Developing strategies to end hunger

Ban Ki-moon Issues a Zero Hunger Challenge

Amidst the maze of negotiations, meetings, and deliberations taking place at the Rio+20 summit, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued his Zero Hunger Challenge.

“In a world of plenty,” Ban said, “no one – not a single person – should go hungry…. Zero hunger would boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and safeguard the environment. It would foster peace and stability…”

The Zero Hunger Challenge has five main goals, reflecting some of the major problems currently facing efforts to end hunger. They are:  

1.     Achieve 100 percent access to adequate food all year round.

 Why is this important? This goal can be restated in simple terms: end hunger. By making this the number one priority, the U.N. reinforces the fact that it is actually possible to end hunger in our lifetimes.

2.     End malnutrition in pregnancy and early childhood.

 Why is this important? The 1,000-day period between pregnancy and a child's second birthday is a critical window of opportunity. Malnutrition during this time causes physical and cognitive damage that is largely irreversible. On the other hand, the right nutrition during this window will benefit children's health, education, and earnings their entire lives.

3.     Make all food systems sustainable.

 Why is this important?  In Agriculture: Investing in Natural Capital, the U.N. Environmental Program emphasizes that sustainable agriculture -- not "business as usual" agriculture -- is essential to feed the rapidly growing world population, expected to reach 9 billion by 2050.

4.     Increase growth in the productivity and income of smallholders, particularly women.

Why is it important to focus on women?  The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and CARE report that women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world's food production. But although women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours (i.e., twice as many hours as men), they only earn 10 percent of the world’s income and own less than 1 percent of the world’s property.

Why is it important to focus on smallholders?  Most of the world's hungry people live in rural areas and rely on agriculture for their living. Many farms are smaller than 2 hectares (about 5 acres). Small-scale agriculture presents different problems, and smallholder farmers have different needs and priorities, than medium-size or large enterprises and their operators. Enabling hungry people to grow or buy the nutritious food they need for their families will require solutions that make sense in the local context and are tailored to the needs of smallholders.

5.     Achieve a zero rate of food waste.

Why is this important? Research indicates that, as of 2011, 1.3 billion tons of food -- about a third of all the food produced worldwide -- are lost or wasted annually. Reducing post-harvest loss is thus a top priority on the agricultural agenda.

Some of these topics are not the "usual suspects" that first come to mind when people think about the root causes of hunger and how to respond to them. But they are increasingly gaining attention as serious issues that, if solved, offer enormous potential for progress.

Following the Rio+20 summit, the U.N. High Level Task Force on Global Food Security announced that it would reorient its work to “focus on the [Zero Hunger] Challenge’s five objectives as a guide for a coherent U.N. system approach to food and nutrition security.” The task force is composed of officials from U.N. agencies and programs, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund,  the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and other decision makers. Thus, its adoption of the Zero Hunger Challenge approach will help generate the momentum and senior-level attention the Challenge needs to succeed.

Anna Wiersma is a summer intern with Bread for the World. The Institute greatly appreciates Anna's contributions as guest blogger.


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