Fight against hunger too slow and uneven -Jomo Kwame Sundaram
The Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of chronically undernourished people in developing countries by 2015 is within reach. But progress must accelerate by the end of this year
Almost 800 million people, or one in nine in the world, continue to suffer from hunger. The number of hungry people has declined globally by more than 167 million over the last decade, and by more than 200 million since 1991; 780 million of the chronically hungry are in developing countries, where their share has declined from 23.4 per cent in 1991 to just under 13.0 per cent at the end of 2014.
Thus, according to the latest State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI 2015) report, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of chronically undernourished people in developing countries by 2015 is within reach, but only if progress accelerates sufficiently by the end of this year.
Progress 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 MDGs lowered the level of ambition by seeking to halve the proportion of the chronically undernourished.
By the end of 2014, 72 developing countries had reached the MDG Goal 1 target. Of these, 29 have also achieved the more ambitious WFS goal. However, the number of hungry people in the world has only declined by a fifth from the billion estimated for 1991.
Overall progress has been highly uneven. Some countries and regions have seen only slow progress in reducing hunger, while the number of hungry has even increased in several cases.
In sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in four people remains chronically hungry, while Asia, the world’s most populous continent by far, is also home to over half a billion hungry people. Meanwhile, Latin America, the Caribbean, East and Southeast Asia have significantly reduced both the share and the number of undernourished. Most countries have reached the MDG target. West Asia and Central Africa have seen a rise in the share of the hungry compared to 1991, while progress in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Oceania has not been sufficient to meet the MDG hunger target by 2015.
Lessons from experience
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for how to improve food security, SOFI 2015 identifies several factors that have played a critical role in achieving the hunger target.
Growth needs to be inclusive to reduce poverty and hunger. Access to food has improved rapidly and significantly in countries that have experienced inclusive economic growth, notably in East and South-East Asia. Better performers in Africa met the MDG hunger target while those that made slow progress did not.
Raising the productivity of family farmers can be an effective way out of poverty and hunger by increasing net incomes and in town investments for further improvements. improved agricultural productivity, especially by small holder family farmers and incomes, leads to poverty and hunger reduction.
Economic growth is usually helpful as it can expand the fiscal revenue base, including to finance social transfers and other assistance programmes. In Latin America and South Asia, social protection has made the difference, especially for the rural poor, who comprise 78 per cent of the poor globally.
The expansion of social protection — cash transfers to vulnerable households, food vouchers, health insurance or school meal programmes — correlates strongly with progress in hunger reduction. Besides the direct impact on relieving hunger and poverty, social protection can enable those with fewer assets to boost their incomes, and invest more, thus enhancing their resilience.
SOFI 2015 estimates that some 150 million people worldwide have escaped extreme poverty thanks to social protection. However, more than two-thirds of the world’s poor still do not have access to regular social support. Transfers help households manage risk and mitigate shocks that would otherwise trap them in poverty and hunger.
With the number of undernourished people remaining “unacceptably high”, the need to strengthen the political commitment to eliminate hunger cannot be overemphasised. The pledges of the Community of Latin America and the Caribbean at its 2013 summit and of the 2014 African Union summit to end hunger in their respective continents by 2025 are very encouraging. In 2015, the governments of the world are expected to strengthen financing for development, commit to the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals and ensure the needed collective action to address global warming. SOFA 2015 is a timely reminder of the enduring legacy of needless hunger and poverty which we must eliminate by 2030.
(Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.)
The Hindu, 4 June, 2015, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/fight-against-hunger-too-slow-and-uneven/article7279094.ece?homepage=true