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|New Statistics on Global Hunger|
According to the latest UN hunger statistcs, nearly 870 million people, or one in eight, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012. This may be fewer people than previously thought, but analysts point out that the fight against hunger is still far from being won.
9th October 2012 - Published by the FAO
Nearly 870 million people, or one in eight, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012, according to the new UN hunger report released today.
The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 (SOFI), jointly published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), presents better estimates of chronic undernourishment based on an improved methodology and data for the last two decades.
The vast majority of the hungry, 852 million, live in developing countries -- around 15 percent of their population -- while 16 million people are undernourished in developed countries.
The global number of hungry people declined by 132 million between 1990-92 and 2010-12, or from 18.6 percent to 12.5 percent of the world's population, and from 23.2 percent to 14.9 percent in developing countries - putting the MDG target within reach if adequate, appropriate actions are taken.
The number of hungry declined more sharply between 1990 and 2007 than previously believed. Since 2007-2008, however, global progress in reducing hunger has slowed and leveled off.
"In today's world of unprecedented technical and economic opportunities, we find it entirely unacceptable that more than 100 million children under five are underweight, and therefore unable to realize their full human and socio-economic potential, and that childhood malnutrition is a cause of death for more than 2.5 million children every year," say José Graziano da Silva, Kanayo F. Nwanze and Ertharin Cousin, respectively the Heads of FAO, IFAD and WFP, in a foreword to the report.
"We note with particular concern that the recovery of the world economy from the recent global financial crisis remains fragile. We nonetheless appeal to the international community to make extra efforts to assist the poorest in realizing their basic human right to adequate food. The world has the knowledge and the means to eliminate all forms of food insecurity and malnutrition," they add.
A "twin-track" approach is needed, based on support for broad-based economic growth (including in agriculture) and safety nets for the most vulnerable.
Impact of economic crisis
The new estimates suggest that the increase in hunger during 2007-2010 was less severe than previously thought. The 2008-2009 economic crisis did not cause an immediate sharp economic slowdown in many developing countries as was feared could happen; the transmission of international food prices to domestic markets was less pronounced than was assumed at the time while many governments succeeded in cushioning the shocks and protecting the most vulnerable from the effects of the price spike.
The numbers of hunger released today are part of a revised series that go back to 1990. It uses updated information on population, food supply, food losses, dietary energy requirements and other factors. They also better estimate the distribution of food (as measured in terms of dietary energy supply) within countries.
SOFI 2012 notes that the methodology does not capture the short-term effects of food price surges and other economic shocks. FAO is also working to develop a wider set of indicators to better capture dietary quality and other dimensions of food security.
MDG target within reach
The report suggests that if appropriate actions are taken to reverse the slowdown in 2007-08 and to feed the hungry, achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing by half the share of hungry people in the developing world by 2015 is still within reach.
"If the average annual hunger reduction of the past 20 years continues through to 2015, the percentage of undernourishment in the developing countries would reach 12.5 percent - still above the MDG target of 11.6 percent, but much closer to it than previously estimated," the report says.
Asia leads in number of hungry; hunger rises in Africa
Among the regions, undernourishment in the past two decades decreased nearly 30 percent in Asia and the Pacific, from 739 million to 563 million, largely due to socio-economic progress in many countries in the region. Despite population growth, the prevalence of undernourishment in the region decreased from 23.7 percent to 13.9 percent.
Latin America and the Caribbean also made progress, falling from 65 million hungry in 1990-1992 to 49 million in 2010-2012, while the prevalence of undernourishment dipped from 14.6 percent to 8.3 percent. But the rate of progress has slowed recently.
Africa was the only region where the number of hungry grew over the period, from 175 million to 239 million, with nearly 20 million added in the past four years. The prevalence of hunger, although reduced over the entire period, has risen slightly over the past three years, from 22.6 percent to 22.9 percent - with nearly one in four hungry. And in sub-Saharan Africa, the modest progress achieved in recent years up to 2007 was reversed, with hunger rising 2 percent per year since then.
