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A central pillar of ‘Global Britain’ should be the eradication of global hunger

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This article was originally published on the April 2022 edition of The Four Corners, The DFID Alumni Association Newsletter.

"The world must not forget the impact of the Ukraine conflict on global malnutrition"

Rightly, the world is focused on the immediate response to the horrific Ukraine conflict. We must also consider the wider global ramifications, including the increased malnutrition and political instability that will come from food price rises linked to the conflict. Hungry people quickly become angry people.

In 2021, the Russian Federation or Ukraine (or both) ranked in the top 3 global exporters of wheat, maize, rapeseed, sunflower seed and sunflower oil, while the Russian Federation was the top exporter of nitrogen fertilisers. Almost 50 nations are dependent on both countries for over 30 percent of their wheat import needs. We are already seeing evidence of crops in Ukraine being left unharvested due to the conflict and sanctions precluding Russian exports.

Even if harvested, cargo ships cannot get insured or understandably do not want to risk docking at Ukrainian ports. Replacing such production gaps will take time. The resulting global supply gap could push up food and feed prices by 8-22%, on top of the 23.1% increase in 2021, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). February’s inflation-adjusted reading of meat, dairy, cereals, oils and sugar prices showed the fastest increase since 1961. The FAO predicts 8-13 million additional
undernourished people in 2022/3, in addition to the 43 million already ‘on the edge of famine’ in 2021, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). The global community is advocating for a number of key actions to limit the impact, including diversifying food supplies in domestic production, and implementing well-targeted social protection schemes, including cash transfers.

The Power of Nutrition is currently implementing such programmes in the Democratic Republic of Congo in partnership with the government, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (through the Embassy of Sweden in Kinshasa) and GiveDirectly; and in Rwanda with the government, The World Bank, the Children’s Investment Fund
Foundation and others. All of this is supported by the UK government, our valued co-founders and partners. The risk is that this global malnutrition aspect of the conflict gets over-looked. We are already seeing aid to Africa being diverted to Ukraine. We shouldn’t be choosing between the two.

Britain should aim to be world leading in hunger eradication

In December, the Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit in Tokyo, the biggest moment every four years for nutrition in the global calendar, saw $28.5billion in commitments, including a belated commitment from the UK government of £1.5bn 2022-30. This was less than the £2.6bn the UK committed 2013-2020 and there was no impact commitment compared to last time’s ‘better nutrition for 50 million people by 2020’. But in the current context it is very welcome. However, there remains a $10.8bn annual gap in global nutrition financing 2022-2030, and a $39-50bn gap if we are to achieve SDG2: Zero Hunger.

In response, I think the UK government should make eradicating hunger a central pillar of Global Britain, as part of clearly defining our place in, and offer to, the world. You want the world’s leading brains and organisations tackling such an intractable global issue. We have many of them here in world-class academic and research institutions, in the headquarters of some of the world’s largest food and beverage companies,
and in incredible INGOs like Save the Children and World Vision, many steeped in tackling food insecurity and malnutrition.

We’ve also seen an explosion in recent years in innovative financing – for example the use of insurance pay outs to fund food aid when crops start to fail – and in so-called ‘Environment, Social and Governance’ investing, with $3 trillion flowing into these areas. With the City of London on our doorstep we should be doing more to leverage these flows, especially as traditional grant aid reduces or is diverted. And at The Power of Nutrition we’re currently exploring the viability of ‘Zero Hunger’ capital market bonds.

And of course we have the enduring, inspiring generosity of the great British public, from Live Aid onwards. Polls show the UK committing aid to tackle hunger is also one of the most popular ways to spend aid, helping reinforce ongoing public support for #UKAid.

The British government has also shown a decade of leadership on food security and nutrition, responding to numerous food crises in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and elsewhere, as well as co-founding N4G in 2013 off the back of the London Olympics. And DFID’s world-class civil servants have effectively influenced global policy, dialogue and commitments for more than a decade.

While the government’s credibility in this space is currently under threat, it isn’t too late to reverse that. Even if we return to 0.7%, with pressure to use aid for the 3Cs – Covid, climate change and conflict – the harsh reality is that Britain can no longer afford a broad waterfront on aid. It will need (like the
Scandinavians and Dutch) to pick a few areas and do them well, usually a good rule in life. Why not make eradicating food insecurity and malnutrition one of them?

Simon Bishop was Special Adviser to UK International
Development Secretary Justine Greening, 2014-2016.

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