October 16 is World Food Day across the globe. We caught up with David Beasley the newly appointed Executive Director of the World Food Programme to learn more about his vision, and to understand why he believes “a world without conflict is a world on its way to Zero Hunger.”
“To have a real chance of achieving Zero Hunger – one of the Sustainable Development Goals that the world’s nations have set themselves for 2030 – we need to end the wars, conflict and violence now going on in far too many places.”
Sherah Beckley for Thomson Reuters Sustainability: You were appointed the new executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP) in March 2017, what is your vision for the WFP to achieve food security around the world?
David Beasley: To have a real chance of achieving Zero Hunger – one of the Sustainable Development Goals that the world’s nations have set themselves for 2030 – we need to end the wars, conflict and violence now going on in far too many places.
Ten out of 13 of WFP’s largest food assistance operations are driven primarily by conflict and today, fighting and violence drives over 80% of all humanitarian needs.
We’ll never truly end hunger if we don’t end the wars. That goal of Zero Hunger is just not achievable without a dramatic reduction in conflict.
That said, our long-term vision at WFP is to participate in economic transformation in the countries and communities we serve. That’s why we are working so closely with governments and partners around the world, supporting social safety nets including nutrition programmes for vulnerable mothers and children, and school meals so children from poor families get the food they need to grow into healthy and productive adults.
It’s proved a success in places like in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where UN agencies have worked together to encourage long-term economic development based on sustainable agriculture and natural resource management.
The World Food Programme is and will always be great at emergencies, but to truly achieve food security, we must work together towards long-term improvement of the lives and livelihoods of the people we serve.
SB: As per a recent UN report, world hunger is still driven by conflict and climate change. How much of an impact does climate change have on combating food security?
DB: I will defer to the experts on the specific scientific aspects of climate change. But it’s clear that both climate change and conflict are having a real effect on global food security. For example, some countries are overly dependent on rain-fed agriculture and this means weather-related shocks like drought can wreak havoc.
The smallholder farmers and the communities in which they live sometimes only grow one or two crops – such as maize, which needs a lot of water to grow properly – and this can be disastrous. Our long-term plan must help farmers diversify their crops and thus spur on the consumer markets that will sustain this diversification.
If we take seriously the message that the climate is changing and that we need crops that are suited to the environments in which we live, then it’s even more urgent for us to address this challenge.
The bottom line is that having too narrow a source of nourishment gravely imperils our food systems.
SB: Do you see an opportunity for the private sector to support in overcoming these challenges?
Opportunity? I say I see a requirement.
We simply won’t achieve food security without the resources or the expertise of the private sector helping us. We do need private and public sector donors to work more together, to avoid siloes and competing on projects and instead working with us and other UN agencies to make true progress in economic development and economic transformation.
In addition, we need the private sector to help us galvanize public support for ending hunger.
There’s so much division in the world and so many distractions now, but if we have a united front in the battle against hunger, we can truly make a difference.
SB: Thomson Reuters is supporting WFP with the ‘ShareTheMeal app’ this year – how is data and technology supporting to end the food crisis?
DB: There’s no doubt in my mind that better use of data and digital transformation is the key to making true progress toward ending hunger. Over the past decade, the world made great advances in science, technology and data analytics and developed new and innovative approaches that have transformed entire industries.
I believe that we as humanitarians need to build on these advances to transform the lives of people suffering from hunger in too many parts of the world.
New technologies do not just make it easier for humanitarians to respond to needs, but also make it possible for everyone to get involved in the fight against hunger.
One example for this is WFP’s smartphone crowdfunding app ShareTheMeal, which allows users to provide food for a hungry child for just $0.50 a day.
We’re really grateful to Thomson Reuters for its leadership in the private sector, especially in helping us with ShareTheMeal.
The app gives us the chance to connect with millions of people around the globe so they can make their contribution to ending hunger. To date, close to 1 million people have shared over 16 million meals with children in need.
SB: What would you tell people who are not directly impacted by hunger and feel disconnected from the food crisis?
DB: Food security is directly linked to issues of security and economic stability worldwide. The lack of food security plays a part in conflict and is also a factor in the current migration crises that so many countries and regions are experiencing.
For example, our research at WFP shows every one percent increase in food insecurity leads to a 2 percent increase in migration.
Major movements of people due to conflict have huge impact – not just further instability but also massive cost to the receiving countries and everyone involved.
It costs us about 50 cents per day to feed people who are displaced by conflict in Syria but in some European countries, the total humanitarian cost for a refugee is about 50 euros per day.
You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that, in situations where assistance needs to be provided to vulnerable people, it’s a much better deal to do that as close as possible to those people’s homes.
We live in an imperfect world and we in the humanitarian community must support people when and where they need help.
But at the same time, we can all work towards creating a world for people so they can live in peace and provide a future for their families.
A world without conflict is a world on its way to Zero Hunger.