Developing strategies to end hunger

Getting to Zero Hunger- How Complicated is it?

With only three years left to the expiration date of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, efforts towards building a new global development agenda are intensifying. According to Bread for the World Institute’s 2013 Hunger Report- Within Reach: Global Development Goals, getting things done is easier with specific goals. For example, the global rate of extreme poverty has been cut in half with the help of the MDGs – a great example of the power of goal-setting. But now it’s time to step up progress on global hunger by setting a renewed goal: to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger by 2040.

This week, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) endorsed a change in the Organization's first global goal- from merely reducing hunger to its eradication. This is what “Zero Hunger” should be about.

This announcement could not have come at a better time. The recently released 2012 State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) states that almost 870 million people were chronically undernourished in 2010–12. The vast majority of them- 850 million people- live in low-income countries. A staggering reality is that of Sub-saharan Africa.  For the last decade- at the same time when the continent is said to have been experiencing strong economic growth, the absolute number of hungry people has been rising alarmingly as shown:

  • between 1991 and 2000- increasing at about 2million a year
  •  between 2000 and 2005- about 1million a year
  • between 2005 and  2008- about 3.5m a year
  • between 2008 and 2011- about 6m a year.

Hunger trends in the developing regions

 Source: FAO

Are we missing the point?

It is increasingly clear that while economic growth is necessary, it is not sufficient to accelerate reduction of hunger and malnutrition. This reality demands that we rethink agriculture and food security strategies if progress and improvements to the well-being and nutritional status of poor people are to be realized. As a result of growing food price volatility and food price spikes, in part driven by land, water, and energy scarcity, local communities need greater control over and access to productive resources. As natural resources become scarcer, how land and water rights are allocated will have increasing implications for the social and economic development of countries and their citizens, and particular impacts on the livelihoods of poor people around the world.

We know that high levels of hunger are generally found in those countries and regions where access and property rights to land, water, and energy are limited or contested. Therefore, the unacceptably high number of hungry people --though disappointing-- should not be surprising since preliminary studies on cases of land acquisition are showing that the rights of small farmers and marginalized groups have so far not been sufficiently taken into account.

In order to avoid a food cliff, more holistic strategies for dealing with land, water, energy, and food can reduce the adverse impacts of natural disasters and policy incoherence across these areas and promote the sharing of successful innovation.

Greater collaboration is quite important -- among government ministries as well as with communities, civil society, and the private sector in policy design, implementation, and monitoring. It is crucial to monitor both the human and the environmental outcomes of developments in the land, water, and energy sectors and of alternative agricultural and food and nutrition strategies. Faustine Wabwire is senior foreign assistance policy analyst at Bread for the World Institute.


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Thanks very much for sharing your very insightful thoughts. You raise very good points.
A number of factors are responsible for the persistently high number of hungry people around the world. Fighting hunger therefore requires more than just increasing agricultural production to include other factors such as linking farmers to markets and reducing the enormous food losses associated with inadequate infrastructure, lack of market information among others.

Take for instance the issue of food waste/ post-harvest losses: In most low-income countries, particularly in Africa, food losses contribute to high domestic food prices since there is less food available to be sold at the market. Losses also come at a cost to the environment and contribute to climate change, because land, water, and non-renewable resources such as fertilizer and energy are used to produce, process, handle, and transport food that no one consumes. Think about it this way- the annual cost of grain losses to African countries is estimated at $4 billion. This is far more than the continent receives in food aid. At the same time, this cost is in the same range as the annual value of sub-Saharan Africa’s total cereal imports (which ranged between $3 billion and $7 billion over the period 2000-2007).

Food price volatility: What do you think the G20 should put emphasis on?
I agree with you. Market information is important, but more emphasis needs to be placed on underlying policy problems. In 2011 for example, Agriculture Ministers of rich and emerging countries met and came up with The Action Plan on Food Price Volatility. My take is that the Action Plan dealt with the symptoms and not the causes of the food crisis. It did not provide concrete leadership on how to address critical issues such as speculation, trade restrictions, the cost of fuel and the use of food grains to produce bio-ethanol.

