The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World

By David Braughton

In September, 2015, United Nations members participating in a summit on sustainable development adopted a bold and far-reaching agenda whose goal was nothing less than the promotion of prosperity and the elimination of global poverty and hunger by 2030.

This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. (Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, United Nations Sustainability Summit, September 25, 2015)

This year, as last, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, issued a report documenting progress towards the 2030 goal.  This year’s report,  The State of Nutrition and Food Security in the World: Building Climate Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition, provides an overview of hunger and malnutrition from two perspectives: the prevalence of undernutrition (a statistical estimate of chronic hunger within a population) and a more subjective accounting of food insecurity using a survey called the Food Insecurity Scale.  The report goes on to examine the impact of global warming and climate change as a leading contributor of increased hunger, particularly in Africa and South America.

In this and future articles, we’ll share findings from the FOA report, examine hunger’s effect on kids and pregnant women, and delve further into how climate change is contributing to the reversal of a ten-year decline in the number of hungry people worldwide. Finally, we will look at some of the countries where BGR is sponsoring projects to see how their people are doing and why these projects are so essential.

Both the FOA’s 2017 and 2018 reports reach the same alarming conclusion: after a decade-long decline in the number and percentage of hungry people around the world, the trend has started to reverse. By 2014 the number of chronically hungry people had declined from 945 million to an estimated 784 million. By 2017, the number had risen to 821 million, an increase of 37 million people! According to the FAO, the two primary causes for this reversal are war and armed conflict, and climate change, which affects both the food supply as well as food access.

The FAO found that hunger and malnutrition are most acute in Africa, where an estimated 20% of the population (256.5 million people) do not have enough to eat. In some areas of sub-Saharan and eastern Africa, the percentage of people who suffer from chronic food deprivation and malnutrition soars to 31%. Countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of Congo represent the impossible plight of children, women and men trying to survive on the equivalent of less than $1.90 a day.

In Asia, although a staggering 515 million people struggle with hunger, the actual percentage of the population that is undernourished has stayed steady at 11.4% over the past three years.  Likewise, the rates of malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean, have remained relatively constant, except for South America where the number of chronically malnourished people rose from 19.3 million in 2014 to 21.4 million in 2017! http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition/en/

To complement statistical estimates of chronic hunger and malnutrition, the FAO adopted a tool used by countries to measure food insecurity and adapted it for use on a global scale. The Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) asks people to report directly on the constraints they face in accessing food, providing a real time picture of hunger around the world.

Unlike more traditional prevalence estimates, the Food Insecurity Scale represents individuals’ actual experience. While the overall numbers between the two measures are roughly the same, the regional differences are striking. In Africa, for example, the number of persons who experience hunger (severe food insecurity) has grown from 260 million to 375 million. In Asia the total number has actually gone down slightly, but in South America, the number of people reporting severe food insecurity  has gone up from 30.8  million to 36.7 million over the past 3 years! http://www.fao.org/3/I9553EN/i9553en.pdf#page=28

For no population group is the problem of acute and chronic hunger more evident than it is for kids. Malnutrition and hunger kill approximately 3.1 million children annually (UNICEF, 2018). Over 160 million children experience stunting (low height for age). According to the World Food Program, 66 million primary school-age children across the developing world attend classes hungry. The alarming increase in childhood and adult obesity and advent of Type II diabetes is another consequence of limited access to healthy and nutritious food, an issue we’ll explore in depth later.

In its 2017 report, FAO examined war, armed conflict, and political instability as major causes of chronic food deprivation. In this 2018 report, the FAO addresses the issue of global warming, climate change, and climate variability as contributing factors. The glint of hope that traces the lines of both reports is the realization that conflict and climate change are primarily man-made problems, and while we may not be able to eliminate either, we can do something to ameliorate them! The twin goals of eliminating poverty and chronic hunger by 2030 remain, although we clearly have a long way to go.

Thank you for your support!

David Braughton is the vice-chair of Buddhist Global Relief. During his professional career he led a number of nonprofit agencies involved with mental health, trauma and child development. 

Top photo courtesy of Helen Keller International; middle photo courtesy of Rachana, Cambodia.

 

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