptiaca and Baobab as alternatives to sunflower oil, and re-introduce drought-resistant crops in local diets and foods.

COP15 is expected to galvanize solutions for land restoration and drought resilience. We must draw on – and massively scale up – good practices, including efforts undertaken by the Sahel countries. Initiatives like the Great Green Wall already convey a message of collective action with the purpose of building a green foundation that will protect the most vulnerable and their children from hunger.

This COP15 is the first of the three Rio Conventions meetings taking place in 2022, with COP15 on biodiversity (Kunming, China) and COP27 on climate change (Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt) convening later this year.

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