As a brief concluding statement, let me emphasize the important distinction between the definition of chronic undernourishment and the method of estimating how many people are chronically undernourished by this definition.
The FAO's definition is clearly stated in its The State of Food Insecurity 2012 report (p. 50): "'undernourishment' has been defined as an extreme form of food insecurity, arising when food energy availability is inadequate to cover even minimum needs for a sedentary lifestyle ... for over a year." In my view, this definition is too narrow in several respects.
First, by focusing only on food energy intake, the definition ignores the human need for a variety of specific nutrients such as proteins, vitamins, minerals and so on; if energy intake were all that matters, any of Coca Cola's sugary soft drinks could fully solve the whole undernourishment problem.
Second, the definition ignores problems of food absorption, where parasites consume much of the ingested energy or disease prevents it from being absorbed through the small intestine. Robert Chambers has made this point forcefully, reminding us that poor people may in these ways lose around one third of the calories they ingest.
Third, the definition misses periods of undernourishment that are shorter than one year -- for example severe seasonal hunger that is common in many rural areas.
Fourth, the definition also misses people who absorb enough food energy for a sedentary lifestyle but not enough for the work they actually do to earn their living.
So much for the FAO's definition of chronic undernourishment.
Despite Carlo's patient efforts, I have not yet fully understood the -- old or new -- methodology the FAO employs to estimate the number of chronically undernourished so defined. So here I limit myself to a single concern. The FAO has changed methodology in year 22 of a 25-year monitoring period, thereby dramatically transforming a rising trend of the global number of chronically undernourished into a steadily falling trend. This switch, with the benefit of hindsight, to a method producing dramatically rosier results, shortly before the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals, cannot inspire confidence. Specifically, I am concerned that the near-doubling of world food prices toward twin peaks in 2008 and 2011, which substantially raised the number of chronically undernourished according to the old methodology, barely disturbes the falling trend line produced by the new methodology. I am also concerned that revisions in how other MDGs (e.g., extreme poverty) are tracked have likewise resulted in substantially rosier trend lines. In my view, the old methodology should have been retained until the end of the MDG period; a new methodology could then have been introduced along with the new Sustainable Development Goals, in advance, that is, before anyone can know how its introduction will affect the reported trend.
I am deeply grateful to Isabel Ortiz for having hosted this discussion and to our colleagues at the FAO for their sincere and sustained efforts to explain their work to the public.
With all best wishes,
Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs
Yale University, PO Box 208306, New Haven, CT 06520-8306