Six key findings in new world hunger report

From sharing wealth to improving nutrition, UN publication highlights food security trends during MDG era

Fruit market in Cambodia
Morning market close to floating village, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photograph: FAO/J. Thompson

The newly released State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015 (SOFI 2015) report captures the final score on progress made in the MDG era to halve the global share of hungry people (MDG 1c). From big gains in East Asia to disparities across regions, here are six major trends summing up the annual report put together by FAO, IFAD and WFP – the UN’s Rome-based food and agriculture agencies.

Target close but zero hunger still far

More than 200 million people have escaped the affliction of hunger since 1990, the first reference year of the Millennium Development Goals, but 15 years into the 21st century, about 795 million people on the planet – just over one in nine – still lack the food they need to lead an active and healthy life. Statistically speaking, the MDG 1c hunger target has not quite been reached, but in broad terms the objective is considered achieved. Between 1990–92 and 2014-15, the share of undernourished people in the total population decreased from 18.6% to 10.9% globally, and from 23.3% to 12.9% in developing countries.

Shifting progress

Some 72 developing nations – more than half of the 129 monitored – have reached the hunger target but progress has been uneven across regions. The Caucasus, central and eastern Asia, Latin America and northern and western Africa have made big gains in the fight against hunger, with 227 million fewer undernourished in eastern and south-eastern Asia alone. The Caribbean, Oceania and western Asia recorded a slower and more irregular rate of achievement, while progress has been slow overall in southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – two regions that now account for almost two-thirds of global undernourishment.

Sharing the wealth

Promoting inclusive growth in agriculture and the rural sector, with a focus on family farmers and smallholders, is strongly linked to improvements in food security, nutrition and livelihoods. While economic growth is important for progress in reducing poverty, hunger and malnutrition, it is, alone, not enough. Countries that recorded greater achievement in hunger reduction largely pursued policies aimed at providing opportunities for the poor, the majority (78%) of whom live in rural areas.

A solid platform

Social protection directly contributes to hunger reduction. Programmes such as school feeding, cash transfer and health care have grown exponentially between 1990 and 2015, especially since the late 1990s after the financial crises in emerging market economies. They have provided some form of income security and access to better nutrition, health care, education and decent employment to people living in challenging and often hazardous environments. By increasing human capacities and mitigating the impact of shocks, social protection also promotes entrepreneurship, empowering the very poor and vulnerable to manage risk and take advantage of economic opportunities.

Protracted crises stunting progress

Predictably, countries in protracted crisis – human-induced or natural – have fared significantly worse when it comes to achieving international hunger targets. In 2012, the mean prevalence of undernourishment in protracted crisis situations was 39%, compared with 15%, on average, in the rest of the developing world. What is perhaps less well known is that over the past 30 years, longer-period crises have become the new norm, while acute short-term crises are today the exception.

Food insecurity and malnutrition are particularly widespread in these contexts. In 1990, 12 countries in Africa were facing food crises, four of which were in protracted crisis. Twenty years later, a food crisis was affecting double that number, with 19 countries in crisis for eight or more of the previous ten years. Addressing vulnerability, respecting basic human rights and integrating humanitarian and development assistance are among ways identified in the report to lessen food insecurity in protracted crises.

Nutrition: the new frontier

Since the MDGs were conceived at the turn of the century, the significance of nutrition in determining a person’s growth and life chances has become more widely recognised. While the prevalence of undernourishment and underweight children under five – the two indicators for the MDG 1 hunger target – have largely moved in parallel at the global level, divergences occur at the regional level. Undernourishment has declined at a faster rate than cases of underweight children in south-eastern Asia and northern Africa – where dietary quality and diversity have been lacking – and in southern Asia, where factors such as poor health and inadequate hygiene conditions have held back progress. Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa remain particularly exposed to hidden hunger – the inadequate intake of micronutrients, resulting in different types of malnutrition, such as iron-deficiency anaemia and Vitamin A deficiency.

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