Towards winning the global war on hunger

Somatish Banerji | March 2nd, 2015, 1:12 pm

The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger set the target of halving the proportion of undernourished people in developing countries by 2015. Over the past two and a half decades, significant battles have been won on this front but the war still rages on.

The fourth edition of the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014 (SOFI) report released by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in September 2014, takes stock of the progress made on hunger reduction, the nature of such progress and what needs to happen from hereon to eradicate hunger in its totality.

Estimates indicate definitive progress towards global hunger reduction:

  • Number of undernourished people has declined by over 100 million in the last decade and by 209 million since 1990-92
  • Incidence of undernourishment has fallen from 18.7% in 1990-92 to 11.3% in 2012-14 globally and from 23.4% to 13.5% for developing countries during the same period
  • 63 developing countries have reached the MDG hunger target and 11 of them have also maintained undernourishment prevalence of below 5%
  • 25 countries have also achieved the more stringent 1996 World Food Summit (WFS) target of halving the number of chronically undernourished people by 2015

“We are making progress. Hunger is declining…..globally the goal is within reach” The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had asserted at a high level Zero Hunger Challenge event in September 2014.

Despite the definitive progress made, the war on hunger is however, still far from being won with about 805 million people still chronically undernourished in 2012-14. Although the hunger target under the MDGs appears to be within reach, the same cannot be said for the WFS target with most of the developing countries not being on track to meet this target. Moreover, the progress thus far has been lopsided in geographical terms. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to exhibit the highest prevalence of undernourishment with one in four people continuing to remain undernourished. Progress in Southern Asia has been slow but rapid in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. South Eastern Asia and Latin America have already met the more stringent WFS target.

According to the SOFI report, winning the war on hunger comprehensively from hereon, calls for “sustained political commitment at the highest level” assigning greatest importance to food security and access to nutrition. This means channelizing greater investments, formulating effective policies, legal frameworks and institutional reforms, and building a strong evidence base of attracting greater stakeholder participation.

The report highlights the need for “an integrated approach” combining a critical set of interventions towards hunger eradication:

  • Public and private investments towards increasing agricultural productivity and delivering greater access to inputs, services, technologies and markets
  • Measures aimed at promoting rural development
  • Social protection for the most vulnerable, including making those in conflict and natural disaster prone zones more resilient
  • Specific nutrition programs targeted at addressing nutritional requirements of mothers and under-five children

The war on hunger was never going to be one that could be won with one swift swivel of the sword. Sustained global commitment to bringing about systemic changes holds the key to eventual conquest. For now, while it is extremely encouraging to witness hunger battles being won through concerted efforts of the international community, the war will truly be won the day when no one will have to worry about having enough food on their plate.