Address by Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of the FAO webinar on Nutrition and Food
The Sustainable Development Goals, a coherent framework for the future of food security and nutrition
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ending food insecurity in all its forms is a long-standing goal of the international community.
Sometimes it is a matter of intervening in emergencies, in the midst of conflict or a natural disaster, and responding to the most pressing needs. The record of humanitarian action by the United Nations and their numerous partners can be counted in the millions of lives saved. The World Food Programme has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work. Once again, I offer my sincere congratulations to the WFP. I congratulate all its staff, too, and all those who assist it in the field to help those who are most vulnerable.
But ensuring the right to adequate and healthy food for everyone also remains a long-term undertaking. Certainly, much progress has been made. But that progress is uncertain and sometimes fragile. In 2020, we live in a world where too many people do not always have enough to eat, or still suffer from profound deficits of essential nutrients.
This is the case for women and children in particular. Chronic anaemia, which affects many girls and women, places an additional burden on them. Wasting and stunting in early childhood affect both physical and mental development. They leave deep and lasting scars. Consequently, it may become impossible for some young people and adults to take full advantage of educational resources and develop their potential to the full. Countries’ human capital may be profoundly altered as a result.
At the same time, throughout the world, obesity and illnesses linked to a diet that is overly rich or unbalanced are also increasing. They, too, affect women and children. Diabetes and cardiovascular disease are on the rise. We have noticed this during the coronavirus epidemic as well. Overweight is a risk factor. In some countries, health systems are confronted simultaneously with persistent problems of undernourishment and the consequences of the growing number of overweight people in the population. Indeed, in one generation, some groups have gone from a healthy and varied diet to massive consumption of highly processed foods.
The social consequences of a new, unforeseen crisis – that of COVID-19 – have added to the deleterious effects of conflict and persistent weaknesses in food security systems. We have not yet measured all the impacts. This crisis has exacerbated inequalities that have been ignored for too long, including in societies that are considered to be prosperous.
In developed countries, food banks have had to respond to unprecedented demand in recent months, yet that demand has been steadily rising for years. In many developing countries, food production and distribution systems have been hit hard. The closure of schools, due to lockdown, have deprived many children of their only nutritious meal of the day. But this crisis has also given rise to new forms of resilience and mutual support.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Guaranteeing healthy, quality food over the long term requires a wide variety of interventions, which cannot be targeted solely at consumers and their “freedom of choice”. Producers, intermediaries, the processing industries, the distribution networks and the advertising sector have a responsibility too.
Obviously, guaranteeing the supply and availability of food remains essential. Price and access are key variables, as is quality. But let us not forget that nutrition is also a question of age, geographical, social and cultural affiliations, food preferences and habits, as well as emotion. They need to have their place in the communication around nutrition too.
Education can play an important role in helping people understand the importance of healthy food and credible information in making informed choices.
Consumers should have easy access to reliable information on the nutritional content of foods. Labelling experiments aimed at meeting this need have been launched in several countries. It is true that highly processed foods and sugary drinks often owe their success more to the image of modernity or user-friendliness that they convey than to their nutritional value. Moreover, the relative price of healthy food, which is, or is perceived to be, too high, can also be a barrier, not only financially but also psychologically, especially for the most vulnerable. Finally, as confirmed by the COVID epidemic, good information, even if well understood, does not necessarily lead to behavioural changes.
Faced with the complexity of nutrition and food, faced with their many ramifications, the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030 invite us to be coherent, by proposing a systemic vision. Climate change will affect food systems and agricultural production. Both terrestrial and marine biodiversity are threatened by unsustainable exploitation and production models. As a result, the risk of new pandemics, environmental degradation and the depletion of natural resources is increasing.
Moreover, it will be difficult to guarantee the right to healthy and adequate food for everyone without promoting peaceful societies. Or without ensuring access to quality education. To achieve this, poverty and inequality must be tackled too. Equal opportunities for women and men, and prospects for access to decent work must also be advanced.
As for food systems, the evidence is there. The current systems have done great service. They have made it possible to feed an ever-increasing number of people. But today they are reaching their limits. They will have to be completely transformed to finally become sustainable, at all stages of the chain, from producer to consumer. In short, respecting farmers, the surrounding populations, the soil, water resources and climate, with the help of new technologies if necessary. Many producers have already invested in these new models.
Obviously, traditional urgent interventions and those targeting groups or individuals “left behind” will continue to be indispensable for a long time. The necessary transformations will have to take these vulnerabilities into consideration and respond to them. But it is building balanced, respectful, transparent and equitable partnerships between small and large producers, between the private sector, governments and local communities, and investing together in new forms of sustainable agriculture for the benefit of the greatest number that will open new fields of action.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In many rural societies in developing countries, women are key players in food production and processing. They cultivate. They cook. They are seen as the main agents of family wellbeing.
Yet this does not enhance their status. Their food consumption is inadequate. Their specific nutritional needs, which vary with age and motherhood, are ignored or neglected. Sometimes, pernicious taboos forbid them to consume certain foods. Their rights to land and to financial resources remain limited. The value of their production is underestimated. Too often, their level of education remains low.
This discrimination is often the result of deep-rooted societal norms. Today there are many initiatives devoted to correcting these injustices, to encouraging women to take control of their own destiny. It is always a pleasure for me to meet these women from rural areas, whose projects are not only a source of pride, but also generate employment and income for their communities.
But change cannot rest solely on the shoulders of women and add to their many burdens and responsibilities. To change attitudes, the participation and involvement of men and of their entire communities is essential. The primary concrete results engendered by this type of approach will be greater consideration for women’s work, greater mutual respect and a better division of labour.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Healthy and adequate food is recognised by us all as being one of the essential factors of health and wellbeing. As an Advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals, I attach particular importance to mental health. Research is gradually shedding light on possible correlations between food and mental wellbeing. People suffering from food insecurity are often subject to permanent stress, which handicaps them even more. Anorexia and bulimia – which affect many adolescents – are mental conditions that are inextricably linked to food. But there are also new avenues to be explored concerning the role played by deficiencies in specific micronutrients in the onset of certain forms of depression, for example. I mention this here because this opens up innovative prospects for the prevention and treatment of certain mental conditions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The challenges remain considerable. But by pooling our accumulated experience, our resources and our efforts, we can count on far-reaching transformation to finally respond to the women, men and children who, even today, cannot afford one meal a day.