Worldwide hunger is on the rise, accelerated by a range of factors from the coronavirus pandemic to food waste, the chief economist with the Rome-based United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.
In a recent written interview with Xinhua, Maximo Torero, FAO's chief economist said that the pandemic "will certainly cause an increase in the prevalence of undernourishment worldwide" by increasing food insecurity, overwhelming health systems, making farming harder for small farmers in poor countries, and interrupting supply chains.
"Though it is difficult to determine its exact impact, we anticipate that something between 83 and 132 million people might be added to the number of undernourished in 2020, if the consequences of the recession induced by the pandemic are not effectively mitigated," Torero said.
"Low-income, food-deficit countries are those that will likely be hit the most, due to the impossibility to ensure sufficient food supplies as a consequence of disruptions in the production and trade of basic food commodities."
On the issue of food waste, Torero said the value of the food losses worldwide was estimated at 400 billion U.S. dollars, which means that almost 1.4 billion hectares, equal to about 30 percent of the world's agricultural land, are used to produce food that is later lost or wasted.
And 38 percent of total energy consumption in the global food system is utilized to produce food that is either lost or wasted, said Torero, adding that around a tenth of the value of global food waste is absorbed in the part of the world worst-equipped to handle it: sub-Saharan Africa, where he said many small farmers live on less than two U.S. dollars per day.
But the main challenge to feeding the world's hungriest, according to Torero, is the coronavirus.
"The pandemic is expected to increase levels of malnutrition in all its forms in countries of all income levels, but particularly those with fragile health care systems and social protection policies," he said.
Torero called the global food supply chain a "complex web of interactions and of actors: producers, inputs, transportation, processing plants, shipping," among others.
"As the virus spreads and cases mount, and block downs increase there are seemingly countless ways the food system will be tested and strained in the coming weeks and months," he said. "Every effort must be made to keep the food supply chain functioning to avoid food shortages.
Torero also said that China provides the world with a good blueprint for how to lessen the impacts of the pandemic, noting that the country adopted policies to support small farmers and increased access to fresh produce in big cities.
"Farmers and merchants in nine provinces worked together to supply grains, oil, meat, and vegetables to Hubei Province," Torero said, referring to the central Chinese province which first reported the coronavirus outbreaks.
"Some local (Chinese) governments have centralized animal slaughtering and are paying for refrigeration costs, including electricity," Torero said.
FAO, the oldest and largest of the three United Nations food agencies located in the Italian capital, was created in 1945 to play a lead role in defeating global hunger. The agency's mission statement states: "Our goal is to achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives."
FAO, which is headed by former vice-minister of China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Qu Dongyu, will celebrate its 75th anniversary on Friday.