Hunger is falling, but climate and conflict threaten progress - report

by Chris Arsenault | @chrisarsenaul | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 16 September 2014 13:48 GMT

A malnourished child is weighed at the Medecins Sans Frontieres feeding centre in Leer, South Sudan, July 16, 2014. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

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The number of hungry people dropped 100 million in the last decade – but more than 800 million still are undernourished

LONDON  (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -Land redistribution in Brazil, community gardens in Indonesia, and rising incomes across much of the developing world have helped end hunger for 100 million people in the last decade, new research shows.

Globally, an estimated 209 million fewer people face chronic undernourishment today compared to 1990, according to The State of Food Security in the World 2014, a United Nations report released on Tuesday in Rome.

"There has been real progress," Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Programme, told reporters. "But we can't celebrate yet" as more than 800 million people worldwide still don't have enough to eat.

Rapid economic growth in Asia, the world's most populous region, contributed much of the global improvement, with the number of hungry people dropping nearly 50 percent there since 1990. But 12.7 percent of the region's population, or 526 million Asians, remain hungry.

Rising incomes in Indonesia, for example, helped decrease the number of undernourished people from nearly 20 percent in 1990 to less than 10 percent in 2014. But growing inequality is taking a bite out of progress in some regions of the archipelago. In 2013, more than 37 percent of children under five faced stunted growth due to inadequate access to diverse, nutritious food.

Solutions can be found in specific state-led policies, researchers wrote, including the Development of Sustainable Home-Yard Garden programme which reaches more than 1 million Indonesians, creating new supplies of healthy food and inspiring community resilience.

Sub-Saharan Africa, in contrast to much of Asia, continues to struggle with the world's highest rates of hunger. More than 23 percent of the region's population suffers from undernourishment.

"Governance is a key element of food security," said John McIntire, associate vice-president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). "Improving food security is not just about producing more food."

Political instability in countries like Madagascar has been cited as a key reason why persistent hunger continues to plague residents. "Progress in hunger reduction is uneven among regions and countries," the FAO report stated. "The global picture masks (a) lack of sufficient progress in many countries, especially where food insecurity is high."

Latin America, where hunger dropped from 14 percent in 1990 to 5 percent in 2014, boasted the developing world's best record for feeding its people as a result of investments in agriculture, government safety nets and subsidies. Brazil's "zero hunger" programme, spearheaded by Jose Graziano da Silva, a former Brazilian politician who now leads the Food Agriculture Organisation, was listed among the successes.

"With the right policies and resources on the ground, we can reach what some thought was impossible," said Cousin, as part of a panel discussion in Rome on the report.

Latin America's most populous country increased social spending more than 128 percent between 2000 and 2012, allocating $35 billion for food security programmes in 2013 alone. The government also allocated 50 million hectares of land to more than 600,000 poor families in the last decade. Experts credit sensible state intervention with reducing hunger and bringing 3.7 million rural Brazilians into the middle class.

While the report notes significant progress, arguing that "the world can end hunger by 2025", major challenges loom on the horizon, including population growth, continued political instability in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Iraq, along with climate change.

"The main challenge as I see is to adapt faster to the impacts of climate change," da Silva said in response to a question from the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We are again neglecting the role of food in security issues. Food is essential to have peace, to reduce conflicts, and unfortunately countries are not paying attention to that."

(Editing by Laurie Goering; laurie.goering@thomsonreuters.com)

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