I invite you to check out our 2013 Hunger Report:


Dear Faustine,

Like you, I have the impression that we are missing the point and that the we are not drawing the appropriate lessons from the recent food crises, particularly in Africa.

Africa has been growing fast during the first decade of this century. But this growth has not benefitted to all in the same way. Income per person has been growing at an average yearly rate of 5%, while at the same time the number of hungry people increased by 30 million! So there is an obvious problem of distribution of wealth created by growth and of inclusion of the poor in the economy.

In June 2008, the international community recognized the problem of high food prices, of increased vulnerability of the poor and pointed at the necessity to mobilize large amounts of resources, both locally and internationally, to address the crisis through investment. Rich countries committed billions of dollars to invest in agriculture and help translate high food prices into an opportunity for the millions of poor and food insecure farmers. Unfortunately, a few months later, when the financial and economic crisis occurred, these countries did not fulfill their commitments. Rather, under the leadership of the OECD and the G20, they displaced the debate from the issue of high food prices to food price volatility, and suggested as solutions a better regulation of financial markets and improved information systems. These solutions have the advantage of being cheap, but they do not address the real problem, as there is no firm evidence that price volatility has really increased in countries (it has increased but only on global markets from which most African countries and their farmers are disconnected). I am not saying that there is no price volatility at country level, but the volatility observed at country level has been there for decades or more and is the result of the fundamental characteristics of agriculture (seasonality, inelasticity, perishability, etc.)

The result of diverting the debate towards price volatility is that countries and their development partners have been reallocating their resources from investment to price stabilization programmes, information systems, etc. In short, resources are not put in the right place in addition to not being sufficient.

Moreover, when discussing the issue of hunger, we tend to mix it with the question of feeding the world. These are two different things.

Eradicating hunger requires to include the poor in development. 2012 has been the International Year of Cooperatives, and grouping farmers can give them more weight on the markets, to buy inputs cheaper and sell their produce at a higher price, but also to influence government policies. Supporting poor farmers to get organized should be a priority, so as to find a way to include them in the development process and better equip them to seize opportunities to improve their welfare. In addition, more research is needed that would focus on crop/animal management that is labour-based (a key asset of poor farmers), knowledge intensive (a public good) and requires limited purchased inputs (poor farmers do not have cash to buy them). In this way, improved technology would kill two birds with one stone : be at the same time more friendly to poor farmers and to the environment.

The implication of this is that we should not expect to solve the question of hunger if we are ready to accept any kind of growth in food production. Unfortunately, when discussing the ways to increase production to feed the world, very rapidly we tend to forget that this should be done in a way to benefit small farmers. We go for more capital and input intensive agriculture, larger production units, plantations, etc., as this is what we are familiar with in rich countries. I also believe that experts have been overestimating the increase of production required to feed the world in 2050. Do we really need to increase food production by 70% by using more fuel, fertilizers and pesticides, and further deteriorating our environment? We have more food today than what we need to feed the world, and more than 1/4 of what we produce is being wasted or lost. Besides, we should try and change our diet, consume less meat in particular. This would have positive consequences on our ecological foot print and our health.

Last point, I don’t believe that we will be able to eradicate hunger without changing the political balance in countries. In rich countries, the balance has been in favor of agriculture (e.g. farmers better represented politically and well organized to defend their interests; consumers are ready to pay relatively high food prices as food only represents a small share in their expenditure; subsidies for agriculture affordable because of reduced share of agriculture in the economy) but this has started to change. In poor countries the conditions have been unfavourable (farmers have no political weight on political regimes that for long have large share of GDP and costly to subsidize; food is a big share in household expenditure in urban areas where they can put pressure on governments through demonstrations; the option of food aid has given a disincentives to governments to invest limited funds into agriculture). So these are facts that will make it difficult to eradicate hunger. But if farmers are better organized and can exert some pressure on governments, then there is hope.

Best regards,


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