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$10B needed to avert COVID-19 hunger crisis, experts say

Due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, an additional $10 billion is urgently needed to prevent millions more people becoming food insecure, according to a new report by Cornell, the International Food Policy Research Institute and the International Institute for Sustainable Development as part of the Ceres2030 project. Half that amount must come from donor governments as aid, with the rest provided by developing countries.

The analysis uses data from and is published alongside the United Nations’ State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, which forecasts how many people will be pushed into hunger as a result of the pandemic unless action is taken. Modeling conducted by Ceres2030 found that $10 billion must be spent this year on top of existing social protection programs and government efforts to address the hunger and nutrition impacts of COVID-19.

“The warning signs are coming left, right and center,” said Carin Smaller, director of agriculture, trade and investment at the International Institute for Sustainable Development and co-director of the Ceres2030 project. “Without action now, decades of progress will be undone and the chance of meeting the U.N. target to end hunger by 2030 could be pushed out of reach. Governments must urgently increase spending on social protection programs to get people the money and food they need to survive the crisis, alongside long-term investments to build more sustainable and resilient food systems.”

The main factor contributing to increased hunger is that the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn have left millions of people across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia without work and unable to buy food. Ceres2030 modeling predicts that the number of people in extreme poverty and hunger will increase by about 100 million this year, returning to levels not seen in almost two decades. Addressing such complex challenges requires a systemic approach to food security through more and better investments in both rural development and social protection, according to the report.

“Even before COVID-19, global efforts to end hunger were falling far short of what was needed,” said David Laborde, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute and co-director of the Ceres2030 project. “The number of hungry people had been rising for three years in a row. The pandemic has exacerbated an already dire situation: Governments need to act quickly to prevent disaster and put the building blocks in place for a more secure future.”

Supply disruptions – such as problems transporting food to market, trade restrictions, and labor shortages due to restrictions on migrant workers and COVID-19 outbreaks in factories – are also contributing to a rise in hunger. These problems require cooperative, evidence-based policymaking, according to the report. So far, 22 countries have introduced or announced food export restrictions in response to COVID-19, affecting 5% of the global supply of calories.

“Social protection is needed not just as an emergency response to COVID-19, but also as a long-term investment in people – boosting their productivity and ensuring they have the means to buy nutritious food, send children to school and get the health care they need,” said Jaron Porciello, associate director for research data engagement in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Global Development and co-director of the Ceres2030 project. “Governments must ensure safety nets work effectively for everyone, particularly women, girls and other vulnerable groups,” Porciello said. “This means listening to those most in need and ensuring programs are informed by good quality evidence and data.”

Ceres2030 is a cutting-edge research project on the public investments needed to end hunger sustainably, led by Cornell, IFPRI and IISD and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project was set up to provide donor governments with the tools they need to increase the amount and effectiveness of their investments to end hunger sustainably, in line with the U.N.’s goal to end hunger by 2030.

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Rebecca Valli