World Food Day 2020: Grow, nourish and sustain – together with nature

by UNCCD Executive Secretary Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw for the SDG Knowledge Hub

In many parts of the world, autumn is the time to gather the harvest and count our blessings. This year’s trials and tribulations have taught us that while we can count on blessings bestowed by other humans to overcome the COVID-19 crisis, we are wholly dependent on blessings bestowed by nature to survive and flourish.

The efforts to suppress the pandemic have limited our daily activities beyond mere inconvenience. They also made us realize that our lives are supported by a large number of essential personnel, including those who grow and deliver our food.

And the bigger truth that emerged from the pandemic is that human health is interlinked with the health of the planet. When we overstep the boundaries of nature’s tolerance, we open the gates for such unmitigated disasters as zoonotic diseases.  

As humanity grows larger and wealthier, so does its demand for land to produce food and accommodate urban development. Almost three quarters of planetary land’s surface has already been transformed from its natural state, and the pace of conversion is accelerating, disrupting ecosystems and threatening the very foundation that supports our existence.

Land provides more than 99.7% of our calories. To feed the global population that is projected to reach ten billion by 2050, an extra 593 million hectares of agricultural land, an area nearly twice the size of India, will be required. If land conversion for agriculture continues at the current rate, only 10 per cent of land will be left in its natural state by 2050.

The good news is that while healthy land is finite in quantity, changes in consumer and corporate behaviors together with more efficient land use planning and management can help us meet the demand for essential goods and services without compromising our stock of productive land resources.

To protect ourselves, we must work together with nature. Land degradation neutrality is an international commitment (SDG Target 15.3) where countries work together to stop, prevent and reverse the loss of productive land. Already, 90 out of the 124 countries committed to achieving this goal have set voluntary national targets which amount to over 400 million hectares of land restoration. Land degradation neutrality is a framework that policymakers can use to address vulnerabilities in the global, regional and national economies exposed by the pandemic to address land degradation, food insecurity, sustainable development well-being and climate targets.

Healthy land is a safety net for everyone, but especially for such vulnerable groups as rural women and youth who rely on land for their livelihood. As we are gearing up for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the UN Food Systems Summit, we have a tremendous opportunity to invest in a healthy and sustainable relationship with nature, to grow, nourish and sustain not just ourselves, but our environment, as the World Food Day 2020 slogan proclaims. It is our new social contract for nature.

At home in Mauritania, we say “If you watch your pot, your food will not burn.” We can no longer accept the reality where over 820 million people are undernourished while one-third of all food produced each year is lost or wasted. Our inefficient consumption and production are a threat to the planet’s health and to our own future. We need to watch our pot, so that no one goes hungry today, with plenty of good food left over for tomorrow.

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