Remarks by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore at the High-Level Special Event on Strengthening Global Governance of Food Security and Nutrition

As prepared for delivery

15 October 2020

Distinguished guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of everyone at UNICEF, I extend my thanks to the Committee on World Food Security for bringing us together. 

We meet in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unravel the progress we’ve made on a number of fronts.

Including nutrition.

Over the last 20 years, thanks to a powerful mix of political will, innovative programming and scaled-up investments, the global community has made historic progress to improve children’s nutrition and food security.

Since 2000, we’ve reduced the prevalence of child stunting by one-third.

Fifty-five million fewer children were undernourished last year, compared to 20 years before.

Twenty per cent more infants are now exclusively breastfed, compared to 2005.

And 20 million malnourished children have been getting the therapeutic feeding and care they need over the last four years.

Achievement after achievement. All showing that positive change for nutrition at-scale is not only possible — it is happening.

But our continued progress is now facing some serious headwinds.

First — two-thirds of the world’s children are not getting the diverse and healthy diet they need to grow well.

Children in rural households are twice as likely to eat poorly compared to children in urban areas. And children in the poorest households are twice as likely to eat poorly compared to children in richer households.

And second — the COVID-19 pandemic is quickly spiraling into a child nutrition crisis.

Families are struggling economically. They’re facing food, health, education and social protection systems that are strained by the pandemic.

Physical distancing, school closures, transportation restrictions and lockdowns all taking a toll — not only on people’s daily lives, but on their access to nutritious food.

And as in any crisis, children will suffer the most.

As a global community, we need to revolutionize global and local food systems. To drive down the cost of — and drive up families’ access to —nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets, wherever they live. And to ensure that food systems and the people depending on them are supported during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

We know what works.

Last year, UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report found that when healthy options are available, convenient and affordable, children and families make better food choices.

It also found that when governments invest in good nutrition and the systems that support it — food, health, water, sanitation, education and social protection programmes — children’s nutrition dramatically improves.

Earlier this year, the UNICEF, FAO, WFP and WHO issued a Call to Action. We outlined five urgent needs to protect maternal and child nutrition in the face of the COVID-19.

  1. First, safeguard and promote access to nutritious, safe, and affordable diets.
  2. Second, invest in improving maternal and child nutrition through pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood.
  3. Third, re-activate and scale-up services for the early detection and treatment of child wasting.
  4. Fourth, maintain the provision of nutritious and safe school meals for vulnerable children.
  5. And fifth, expand social protection to safeguard access to nutritious diets and essential services.

We need to invest in all of these actions, and UNICEF’s nutrition experts around the world stand ready to support governments across this work.  

Because we need to do this together — as a global nutrition team. No single sector, government, agency, or business can solve this problem on their own.

UNICEF stands ready to work with governments and partners in the UN, the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, civil society, academia and the private sector to reimagine the future of food systems.

Next year’s Global Food Systems Summit, led by the UN Secretary-General, will mark the beginning of a crucial global conversation around this issue, and UNICEF looks forward to being part of it.

Through the Summit, we have a unique opportunity to begin the work of transforming global food systems.

We need food systems that are more secure and more sustainable. Systems in which healthy foods and nutrition services are affordable and within reach for every child, every young person, and every family — no matter who they are or where they live.

As we prepare for the Summit, let’s be guided by the ideas and commitment generated here. Let’s gather more partners to our work. And most of all, let’s be inspired by the wonderful progress the world has achieved over the last 20 years.

Thank you.

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