About 805 million people, or one in nine, in the world suffer from hunger. The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI 2014) released this week confirms a positive trend which has seen the number of hungry people decline globally by more than 100 million over the last decade, and by more than 200 million since 1990-92. The report is published annually by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), all headquartered in Rome.
The overall trend in hunger reduction in developing countries means that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of undernourished people by 2015 is within reach, “if appropriate and immediate efforts are stepped up”, the report says.
Clearly, accelerated, substantial and sustainable hunger reduction is possible with the requisite political commitment, well informed by sound understanding of national challenges, relevant policy options, broad participation and lessons from other experiences.
Progress still too slow…
At the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS), heads of government and the international community committed to reducing the number of hungry people in the world by half. Five years later, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) lowered this level of ambition by seeking to halve the proportion of the hungry.
789 million of the chronically hungry are in developing countries, where their share has declined from 23.4 per cent in 1990-92 to 13.5 per cent in 2012-14. By 2012-14, 63 developing countries had reached the MDG 1c target -- to either reduce the share of hungry people by half, or keep the share of the hungry under five per cent -- with several more on track to do so by 2015.
Of these 63, 25 have also achieved the more ambitious WFS target of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015. Some 25 countries have made impressive progress, achieving the more ambitious WFS target of halving the number of hungry. However, the number of hungry people in the world has only declined by a fifth from the billion estimated for 1990-92.
Overall progress has been highly uneven. All but 14 million of the world’s hungry live in developing countries. Some countries and regions have seen only slow progress in reducing hunger, while the number of hungry has even increased in several cases.
Despite significant progress overall, several regions and sub-regions continue to lag behind. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in four people remain chronically undernourished, while Asia, the world’s most populous region, is also home to the majority of the hungry, over half a billion people. Meanwhile, Latin America and the Caribbean have made the greatest overall strides in increasing food security by region.
Marked differences in reducing undernourishment have persisted across regions. There have been significant reductions in both the estimated share and number of undernourished in most countries in South-East Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean—where the MDG target has been reached, or nearly reached. West Asia has seen a rise in the share of the hungry compared to 1990–1992, while progress in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Oceania has not been sufficient to meet the MDG hunger target by 2015.
In several countries, underweight and stunting persist in children, even when undernourishment is low and most people have access to sufficient food. Such nutrition failures are due not only to insufficient food access, but also to poor health conditions and the high incidence of diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
SOFI 2014 notes how access to food has improved rapidly and significantly in countries that have experienced overall economic progress, notably in East and South-East Asia. Access to food has also improved in South Asia and Latin America, but mainly in countries with adequate social protection especially for the rural poor, who comprise three quarters of the poor globally.
With the number of undernourished people remaining “unacceptably high”, SOFI 2014 stresses the need to strengthen political commitment to tackle hunger. The pledges of the Community of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC) at its 2013 summit and of the 2014 African Union (AU) summit in June to end hunger on their respective continents by 2025 are very encouraging.
The report specifies that hunger eradication requires establishing an enabling environment and an integrated approach. Such an approach includes public and private investments to increase agricultural productivity and incomes; access to land, services, technologies and markets; and measures to promote rural development and social protection for the most vulnerable, including strengthening their resilience to conflicts and natural disasters. SOFI also emphasizes the importance of specific nutrition programmes, particularly to address micronutrient deficiencies of mothers and children under five.
This year’s report includes seven case studies -- Bolivia, Brazil, Haiti, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malawi and Yemen -- that highlight some ways that countries tackle hunger and how events may influence their capacity to deliver on food security and nutrition objectives. The countries were chosen because of their political, economic, agronomic and cultural differences.
Bolivia has made progress by creating institutions to involve a range of stakeholders, particularly the previously marginalized indigenous peoples.
Brazil’s Zero Hunger programme placed food security at the centre of the government agenda, thus accelerating achievement of both MDG and WFS targets. More recently, it has prioritized addressing other dimensions of undernutrition and family farming through innovative and inclusive social protection besides helping other national efforts as part of South-South cooperation.
Meanwhile, Haiti, where more than half the population is chronically undernourished, is still struggling to recover from the effects of the devastating 2010 earthquake. Nonetheless, it has adopted a national programme to strengthen livelihoods by supporting small family farmer access to inputs and services.
Indonesia has established institutions to improve food security and nutrition involving ministries, NGOs and community leaders in measures addressing a wide range of challenges from agricultural productivity growth to safe and nutritious diets.
Madagascar is emerging from political crises and is resuming relations with international development partners to tackle poverty and malnutrition and build resilience to shocks and climate hazards, which often afflict the island nation.
Malawi has reached the MDG hunger target, thanks to a strong commitment to boost maize production. As malnutrition remains a major challenge, the government is promoting community-based nutrition interventions to diversify production for healthier diets, and to raise household incomes.
Conflict, low agricultural productivity, poverty and economic downturn have made Yemen one of the most food-insecure countries in the world. Besides restoring political security and economic stability, the government has committed to drastically reduce hunger, food insecurity and child malnutrition.
Improvements in food security and nutrition generally require complementary policies, including improving health conditions, hygiene, water supply and education. More sophisticated and creative approaches to coordination and governance are needed, with more, and more effective resources to end hunger and malnutrition before 2030.
With high levels of deprivation, unemployment and underemployment continuing and likely to prevail in the world in the foreseeable future, poverty and hunger are unlikely to be overcome without universalizing social protection to all in need, but also to provide the means for future livelihoods and resilience.
SOFI 2014 will be discussed by governments, civil society, and private sector representatives at the 13-18 October meeting of the Committee on World Food Security in Rome. The report will also be a resource for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in Rome on 19-21 November. This high-level intergovernmental meeting seeks to strengthen political commitment to combat malnutrition in the world through more integrated actions at both national and international levels.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram
Coordinator for Economic and Social Development
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
FAO (ES-ADG, Room B532), Vialle delle Terme di Caracalla,
00153 Roma, Italy.
Websites: http://www.fao.org/, http://www.jomoks.org/, http://www.ideaswebsite.org/