Developed regions also saw the number of hungry rise, from 13 million in 2004-2006 to 16 million in 2010-2012, reversing a steady decrease in previous years from 20 million in 1990-1992.
Agricultural growth to reduce hunger and malnutrition
The report underlines that overall growth is necessary but not sufficient for a sustained hunger reduction. Agricultural growth is particularly effective in reducing hunger and malnutrition in poor countries since most of the poor depend on agriculture and related activities for at least part of their livelihoods. Agricultural growth involving smallholders, especially women, will be most effective in reducing extreme poverty and hunger when it generates employment for the poor.
Growth must not only benefit the poor, but must also be "nutrition-sensitive" in order to reduce various forms of malnutrition. Reducing hunger is about more than just increasing the quantity of food it is also about increasing the quality of food in terms of diversity, nutrient content and safety.
For even while 870 million people remain hungry, the world is increasingly faced with a double burden of malnutrition, with chronic undernourishment and micronutrient malnutrition co-existing with obesity, overweight and related non-communicable diseases (affecting more than 1.4 billion people worldwide).
To date, the linkage between economic growth and better nutrition has been weak, the report says, arguing for an integrated agriculture-nutrition-health framework.
Social protection systems
Growth is clearly important, but it is not always sufficient, or rapid enough. Hence, social protection systems are needed to ensure that the most vulnerable are not left behind and can also participate in, contribute to and benefit from growth.
Measures such as cash transfers, food vouchers or health insurance are needed for the most vulnerable who often cannot take immediate advantage of growth opportunities. Social protection can improve nutrition for young children - an investment that will pay off in the future with better educated, stronger and healthier adults. With effective social protection complementing inclusive economic growth, hunger and malnutrition can be eliminated.
16th October - By Richard King, published by From Poverty to Power
Today the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is celebrating World Food Day, and is playing host to the latest Committee on World Food Security meeting. Last week, to warm things up, the FAO, World Food Programme, and International Fund for Agricultural Development launched their joint 2012 ‘State of Food Insecurity in the World’ (SOFI) report, with the FAO’s latest estimates of global hunger. If you’re familiar with oft-cited facts such as ‘nearly one in seven people go to bed hungry’, or ‘nearly a billion people don’t have enough to eat’ reverberating around the echo chamber, they’re based on the calculations in previous editions of this publication.
The annual report has commanded a lot of interest over the past few years, partly because we’re living through a time of extraordinary food price volatility, but also because some of the FAO’s estimates of hunger (or more properly ‘undernourishment’) during the global food and economic crises have raised eyebrows. I won’t rehash here previous critiques of the recent estimates; suffice to say the shortcomings have been increasingly recognised by the FAO itself, and they’ve been beavering away behind the scenes to improve both their calculations and the data that they rely on. So it was with much anticipation that we waited to see what changes last week’s report would bring. And [fanfare!] here they are…
[See original source for graph]
As you can see from the above chart (dotted lines are projections), the major overhaul of the calculations has fundamentally changed our understanding of the trajectory of global hunger over the past two decades. Notably the huge spike previously attributed to food and economic crises in the late 2000s has vanished. That’s not to say these short-term crisis events, particularly the earlier food price shock, didn’t have pernicious consequences for people’s food security, or are without implications for their broader lives over a longer period, it’s just that this particular measure of long-term, absolute, undernourishment isn’t set up to capture the full impact of these acute shocks. For example, very young children are especially vulnerable to short-term disruptions in micro-nutrients (even if calorific intake remains sufficient), which can translate into growth deficiencies and learning difficulties for life. Similarly, families may be forced apart for good when short-term bouts of stress-induced domestic violence have driven women out of their homes in fear of their husbands, and when men abandon their families under the guise of looking for work in the city, some never to return. It’s also true that the latter economic crisis had less of a macro impact on the economies of the most populous developing countries than the guestimated projections originally envisaged.
