Brazil and Thailand show the way forward, with policies focused on social safety nets and agricultural innovation
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Hunger could be eliminated by 2025 if enough resources are committed and countries scale up policies proven to work, an international food policy organisation suggests in a new report.
“Based on the successful experiences of several developing countries, we see the clear potential for ending hunger and under-nutrition by 2025 if the necessary policies and investments are adopted,” Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, wrote in the institute’s 2013 Global Food Policy Report.
Hunger is a continuing concern in many parts of the world, particularly with food prices rising, population growth continuing and extreme weather associated with climate change affecting harvests. Still, the 2015 deadline for the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal of halving world hunger remains “within reach,” according to the U.N. Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, even though one person in eight in the world remaining chronically undernourished, the report said.
Long-term success in combating hunger depends on three factors: committing adequate resources, following policy examples set by countries like Brazil and Thailand, and keeping the issue in the public eye, Fan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
Brazil, for instance, has achieved reductions in hunger through overall economic growth and a focus on social safety nets, such as conditional welfare based on actions by the recipients, such as sending children their children to school.
In Thailand, investment in agricultural innovation has cut hunger, as well as using targeted nutrition intervention programs which benefit children and pregnant women in underdeveloped areas.
But overall, “particularly in Africa and South Asia, countries have underinvested in nutrition – they have not paid enough attention to nutrition at all – for the last two decades, so they need to fix that,” Fan said.
The food policy report addresses the specific challenges, policies, and progress evident in various regions and countries across the world, looking at everything from food security in India to agricultural research and development in Africa.
For instance, India’s controversial new National Food Security Act, which entitles a large percentage of the country’s population to highly subsidized grain every month, is so far inefficient, the report said. Whether it is can become effective depends on whether “its implementation can overcome the deficiencies of the current public food distribution system,” the report said.
India’s food distribution programmes have in the past seen significant percentages of food intended for the country’s poorest siphoned off by the rich.
In Africa, by comparison, low productivity on farms points to a need for more research to help boost harvests, the report said.
The continent has made progress in recent years, the report noted, but such progress “will need to be further accelerated and scaled up.”
ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF LESS HUNGER
One section of the report addresses the economic effects of hunger – and the potential economic benefits from solving hunger.
“In addition to meeting a moral obligation, eliminating hunger could offer high economic returns for humanity,” wrote Alexander Stein, one of the authors.
For example, he wrote, “With the annual cost of hunger perhaps in the trillion-dollar range – which is as much as the GDP of Indonesia or Mexico – the bill for addressing hunger may be only a fraction of that cost. For instance, reaching more than 80 percent of the world’s undernourished children with key nutrition interventions may require as little as $10 billion a year – at most one-hundredth the cost of hunger”
Fan agreed with the importance of the link between economies and hunger, and singled out the specific connection between nutrition and economic growth.
“Evidence shows that if we invest in tackling under-nutrition, then lots of people would be able to be moved out of poverty” he said. Specifically, “If children are better nourished, particularly those under 1,000 days, they will be healthier, perform better in school later, contribute more to economic growth and overall society, and earn higher income.”
“The economic returns from that investment are very high. So we can recognize the importance of nutrition in helping individuals grow, and also to help overall economic growth,” he said.
While Fan was optimistic about the ambitious goal of complete hunger eradication, he cautioned that heightened public involvement and awareness is crucial to efforts to achieve it.
“I think unless a broader community audience can understand the issues and take actions, then we will not be able to achieve any goals, not even in 2015, let alone in 2025,” he said.
Sam Mintz is an AlertNet Climate intern.
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