UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore's remarks at the launch of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report 2021

12 July 2021
A woman holds a child in Sudan

NEW YORK, 12 July 2021 - "Thank you, colleagues, participants and friends.

"UNICEF appreciates the close collaboration across our agencies to make this important report happen once again this year.

"And most of all, we appreciate — and celebrate — the inspiring progress the world has made in recent years. Progress that is captured in this report.

"Since 2000, the world has reduced the prevalence of children under 5 suffering from stunting by one-third — and the number of children with stunting by 55 million.

"Positive change for nutrition is possible and is happening at scale.

"But as this new report also highlights, there is still significant work to be done. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted — and continues to disrupt — all of the systems related to good nutrition. From food and health, to social protection programmes for families who are suffering financially.

"This means that millions of children are still struggling to access the nutritious and safe diets they need to grow, develop and learn to their full potential.

"For example, a national survey in Indonesia found that 31 per cent of households reported food shortages, compared to just three per cent in the previous year. And 38 per cent reported eating less than usual, compared to just five per cent the previous year.

"We’re seeing similar findings around the world. In a UNICEF survey, 90 per cent of 135 countries reported a decline in coverage of essential nutrition services during the pandemic — and on average, 40 per cent of the world’s basic nutrition services were disrupted.

"The global nutrition community has rallied around these needs during the pandemic, with adapted programming and innovations including for large-scale supplementation programmes and the early detection and treatment of children with severe wasting.

"But the pandemic alone is not to blame for the food and nutrition crisis.

"As this year’s report reminds us, conflicts, climate change and economic recessions are also driving food and malnutrition insecurity and threatening the resilience of food systems, which are the cornerstone of good nutrition.

"Famines should be consigned to history, yet in multiple countries they loom again.

"Poverty is shrinking incomes and placing nutritious, safe, and diverse foods and diets out-of-reach for millions of children and families.

"In 2020, an estimated 149 million, or more than 1 in 5 children under 5 years of age were suffering from stunting.

"And 45 million were suffering from wasting and almost 39 million were affected by overweight.

"While some countries and regions have made significant progress and should be congratulated for their leadership, most countries will fall far short of their 2030 nutrition targets.

"To turn this tide, we need to overhaul our collective approach to food systems.

"This means tackling some endemic challenges within our current food systems.

"Challenges like decisions about what food is produced, and how it is processed, packaged and promoted, including to children and adolescents.

"And the fact that the most nutritious food is costly — and out-of-reach to millions of families, who are forced to rely on staples and affordable, available, and heavily marketed and processed alternatives that are less nutritious and often more unhealthy.

"We also need to build the resilience of local food systems to external shocks, such as conflict and climate change, that leave communities across the world vulnerable to malnutrition.

"Last year, we launched the UNICEF Nutrition Strategy 2020-2030, which outlines our goal to protect and promote diets, services and practices that support good nutrition for all children – in both development and humanitarian contexts.

"With our partners across the food system, we’re working to improve three key drivers of child malnutrition:

▪          The quality of children’s foods.

▪          The quality of children’s food environments.  

▪          And the quality of children’s food practices.  

"The upcoming UN Food Systems Summit is a key opportunity to move this agenda forward and bring our partners together around common solutions. 

"Solutions like increased advocacy and awareness around how global and national food systems are failing children.

"Like country compacts that bring nations together learning from each other to design and deliver solutions that can improve children’s foods, food environments and food practices.

"We also need to strengthen data, measurement and public accountability — including through new indicators that measure progress – or lack of – on the quality of children’s diets and the food environments surrounding them. 

"And last, but not least, we need partnerships and resources to deliver the kind of change we need to see. Governments, businesses, academics, scientists and children and young people themselves — all working together to gather political momentum and funding to propel a transformation of the food system that delivers nutritious, safe, affordable, and sustainable diets for all children, everywhere.

"Events like this — and the upcoming Food Systems Summit and Nutrition for Growth Summit — are important opportunities to turn up the volume on this emergency. And to speak with one voice — loud and clear — that global and national food systems are failing to provide children with the diets they need to grow and develop to their full potential.

"We must do better.

"And as a global community, I’m convinced that we will.

"UNICEF is proud to be on this journey with you, so let’s keep going!

Thank you."

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UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

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