Rome -- Some 842 million people, or roughly one in eight, suffered from chronic hunger in 2011-13, not getting enough food to lead active and healthy lives according to a report released by the UN food agencies.
The number is down from 868 million reported for the 2010-12 period, according to the State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI 2013), published every year by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP). The vast majority of hungry people live in developing regions, while 15.7 million live in developed countries.
Continued economic growth in developing countries has improved incomes and access to food. Recent pick-up in agricultural productivity growth, supported by increased public investment and renewed interest of private investors in agriculture, has improved food availability.
In addition, in some countries, remittances from migrants are playing a role in reducing poverty, leading to better diets and progress in food security. They can also contribute to boosting productive investments by smallholder farmers
Despite the progress made worldwide, marked differences in hunger reduction persist. Sub-Saharan Africa has made only modest progress in recent years and remains the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, with one in four people (24.8 per cent) estimated to be hungry.
No recent progress is observed in Western Asia, while Southern Asia and Northern Africa witnessed slow progress. More substantial reductions in both the number of hungry and prevalence of undernourishment have occurred in most countries of East Asia, Southeastern Asia, and in Latin America.
Since 1990-92, the total number of undernourished in developing countries has fallen by 17 percent from 995.5 million to 826.6 million.
Hunger reduction targets
While uneven, the report stresses that developing regions as a whole have made significant progress towards reaching the target of halving the proportion of hungry people by 2015. This target was agreed internationally as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). If the average annual decline since 1990 continues to 2015, the prevalence of undernourishment will reach a level close to the MDG hunger target.
A more ambitious target set at the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS), to halve the number of hungry people by 2015, remains out of reach at global level, even though 22 countries had already met it by the end of 2012.
FAO, IFAD and WFP urged countries 'to make considerable and immediate additional efforts' to meet the MDG and WFS targets.
'With a final push in the next couple of years, we can still reach the MDG target,' wrote the heads of FAO, IFAD and WFP, José Graziano da Silva, Kanayo F. Nwanze and Ertharin Cousin in their foreword to the report. They called for nutrition-sensitive interventions in agriculture and food systems as a whole, as well as in public health and education, especially for women.
'Policies aimed at enhancing agricultural productivity and increasing food availability, especially when smallholders are targeted, can achieve hunger reduction even where poverty is widespread. When they are combined with social protection and other measures that increase the incomes of poor families, they can have an even more positive effect and spur rural development, by creating vibrant markets and employment opportunities, resulting in equitable economic growth,' the agency heads said.
Pro-poor policies needed
The report underlines that economic growth is key for progress in hunger reduction. But growth may not lead to more and better jobs and incomes for all, unless policies specifically target the poor, especially those in rural areas. 'In poor countries, hunger and poverty reduction will only be achieved with growth that is not only sustained, but also broadly shared,' the report noted.
Tackling malnutrition, child stunting
The UN hunger report not only measures chronic hunger but presents a new suite of indicators for every country to capture the multiple dimensions of food insecurity. These indicators give a more nuanced picture of food insecurity in a country. In some countries, for example, the prevalence of hunger can be low, while at the same time undernutrition rates can be quite high, as exemplified by the proportion of children who are stunted (low height for age) or underweight, whose future health and development are put at risk. Such distinctions are important to improve the effectiveness of measures to reduce hunger and food insecurity in all its dimensions.
The findings and recommendations of SOFI 2013 will be discussed by governments, civil society and private sector representatives at the 7-11 October meeting of the Committee on World Food Security, at FAO headquarters in Rome.