Last year, the Food and Agriculture Organization announced a rise in the number of hungry people in the world after decades of progress in eliminating hunger. This year’s analysis indicates there will be another increase in the number of people under the risk of famine.
This means we, collectively, have not been effective enough in our response to humanitarian crises - despite enormous efforts. To improve results, we need to better combine humanitarian assistance with development actions on the ground.
To save lives, we need to save livelihoods.
This is the message I am taking to the inaugural Riyadh International Humanitarian Forum in Riyadh this week.
Agriculture and local food production cannot be afterthoughts. Investing in agriculture not only saves lives and protects livelihoods, but it lays the foundations for recovery and resilience building.José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization
When a pastoralist family loses their herd during a humanitarian crisis, they also lose their hope. They are without any productive activity and they are quickly unable to feed themselves. Their livelihood must be protected in order to save their lives.
In fact, up to 80 percent of those at risk of severe hunger during a crisis rely on crops, fishing, livestock and forests for their survival.
Despite advocacy efforts, the agriculture sector is often neglected in humanitarian appeals yet it is a direct way to protect rural people from the worst ravages of a hunger emergency.
Even in the midst of a crisis, agricultural production continues. A 2017 FAO assessment of the impact of conflict on agriculture in Syria shows that despite six years of violence, 75 percent of rural families continue to produce their own food. In 2016, South Sudan’s smallholders produced almost one million tonnes of cereals despite intensifying conflict that forced many from their fields during harvest.
Investing in the resilience of agricultural sectors is also very cost-effective. During the 2017 main planting season in northeastern Nigeria, with just $20 million, FAO enabled one million people to produce enough food to meet their needs for the next six months, easing pressure on the entire humanitarian system well into 2018. Each kit cost just $86 per family. In Somalia, where livestock is vital to survival for many, treatments costing just $0.40 can protect an animal that would cost $40 to replace.
With greater demand for limited resources, we must also be more innovative in how we respond to increasingly protracted crises.
FAO has recently partnered with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to explore how, when and where multi-year funding can have the greatest effect in the humanitarian context. More flexible funding allows agencies to prioritize the most urgent needs. In this regard, let me acknowledge the recent pledge of $1 billion by the Saudi-led coalition in support of the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen. We welcome the decision to allocate these funds according to need, with a significant amount dedicated to addressing the growing prevalence of severe hunger.
After decades of progress towards eradicating hunger, now is the time to renew the commitment to the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger.
What is absolutely clear is that business as usual is not an option. Agriculture and local food production cannot be afterthoughts. Investing in agriculture not only saves lives and protects livelihoods, but it lays the foundations for recovery and resilience building.
We must change the nature of humanitarian assistance to grow the seeds of Zero Hunger.
José Graziano da Silva is the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.