Last week, the UK Government hosted a Global Food Security Summit to address the hunger and nutrition crisis. But why was this needed, what happened, and what difference will it make?

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Global Food Security Summit 2023 logo. Credit: FCDO

In 2022, 735 million people suffered from chronic hunger, and globally, around 45% of deaths among children under 5 years of age are linked to under-nutrition. The human toll behind these numbers is staggering, but even that does not capture the long-term effect that malnutrition can have upon a person’s life, livelihood and wellbeing. 

When then Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell MP led the UK’s Department for International Development back in 2010, the world was chasing the Millenium Development Goals, which sought to halve the number of the world’s hungry people between 1990 and 2015 – a goal that was nearly achieved. However, since 2015, we have seen an alarming increase in rates of hunger and malnutrition, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate disasters, regional conflict, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent disruption of food exports. 

In 2023, Andrew Mitchell is once again the UK’s Minister for Development, and we are fast approaching another internationally agreed-upon set of targets: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 2 – Zero Hunger – is a world completely free from all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030. Clearly we have a very long way to go.

This summer, the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) published its aid spending for nutrition report, showing that the UK decreased its funding for nutrition by a startling 61.3% in 2021, and that total nutrition spending was cut to its lowest proportion of the overall budget in over ten years. These figures show a disturbing drop-off in the UK Government’s prioritisation of nutrition at such a critical time.

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Nearly five million people in Somalia are likely to face acute food insecurity as the country experiences its worst drought in over 40 years. Photo: Abdulkadir Mohamed / Norwegian Refugee Council

Therefore when Andrew Mitchell announced the Global Food Security Summit in September, it could not have come at a better time. He said it would “bring together the best of British and international expertise to prevent future global food shocks, malnutrition and save lives… [and] be a reset moment for the global community on world hunger.” But did the Summit live up to these lofty goals?

The event was co-hosted with the Governments of Somalia and the UAE, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. It brought together INGO representatives, government officials, academics and researchers to discuss four topics: ending preventable deaths of children; building a climate-resilient, sustainable food system; using science and technology to improve food security; and anticipating and preventing famine and food crises.

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Andrew Mitchell MP opens the Global Food Security Summit in London. Credit: FCDO

However, attendance was limited, and there was scant opportunity for meaningful public engagement – something that is critical if the public is to understand and support what the UK is doing to overcome malnutrition and other development challenges over the long-term. Nevertheless, the Summit was an important step in reaffirming the UK’s commitment to promoting nutrition and ending hunger. 

We were pleased to see the UK pledge £100 million for increased funding for immediate humanitarian responses, as well as £100 million to Somalia, a country which has faced the worst drought in nearly half a century followed by devastating flooding. We also welcome another £31 million pledged for tackling child wasting (too thin for its height). 

Continued commitments to developing new climate-resistant crops is also an important part of solving the malnutrition crisis, and must come alongside active partnership with farmers and communities around the world. The UK’s commitment to creating a new resilience and adaptation fund to help mitigate the effects of the climate crisis is also a promising step towards building food systems that are resilient to future shocks.

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Nutrition education session on food groups among adolescents in Lenkishon primary school, Kajiado county, Kenya.

At the Summit, the Government also published a White Paper on all aspects of international development, acknowledging that a staggering and unacceptable 40% of the world’s population cannot afford a healthy diet. The paper outlined its vision for achieving SDG 2, including commitments on transforming food systems and anticipatory action on hunger and nutrition crises.

Good nutrition is not only essential for achieving SDG 2, but is also foundational for reaching the entire Sustainable Development agenda. It helps students learn and children grow; enables vaccines to be more effective; provides resistance to disease; and promotes gender equality and leads to economic empowerment. That is why we hope to see the commitments made at the Summit backed up by action, increased financial support, and sustained political leadership. 

We hope that the Summit was not just a moment, but the start of a renewed movement to end malnutrition — sustainably, equitably, and for all.