Hunger: A Hidden Dark Side of COVID-19

According to a recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 2019, 2 billion people did not have regular access to safe, nutritious, and adequate food. A preliminary assessment estimates that as a result of COVID-19, up to 132 million additional people — often those that were already the most vulnerable — will be undernourished.

If we fast forward to 2050, an additional 2 billion more people on this planet will need to be fed, requiring us to roughly double our food production. If left unchecked, the devastating and long-reaching effects of food insecurity will become even more critical.

As the world’s largest sector, accounting for 10% of the world’s GDP and employing 1 billion people, the food industry can be a significant catalyst for change. Collaborative, multi-sector efforts to implement new policies, processes, and incentives that provide equitable access to a healthy diet can significantly improve well-being and quality of life.

Last month, I participated in Dine with Purpose on behalf of SAP, hosted by the United Nations (UN) World Food Program. This thoughtful discussion with senior leaders — Tony Miliken, chief procurement and sustainability officer, AB InBev; Rebecca Marmot, chief sustainability, Unilever; and Ute Klamert, assistant executive director, World Food Program — focused on the challenges and opportunities of coming together to help solve the burgeoning food insecurity crisis and create a sustainable and healthy future for all.

Globally, SAP customers run incredibly complex supply chains to distribute 78% of the world’s food today. Traditional supply chains designed for scale and operational efficiency have faced massive disruption in the face of COVID-19. Consumer preference changes due to job losses and shrinking paychecks, displacement of access points, closing of borders, lack of economic assistance to local farmers, labor shortages, and upheaval in logistics and freight have created a need for these supply chains to be redesigned for speed and resilience. This hyper localization of global supply chains presents new opportunities for innovation.

While from farm to fork, food is the centerpiece of the supply chain, data is its close cousin. When we can use data to effectively gain more insights, reshape business processes across networks, and improve sustainability without compromising on quality, we can effectively serve the new demand and supply equation.

Impactful examples of this approach include the Sustainable Humanitarian Action Project, which emerged out of the SAP One Billion Lives program and connects the needs of non-governmental organizations, social enterprises, and businesses to provide better and faster services in times of crisis. Additionally, SAP’s partnership with GENYOUth, a child health and wellness nonprofit, combines the power of SAP technology and GENYOUth’s network of schools to connect families to local resources and help ensure the distribution and delivery of nutritious meals during COVID-19. And Ellsworth Foods continued to service an increasing stay-at-home market through a quick expansion of operations and two, new, no-touch delivery options with SAP Business One.

Food represents a fundamental human need but it also plays a personal and cultural role in each of our lives. Without enough access to healthy food, we cannot live to our fullest potential. Sustainable and secure access to proper nutrition precedes the ability to pursue educational opportunities, make economic gains, and drive progress toward equality for all.

We should begin to see food as not only essential to our survival, but critical to solving many of the systemic global issues we face related to inequality, employment, and climate change. In the famous words of John F. Kennedy, “The war against hunger is truly mankind’s war of liberation.”


Vivek Bapat is senior vice president of Purpose and Brand Experience at SAP.
This story originally published on LinkedIn.