The State of Global Food Security in 2023

January 30, 2023

By Anderson Alleyne, Communications Consultant, Global Health Council

Over the past several years, progress toward alleviating world hunger and malnutrition has stalled and then backslid as a growing number of people lack sufficient food to eat. The World Food Programme estimates that 349 million people across 79 countries are facing acute food insecurity – up from 287 million in 2021. As Russia’s war on Ukraine enters its second calendar year and climate change continues to disrupt peoples’ livelihoods in places such as the Horn of Africa (HoA), experts warn of another bleak year for global food security.

Russia and Ukraine are important exporters of energy and agricultural products such as corn, fertilizer, natural gas, sunflower oil, and wheat. As an illustration, Russia and Ukraine are the first and fifth largest wheat exporters, accounting for approximately 20% and 10% of global exports, respectively. Countries in Africa and the Middle East are heavily dependent on wheat imports from these two countries as it is traditionally used in some of the most common food staples. However, the war has curtailed food exports from Ukraine and Russia leading to supply shortages and a rise in food prices across the world. 

The effects of the war in Ukraine have also led to rising natural gas prices and disrupted global fertilizer production as natural gas is a key ingredient in the process used to make nitrogen-based fertilizers. The World Bank has reported that global fertilizer prices have risen nearly 30% since the start of 2022. Supply disruptions fueled by the Russia-Ukraine conflict disproportionately affect smallholder farmers as they are faced with a low supply and high cost of fertilizer. Consequently, these price increases have been passed on to consumers, further exacerbating the global food crisis.

This issue has also been compounded by climate shocks as heat waves, heavy rainfall, and droughts have a direct impact on food systems. Currently, the Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years, threatening millions of people with starvation. Prolonged droughts, scorching heat and high food prices have made it difficult for people to grow crops, raise livestock, and buy food. The UN estimates that more than 37 million people in the HoA are facing acute hunger, with around seven million children under the age of five acutely malnourished in the region. Flooding caused by heavy rainfall can also destroy cropland as seen in countries such as China and Pakistan.

The current global food crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and now also threatened by the conflict in Ukraine poses a huge challenge to countries around the world as lack of sufficient food can have devastating consequences on the health and well-being of individuals. To avoid further mass impoverishment and global famine urgent humanitarian assistance is needed to address food insecurity. Other long-term solutions include:

  • Adoption of agricultural technologies: The use of agricultural technologies can help farmers produce crops more efficiently, reduce waste, meet the rising demand for food and adapt to climate change. It’s imperative that small-scale producers can access these technologies in order to be more productive, profitable and sustainable.
  • Supporting social protection: Helping governments scale up social protection can reduce poverty and enhance food security and nutrition for the most vulnerable.
  • Building climate resilience: Investing in disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation can help communities to better cope with the effects of extreme weather events and recover from the impacts of shock more quickly.

The U.S. Government Global Food Security Strategy 2022-2026 also outlines a plan for the U.S. to support the achievement of global food security through an integrated whole-of-government approach. In particular, it aims to contribute toward a 20% reduction in poverty and stunting in the areas where they work between 2022-2026 by partnering with foreign governments, the private sector, civil society, implementers, and the research community.

Through a multisectoral approach, we can help to ensure that everyone has access to the nutritious food they need to lead healthy lives.