In this file photo dated July 3, 2022, UN Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the 43rd Heads of Government Meeting of the Caribbean Community, at Assuria High Rise in Paramaribo, Suriname.

UNITED NATIONS – Participants in a high-level event held at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Monday called for bold, coordinated and effective actions to tackle the global food crisis.

"We face a real risk of multiple famines this year. And next year could be even worse," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in his video remarks to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) high-level special event titled "Time to Act Together: Coordinating Policy Responses to the Global Food Crisis."

However, the global community can "avoid this catastrophe if we act now" and "if we act together to craft bold and coordinated policy responses," the UN chief noted.

The COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and ongoing conflicts led to nearly a billion people going hungry last year, said Abdulla Shahid, president of the United Nations General Assembly 

This means immediately reintegrating Ukraine's food production, and Russia's food and fertilizer, into world markets, and keeping global trade open, he said.

Guterres also stressed the need to tackle the finance crisis in the developing world, and to urgently unlock all possible resources to enhance social protection and support smallholder and family farmers to increase productivity and self-reliance.

"And it means transforming food systems at every level — to put affordable, healthy and sustainable diets within reach of every person, everywhere," he added.

Abdulla Shahid, president of the UNGA, said climate resilience should be scaled up across food systems in order to counter rising hunger and malnutrition.

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The COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and ongoing conflicts led to nearly a billion people going hungry last year, he explained.

"Frankly, we were already falling short of meeting our food security targets, prior to 2020. However, the situation is now critical," said the UNGA president.

"The shocks of multiple global crises have weakened our institutions, our economies, and challenged our ability to effectively respond."

Despite the bleak picture, he stressed that countries should not lose hope. In addition to addressing the causes of hunger and malnutrition, they should collectively mobilize to alleviate global hunger and malnutrition.

Shahid also highlighted the need to prioritize food security in the world's least developed countries, landlocked developing nations, and small island developing states, whose citizens "are typically forced to spend a larger share of their income on necessities, including food, and are thus disproportionately affected by rising food prices."

Shahid convened the high-level special event alongside the Committee on World Food Security, and the UN Secretary General's Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance.

"We need working systems that create ongoing conversation for the private sector to interact with decision makers, and to discuss the pressure points that are inhibiting our food delivery system and to deliver it efficiently," Cindy Brown, co-owner and president of Chippewa Valley Bean & Doane, told the meeting on behalf of the private sector.

"These are challenging times and unless we take them seriously … we will not succeed at achieving the sustainable development goals," she warned.

Bernard Lehmann, chairperson of World Food Security's high-level panel of experts, said, "the farmers should have more entrepreneurial freedom and access to resources," and "this is important condition for the local availability of food and also for the resilience of local food systems."

"This is also very important for the access to food and sustainability, not only in production, but in the entire system as a basic condition for long term global food security," he added.

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The current food crisis is "multifaceted" — linked closely to food, fuel, climate, health, inequalities and other protracted threats and crises, in what is a cost-of-living crisis for many in the world," the General Assembly said in a concept note.

The General Assembly adopted in May the resolution 76/264 entitled "State of global food insecurity," calling on the international community to urgently support countries affected by the food security crisis through coordinated action. 

Ali Abdullahi Mohamed, a severely malnourished 27-month-old boy, is examined by a nurse for treatment in Banadir Maternity and Children Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, on June 1, 2022. Four consecutive seasons of poor rains have left millions of drought-stricken people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia facing starvation. (ED RAM / AFP)