We’re on the Way to Halving the World’s Hungry

The good news: fewer people in the world are hungry today than previously estimated, thanks to recalculations using better data and methodology. The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the prevalence of hunger in the developing world by 2015 is now within reach.

The bad news: the number of hungry people — at almost 870 million around the world, 852 million of them in developing countries — “remains unacceptably high.” Since 2007-2008, with the food crises and global economic downturn, progress in reducing hunger has slowed or stalled in parts of the world; in Western Asia and sub-Saharan Africa the prevalence of hunger has gotten worse.

These are findings from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), published in its annual report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012. In 2009 ,the FAO made headlines with its announcement that 1 billion people in the world are undernourished, so when the organization revised that number down to 870 million earlier this month it was met with a lot of press that made much ado about the original miscalculation and the reasons for it, with less said about the report’s main points on what needs to be done to further reduce hunger.

More than 23.2 percent of the developing world population is now estimated to have been undernourished in 1990-92, making 11.6 percent of the MDG target for 2015. “If the average annual decline of the past 20 years continues to 2015,” says the report, “the prevalence of undernourishment in developing countries would reach 12.5 percent, still above the MDG target, but much closer to it than previously estimated.”

Over the past two decades, different regions of the world have shown different rates of progress in reducing hunger or undernourishment, which the FAO defines as “a state of energy deprivation lasting over a year.” Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean are all on track to reaching the MDG target by 2015. Southeastern Asia made the most progress in reducing its prevalence of undernourishment from 29.6 to 10.9 percent since 1990. In the same time period, progress in Africa has slowed and Western Asia has seen an increase in the prevalence of hunger.

As outlined in the press release, the FAO recommends a “twin-track” approach to reducing hunger, “based on support for broad-based economic growth (including in agriculture) and safety nets for the most vulnerable.” Agricultural growth is seen as key to reducing hunger and malnutrition among the poorest, as a significant part of their livelihoods is based in agriculture and related activities.

Growth, however, won’t by itself go far or fast enough to help those living in extreme poverty. ”To ensure that the most vulnerable are not left behind and can also participate in, contribute to and benefit from growth,” social protection systems will have to be put into place.

The FAO also recognizes that “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” — lest we inadvertently expose these vulnerable populations to Western-style diet-related diseases.

In fact, it’s a thin line to tread. Growing incomes have allowed for greater dietary diversity in developing countries, with animal-source foods in particular being eaten in increasing proportions. As noted in the report, “with the longer-term economic growth observed worldwide since the early 1960s, growth in consumption of animal-source foods has markedly outpaced growth in that of other major food groups.” But the report also warns that the rise in consumption of animal-source foods could have “detrimental health effects and increase the risk of chronic non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity.”

So many things have gone wrong to make it such that the number of undernourished and overnourished people in the world is about the same. So as we work to reduce hunger in the developing world, it’s critical that we go about it in the right way, finding progress that’s far-reaching, sustainable and “nutrition-sensitive” so that even the hungriest populations will someday have ready and regular access to good, healthy food.


Related Stories:

There is Enough Food in the World, But the Hungry Can’t Get to It

Go Vegetarian or the World Will Go Hungry

We Already Grow Enough Food for 10 Billion People… and Still Can’t End Hunger

Photo Courtesy of Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Alan G.
Alan G5 years ago

If the wealthy countries would engage in trade justice, and stop undermining developing nations food security by dumping their surplus crops (to keep their domestic profits high enough, and thus destroying the developing nations food farmers by lowering their profitability, only to have the foreign import food costs rise the following season) that would eliminate a greater portion of hunger, for every dollar of foreign aid spent we steal back 2.

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson5 years ago


Christine Stewart

Therese K- you are so right!

Therese Kutscheid

What in all the world is going on. In one part of the world people are obese and eat them to death, in other part of the world people don't have enough food. I don't understand, sponsoring children in third world goes on for eons, but nothing changes. Why isn't the charity money used to help those people to help themselves. I have the feeling that someone make good living for themselves with the charity money instead of helping those in need.

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Theodore S.
Theodore Shayne5 years ago

It staggers the imagination when the demographic growth rates in third world countries is considered since 1962. I don't understand why they keep having children when they can barely feed themselves. Perhaps if all these people quit buying arms to bolster up their petty little egos and bought food and invested in building infrastructures through business it would be a different story. Of course if the multi nationals quit reinforcing the conditions and arming both sides they might have a chance to do that; not to mention creating indentured wage slaves and stealing the resources while ruining the infrastructures.
If you know anything about food banks then you know the strain they have faced since five years ago is escalating especially here at home.

Catherine S.
Catherine S5 years ago

Population control is the most vital issue imho. Yes, we keep coming up with more ways to feed the billions, but if you read some articles, we're looking at a future of eating insect burgers and of course, genetically modified foods. I'm afraid that by the time Soylent Green becomes a reality, nobody will even care.

Bonnie M.
Bonnie M5 years ago

@ Debbie- yes there should be enough food in the world, but those who can afford food, waste a lot of food. Eating out contributes to so much food waste as well. Add to this unequal distribution.

Lynn D.
Lynn D5 years ago

Interesting article sure hope and pray it works, thanks!