Cynics might question whether there is also a political motive behind the revisions, less than three years from the 2015 Millennium Development Goal deadline for reducing by half the 1990 proportion of people in the developing world suffering from chronic hunger. After all, recent estimates suggest the allied poverty reduction target for MDG1 has now been met, and criticisms abound. But such scepticism doesn’t stand up to scrutiny once you get under the bonnet of the changes, for at least three reasons.
First, despite the much more positive trajectory than shown in past reports, there is still a long way to go before the MDG target of 11.6 per cent of the developing world’s population would be met. The FAO calculate that “If the average annual decline of the past 20 years continues to 2015, the prevalence of undernourishment in developing countries would reach 12.5 per cent”, still above target. But even this relatively near-miss doesn’t look likely given the flat-lining of progress over the past five years. Political inaction means high and volatile food prices, lack of investment in agriculture, gender inequality, land grabs and climate change are now jeopardising past gains in the fight against hunger.
Second, if you break down the figures by region, the picture is more alarming than at first sight. For sure, there have been significant improvements in Asia and the Pacific, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, both in reducing the proportion of people hungry (the prevalence) and the absolute number of undernourished people, but the picture in the Near East and Africa both north and south of the Sahara is seriously concerning; in sub-Saharan Africa the prevalence was slowly improving, but has slowed, and the absolute number of hungry people in all of Africa and the Near East continues to march relentlessly upwards.
[See original source for graph]
Three, looking at the actual revisions made to the calculations, it’s clear that the main driver of the changes are better (though still far from perfect) data, rather than methodological meddling. Let’s unpack these revisions.
There are essentially five elements that contribute to the significantly different values to those presented in previous reports:
- Updated estimates of population size and structure
- Better data on individuals’ heights, and so improved estimates of how much food energy is required
- Updated estimates of dietary energy supplies available for all countries
- New estimates of food losses at the retail level (between wholesalers and households)
- Changes to the underlying methodology (essentially tweaks to statistical distribution models and estimates of coefficients of variation)
Each of these elements has an upward or downward bearing on the previous estimates of undernourishment, but by far the largest marginal factor in each period is the new information available on food losses, which alone adds over 100 million people to the ranks of the hungry previously estimated for each period. In recent years this marginal increase has been more than compensated by downward revisions resulting from dietary energy supply, heights, and methodology changes, but none of these alone accounts for as much as half of the influence of food losses.
Although this leaves us with a better, radically different, impression of what’s likely to have been happening to the prevalence of hunger, it still only paints a partial and conservative picture of food insecurity. Why? Well first, as already alluded to, this is an “indicator of chronic undernourishment based on annual average consumption” so doesn’t fully capture effects of food price and other acute economic shocks. Nor does it capture the longer run impacts of these shocks such as potential job losses, childhood stunting, or the added burdens on women in the care economy.
Second, ‘undernourishment’ is defined “as an extreme form of food insecurity, arising when food energy availability is inadequate to cover even minimum needs for a sedentary lifestyle”. Any woman trying to put food on the table for her family and to deal with the broader repercussions of volatile food prices would be amused by the notion of living a sedentary lifestyle.
Third, the focus on food energy doesn’t tell us about the quality of micronutrients being consumed or whether food preferences are being met. For example, early findings from work undertaken by Oxfam and IDS research partners suggest that as food prices continue to rise children in coastal Kenya have been collecting nutritious (but perhaps not entirely palatable) caterpillars to eat with their starchy staple ugali; whereas in Indonesia, the ‘substitution’ is replacing expensive vegetables with quick and tasty, but less nutritious, instant noodles.
To deal with these shortcomings of the prevalence of undernourishment measure, several responses are in motion. The FAO have for the first time published a wider suite of food security indicators ranging across the determinants of food insecurity, outcomes of food insecurity, and vulnerabilities to food security. And, though it may seem odd that the prevalence of undernourishment indicator itself is not based on asking people if they are hungry, the FAO have also now announced plans to initiate a global poll to monitor food insecurity based on short interviews with people.
