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World hunger is under 800 million: 2015 report on food insecurities

167 million people uplifted from hunger over the last ten years

72 countries halved the proportion of chronically undernourished

Burden of hunger is in South Asia-281 million people are undernourished

24 African countries currently face food crises, twice as many as in 1990

The number of hungry people in the world has dropped to 795 million – 216 million fewer than in 1990-92 according to the latest edition of the annual UN hunger report-The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015 (SOFI 2015).

The SOFI 2015 report is published jointly by the primary global food and agricultural institutions, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP). It raises awareness on global hunger and discusses underlying causes of hunger and malnutrition. It monitors progress towards hunger reduction targets established at the 1996 World Food Summit and the Millennium Summit. The Rome Declaration calls upon us to reduce by half the number of chronically undernourished people on the Earth by the year 2015.

A majority – 72 out of 129 – of the countries monitored by FAO have achieved the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the prevalence of undernourishment by 2015, with developing regions as a whole missing the target by a small margin. The figures demonstrate that the hunger target of the Millennium Development Goal – of halving the proportion of undernourished people in developing countries by 2015 was claimed in the 2014 report. Still, if one looks at the claims, one can see that 57 countries or a quarter of them failed to reach the goal.

“The near-achievement of the MDG hunger targets shows us that we can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime. We must be the Zero Hunger generation ” said FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva.

Some regions, such as Latin America, the eastern and south-eastern regions of Asia, the Caucasus and Central Asia, and the northern and western regions of Africa have reached the target, as they made fast progress in reducing undernourishment.

Overcoming challenges

“If we truly wish to create a world free from poverty and hunger, then we must make it a priority to invest in the rural areas of developing countries where most of the world’s poorest and hungriest people live,” said IFAD President Kanayo F Nwanze.

The report says there were challenges. Progress was hampered in recent years by challenging global economic conditions, extreme weather events, natural disasters, political instability and civil strife. SOFI 2015 notes that over the past 30 years crises have evolved from catastrophic, short-term, acute and highly visible events to protracted situations, due to a combination of factors, especially natural disasters and conflicts, with climate change, financial and price crises. The world population has grown by 1.9 billion since 1990, making reductions of the number of hungry people all the more striking, the report says.

The bright and dark spots

Large reductions in hunger were achieved in East Asia and very fast progress was posted in Latin America and the Caribbean, southeast and central Asia, as well as some parts of Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment in the world – at 23.2 percent, or almost one in every four people. However, African nations that invested more in improving agricultural productivity and basic infrastructure also achieved their MDG hunger target, notably in West Africa. South Asia is another bleak spot with undernourishment declining modestly, to 15.7 percent from 23.9 percent,

The proportion of hungry people in Latin America and the Caribbean has dropped from 14.7 percent to 5.5 percent since 1990, while the share of underweight children (below 5 years of age) also declined sharply. The implications are reflected in substantial social protection programmes coupled with strong economic growth, drove a continent-wide progress.

Lessons from the MDGs experience

United Nations member states have made two major commitments to tackle world hunger. The first was at the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996, when 182 governments committed to eradicate hunger by reducing the number of undernourished people to half by 2015. The second was the formulation of the First MDG, established in 2000 to cutting by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015. Both these targets remain unfulfilled.

The report outlines several factors that played a critical role in achieving the hunger target. First, improved agricultural productivity, especially by small and family farmers, leads to important gains in hunger and poverty reduction.

Second, while economic growth is always beneficial, not least because it expands the fiscal revenue base necessary to fund social transfers and other assistance programmes, it needs to be inclusive to help reduce hunger. Raising the productivity of family farmers is an effective way out of poverty and hunger.

Third, the expansion of social protection – often cash transfers to vulnerable households, but also food vouchers, health insurance or school meal programs, perhaps linked to guaranteed procurement contracts with local farmers – correlated strongly with progress in hunger reduction and in assuring that all members of society have the healthy nutrition to pursue productive lives.

The right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has the physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement. Everyone has the right to adequate food, but hunger, malnutrition on one hand, while obesity and food wastage on the other reflects the challenge to fulfil this right.

Heavy emphasis on economic boom, political stability and trade. Trade is neither a threat nor a panacea when it comes to food security, but it can pose challenges and even risks that need to be considered by governments.

Major new commitments to reduce hunger have recently been taken at the regional level –the Hunger-Free Latin America and the Caribbean Initiative, Africa’s Renewed Partnership to End Hunger by 2025, the Zero Hunger Initiative for West Africa, Asia-Pacific Zero Hunger Challenge, and pilot initiatives in a number of individual countries.

That goal from MDG should be mainstreamed into all policy interventions and at the heart of the new sustainable development agenda to be established this year said the FAO head.

Despite the strive towards eliminating hunger; global obesity, food wastage, and speculations around food prices comes across as other major issues that needs urgent tackling.

The full State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015 report is available online, here.