This could throw up some interesting results and give us a better indication of the impacts of acute shock events. But in order to understand what it means to live in a time food price volatility, these quantitative indicators and polls need supplementing with rich qualitative information that shed light on how well people are coping with changes to their food security and wellbeing. This is something that Oxfam, IDS, and partners are seeking to do through our Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility project.
16th October 2012 - By Jennifer Clapp, published by Triple Crisis
It turns out that the number of hungry people on the planet was not as high as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations originally thought it was. We were told in 2009 that the number of hungry people had surpassed 1 billion. But last week, the organization revised its numbers downward.
Armed with new and more accurate data and assessment methods, the new figures, published in the new State of Food Insecurity in the World report, show a slow decline in world hunger from around 1 billion hungry people in 1990-91 to around 867 million in 2007-09. And in 2010-12, the number inched a bit higher to 868 million. In other words, the food crisis of 2007-09 halted progress in fighting world hunger. The numbers also show that the vast majority of the people facing hunger live in developing countries.
It is good news that fewer people are facing chronic hunger than we had thought, but we should not be complacent about the issue. It is unacceptable that one in eight people do not have enough to eat. With World Food Day upon us this week, it’s important to pause to consider what forces are contributing to the persistence of hunger in the world today, and what the global community can do to address it.
Higher and more volatile food prices since 2007 have made the fight against hunger more challenging. For the world’s poorest people, who spend some 50-80 percent of their income on food, sharp rises in food prices can mean an immediate drop in food intake. Volatile food prices also complicate farmers’ investment decisions, making long-term planning extremely difficult.
Volatility in food prices is widely recognized as a problem. Its exact causes are debated, but there is a growing consensus that financial speculation on commodity markets is a key contributing factor. Yet the industrialized countries that are host to the largest agricultural commodity exchanges have been slow to put in place meaningful regulations to tame speculation on food commodities. And the gains that have been made on the financial regulatory front are currently under threat. Much more needs to be done to properly regulate these markets.
The global community could also do more to support policies designed to insulate developing countries from global food price shocks. The FAO’s most recent data helps to underscore this point. In the last five years, the percentage of hungry people rose in Africa, but it fell in Asia. A number of Asian countries, including India and China, made use of domestic food reserves and trade policies to mitigate the local effects of more volatile international food prices. But African countries lacked food reserve mechanisms and were hampered by longstanding imbalances in global trade rules that resulted in rising dependence on imported food across much of the African continent.
One policy lesson from these divergent trends is that some market smoothing measures such as food reserves and more balanced trade policies can be beneficial for mitigating hunger, especially in times of crisis. Yet developing countries have been given the exact opposite advice from bodies such as the G20 and the World Trade Organization. It is time to explore in a more meaningful way the kinds of roles that directed food policies can play in building resilient food systems within countries.
Developing countries’ ability to grow their own food is also under threat as a ‘global land grab’ has taken hold. Wealthy foreign investors have snapped up huge amounts of land in developing countries in recent years as speculative investments. An Oxfam report released earlier this month notes that two thirds of these land deals have taken place in countries that are experiencing high levels of hunger. According to Oxfam, the amount of land purchased in this way could have grown enough food to feed a billion people. Yet most of that land is either sitting idle or cultivated with crops (often biofuel crops) that are strictly for export.
Foreign investment in developing country agriculture can have positive impacts, but it should not take place at the expense of food security for local people. Earlier this year governments agreed to the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests under the auspices of the UN. Other initiatives include the World Bank-led Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (PRAI). These initiatives need to be both consolidated and strengthened as part of broader initiatives to address global hunger. Crucially, the voices of local communities have to be heard in the intergovernmental and national debates on this issue.
The UN Committee on World Food Security meets in Rome this week and many of these issues are on the table for discussion. The new FAO data on hunger statistics provides both some new optimism and a reminder of the work that still remains to be done.
Jennifer Clapp is Professor and Faculty of Environment Chair in Global Environmental Governance, University of Waterloo
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